9. Academic Dispute Resolution Policy and Procedures
Rackham’s Academic Dispute Resolution Policy and Procedures are available to Rackham students who have a dispute or disagreement with faculty or staff about the equity and fairness of decisions or procedures that affect their academic standing and progress toward the degree. Such issues may arise regarding fair and equal treatment in the conduct of a class, in the grading or evaluation of academic work or research. Other issues may concern the equity and fairness of program, department, or Rackham policies.
Academic dispute resolution is a means for resolving disputes and achieving a workable outcome for all parties, within the integrity policies of the university. Resolutions are not imposed, but result from agreement of all parties.
The Rackham Resolution Officer, Darlene Ray-Johnson, is responsible for managing this policy and may be reached at RackResolutionOfficer@umich.edu.
Special note on extended time to degree allowances for doctoral students (see section 9.8) due to disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.
9.1 Scope of the Policy
The Rackham Academic Dispute Resolution Policy applies to disputes Rackham graduate students may have with faculty or staff regarding equity and fair treatment that may have an impact on grading or evaluation, or other treatment that affects academic standing. This policy may not be used to appeal grade-related or other academic sanctions imposed as a result of any action taken under any honor code or academic integrity policy.
Other university policies and procedures apply to allegations of faculty and staff misconduct; such matters will be governed by appropriate policies administered under other university units:
- Complaints that a member of the faculty or staff has engaged in research misconduct will be handled by the Office of the Vice President for Research.
- Complaints that a member of the faculty or staff has violated the university’s non-discrimination and harassment policies will be investigated by the university’s Office of Institutional Equity. Faculty and staff who are also students, or a student who also has a staff appointment, may be subject to procedures described in the “Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities.”
- Claims that a member of the faculty or staff has violated employment contracts will be investigated by Academic Human Resources.
A graduate student who alleges misconduct by a faculty or staff member must pursue the complaint in the most appropriate forum; a student may not pursue the same allegation in different venues. Students who agree to have a dispute mediated under this policy agree not to pursue the same matter in any other forum within the university. Students should consult the Resolution Officer in their school or college to decide which avenue is best for their circumstances, and about counseling and university resources that may be appropriate.
9.2 Resolution Board
Schools and colleges participating in this dispute resolution process designate a member of the faculty or senior administrative staff to serve as the unit’s Resolution Officer. This person, in accordance with the principles and processes described below, oversees the mediation of disputes or disagreements covered under this policy. The Resolution Officers of the schools and colleges constitute the Resolution Board, which is convened by the Rackham Resolution Officer. The Rackham Resolution Board also includes four to five Rackham students who serve as Resolution Counselors for students. The Resolution Board keeps current with best practices for dispute resolution, provides mutual advice and support in the handling of disputes, and shares lessons learned with the Rackham Dean and the graduate programs about ways to improve policies, practices, and communication. The Resolution Board may seek advice from faculty and other university offices with expertise on mediation and conflict resolution.
9.3 Dispute Resolution Principles and Responsibilities
Adherence to principles of impartiality, confidentiality, timeliness, and effective communication are important to successful dispute resolution. The Rackham Graduate School works with the schools and colleges to ensure that these principles are understood and observed in the dispute resolution process.
A Resolution Officer will remain impartial. A Resolution Officer will recuse him/herself for a conflict of interest. Such circumstances include if the Resolution Officer has a personal or professional relationship with any party in the dispute that would impede his or her impartiality. In such instances, the Dean of the school or college may ask another impartial and qualified staff or faculty member to handle the dispute resolution process, or may ask the Rackham Resolution Officer to ask another member of the Resolution Board to provide this service. A student with concerns about the impartiality of a resolution process within his or her school or college should seek advice from the Rackham Resolution Officer. If the Rackham Resolution Officer, in consultation with the Resolution Board, concludes that such concerns about the substance or appearance of impartiality are substantial, another member of the Board may be asked to take the case.
- A student may meet informally to discuss an issue with any Resolution Officer or Resolution Counselor. While these discussions will remain confidential to the extent permitted by law, confidentiality will not be maintained if the Resolution Officer or Resolution Counselor believes that disclosure is necessary to avoid an imminent risk of serious harm or is required by law.
- All parties implicated in the complaint have the right to know the details of the issues that give rise to the dispute. A student may not anonymously request a formal dispute resolution process.
- The Resolution Officer or Resolution Counselor may consult with the Rackham Resolution Officer and the Resolution Board, who will maintain confidentiality. Parties involved in a formal dispute resolution process are expected to maintain confidentiality so the process can be effective.
- When the resolution process suggests how academic policies and their implementation may be improved, the Resolution Board may share this information as appropriate with other graduate programs, while maintaining the confidentiality of personal information.
- Records summarizing the resolution of disputes will be archived by the Resolution Board and the Dean(s) of the relevant school or college. These records will be a resource for the Board. Personal information in these records will be kept confidential.
Timely address to disputes is important for successful resolution. Normally, resolution conferences will be held within ten business days from the time the Resolution Officer receives the case. The academic calendar may make it difficult to always adhere to this schedule, but the conference should be convened within a reasonable time.
Schools and colleges should maintain and make public dispute resolution procedures. Schools and colleges should also publicize these procedures to students, faculty, and staff. Resolution Officers are available to speak with a student about the purpose and principles of these procedures, and the implications of proceeding with a formal dispute resolution conference, including potential outcomes. The student must be kept fully informed at every step and participate in reaching a resolution.
9.4 Resolution Conference
While prompt informal discussion within the unit where the parties are enrolled or appointed can often resolve most disputes, a more formal process may be necessary to address disagreements that may have greater complexity and consequence. The formal resolution of dispute takes place in a resolution conference. Through the resolution conference, the parties seek to reach a mutual understanding of the causes of the dispute and to produce a solution guided by academic policies. The purpose of the resolution conference is to allow parties to a dispute to present their viewpoints, to share information, to clarify concerns and issues, to resolve misunderstandings or interpersonal difficulties that may contribute to an issue, to evaluate options for resolving the problem, and to reach a formal agreement on an outcome intended to resolve the dispute.
9.5 Academic Dispute Resolution Process
In many cases, academic disputes can be quickly and effectively resolved when addressed informally at the local level. Misunderstandings, miscommunications, and disagreements often can be resolved through such conversations.
- A student may talk with the Graduate Chair as an initial step. The student may also consult informally with the Resolution Officer of the school or college who can offer impartial advice and suggest steps to resolve the issue.
- Students in LSA, which does not have a Resolution Officer, may consult with the Rackham Resolution Officer.
- All students are encouraged to seek information and advice from a Rackham student Resolution Counselor, who can offer neutral advice about how to address and resolve disputes.
- If informal discussion does not resolve the disagreement, the student may seek a formal resolution conference within the school or college. With the exception of the LSA, each school and college has a dispute resolution process and designates a faculty or staff member to serve as a Resolution Officer who will conduct this process according to the procedures of the school or college.
- Some LSA departments have dispute resolution processes; students in these departments should seek a formal dispute resolution conference within these programs. For LSA students whose programs do not have formal procedures, the Rackham Resolution Officer will organize a dispute resolution conference.
- The Resolution Officer of the school or college will notify relevant parties and the Resolution Board and include a summary of the issue at disagreement.
- When an academic dispute arises between a Rackham student and a faculty member of another school or college, the Rackham Resolution Officer, in consultation with the Resolution Board and the relevant Deans, will determine where the resolution conference process will be held.
- Through the dispute resolution process, the parties will develop a resolution plan to which the parties consent. The Resolution Officer will summarize the key points of the agreed resolution in a memo of understanding. The parties to the dispute will sign the memo of understanding, signaling their consent to the terms of the resolution. Copies of the memo will be shared with the relevant Deans and the Resolution Board.
- In the event that the parties are unable to reach an agreed resolution, the Resolution Officer will notify the relevant Deans and the Resolution Board in writing that a resolution could not be reached. The Dean of the school or college will refer the matter to the Rackham Resolution Officer within five business days of receiving the school/college’s Resolution Officer’s report.
A student may ask the Rackham Resolution Officer to reconsider the dispute if he or she believes that the resolution process at the school or college level did not meet standards of fundamental fairness or if substantial relevant new evidence or information has become available after the resolution conference.
- The student must make this request in writing within ten business days after receipt of written notification of the outcome of the resolution conference process in the school or college.
- The Rackham Resolution Officer will ask the Resolution Officer of the school or college to provide a written report of the resolution process, and may talk individually with the parties to the dispute.
- If the Rackham Resolution Officer and the Resolution Board find that the grounds for reconsideration have been established, they may recommend to the Rackham Dean that the school or college be asked to consider the dispute again or, if circumstances make it difficult to ensure an impartial inquiry, ask that the Resolution Board convene a new dispute resolution conference.
- If the Rackham Resolution Officer and the Resolution Board determine that the grounds for reconsideration have not been established, they will recommend to the Rackham Dean that the school/college outcome be upheld. The Rackham Dean will notify the student of the outcome. This ends the reconsideration process.
9.7 Rackham Dispute Resolution Process
At the request of the Dean of a school or college, or if a school or college does not have a dispute resolution process, or as the result of a request by a student for reconsideration, the Dean of Rackham may agree to convene a dispute resolution process.
- Resolution conferences for new cases or reconsiderations will be held usually within ten business days of the initiation of the case.
- The Rackham Resolution Officer will invite all parties to submit written statements. The Rackham Resolution Officer may interview other persons who may be able to contribute to an understanding of the dispute, or ask them to provide written statements.
- For new cases only (i.e., not reconsideration cases), the Rackham Resolution Officer may determine that, on the basis of this inquiry, the claims of the student are without merit. In this case, no further action will be taken.
- A resolution conference will be conducted for the purpose of understanding the causes of the dispute and for producing a solution.
- The parties in the dispute have the right to respond to claims made by others, either in writing or at the conference itself.
- The conference will not be recorded.
- The parties will be encouraged to seek a resolution to the dispute by agreeing on a course of action. The Rackham Resolution Officer will summarize the key points of the agreed resolution in a memo of understanding. The parties to the dispute will sign the agreement, signaling their consent to the terms of the resolution. Copies of the agreement will be shared with the relevant Deans and the Resolution Board.
- If the parties are unable to reach a resolution through the conference process, they will be asked to submit a summary statement no more than two pages in length. Upon review of the Rackham Resolution Officer’s report and of statements submitted by the parties, the Rackham Dean will determine a resolution outcome based on the preponderance of the information presented, and will communicate this to all parties and the Dean and Resolution Officer of the school or college.
9.8 Rackham Dispute Resolution Process (Expedited Process for extended time to degree of doctoral students due to the COVID-19 pandemic)
This expedited procedure is applicable to the resolution of disputes involving the provision of additional time to degree funding for doctoral students whose research and scholarship has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as described in Rackham guidance and the plans of individual doctoral programs.
The Rackham dispute resolution procedures have been simplified to result in the quick and efficient resolution of extended time to degree disputes when students have concerns about the fairness of decision-making or procedures in making these decisions. The expedited process provides fewer procedural steps to ensure a rapid outcome.
In general, decisions at each stage of the process will be made within ten business days from the time the Resolution Officer receives case materials. Although case volume and/or the academic calendar may make it difficult to strictly adhere to this schedule, decisions will be made in as timely a manner as possible.
9.8.1 Rackham Dispute Resolution Process
- Rackham’s expedited dispute resolution process is available to doctoral students who have received written notification of the extended time to degree funding decision from their program and have exhausted all program appeal processes.
- Students must submit their complaint (no more than two pages) within five (5) business days of receipt of the program’s written decision. The complaint should include a copy of the program notification.
- Upon receipt of the student’s complaint, the Rackham Resolution Officer will invite the two parties to submit written statements. The parties in the dispute are the doctoral student and the doctoral program. The parties will have five (5) business days to submit materials.
- Within two (2) business days of receipt of written statements by all parties, the Resolution Officer will forward the materials to a Rackham Ad Hoc committee drawn from staff and deans of the Rackham Graduate School. No one will serve who has a conflict of interest.
- Within ten (10) business days of receipt of the written statements, the Ad Hoc committee will provide a written decision to the student, DGS/Program Director, and school/college Dean.
- Either party—doctoral student or doctoral program—may appeal the Ad Hoc committee decision by contacting the Rackham Resolution Officer. Appeals must be submitted within five (5) business days of receipt of the Ad Hoc committee decision.
9.8.2 Rackham Appeal Process
- To initiate the appeal process, either party may contact the Rackham Resolution Officer. The Rackham Resolution Officer will ask each party to submit a summary statement (no more than two pages in length). The parties will have five (5) business days to submit summary statements.
- Upon review of the Ad Hoc committee decision and summary statements submitted by the parties, the Rackham Dean or the Dean’s designee will determine a resolution outcome based on the preponderance of the information presented.
- The Rackham Dean or the Dean’s designee will provide written notification of the decision to all parties and the school/college Dean within 10 business days of receipt of case materials. This ends the Rackham Resolution process.