Many issues between students and professors can be resolved informally without involving the dean. However, if your concerns pertain to a sensitive matter such as perceived harassment or discrimination, a meeting with the dean may be advisable. Although meeting with the dean may seem a little intimidating, advance planning can give you greater confidence and facilitate problem-solving. Further, schools generally have policies prohibiting retaliation to help protect students who come forward to talk about a professor.
If the problem is ongoing, bring along a chronological timeline of events. Begin the meeting by introducing yourself and briefly explaining your reasons for contacting the dean. Be respectful of the dean’s time by focusing on the facts without superfluous detail; be ready to describe how the situation is impacting you. Refrain from personal attacks or derogatory comments about the professor or the school. Answer the dean’s questions honestly and objectively without embellishing the situation. At the end of the meeting, thank the dean for listening.
Present the Evidence
In preparation for your meeting with the dean, review your school’s appeal and complaint procedures and follow them. Procedural guidelines are normally available on the college’s website or from the dean of student’s office. Also compile documentation in the form of emails, witness statements or other exhibits. For instance, if you’re disputing a grade in accordance with the grade appeal process, bring a copy of the course syllabus along with test scores, graded papers and exams. In your meeting with the dean, identify steps taken to address the issue prior to contacting the dean.
Weigh your options, such as resolving the situation in mediation with the professor or switching to another section of the course taught by a different instructor. If the problem persists, you can ask to meet with the provost or the college president. In the case of a serious allegation such as sexual harassment or racial discrimination, you may also file a complaint with the affirmative action office or other department responsible for policy enforcement on campus or externally. Even if a professor is tenured, persistent students with legitimate complaints can achieve a positive resolution.
-- Seek advice from the dean of students if you’re not sure which academic dean to contact, or if you have reason to believe the dean will not be fair and impartial.
-- Students experiencing problems of sexual harassment or discrimination can file a complaint with their state’s human rights department or the United States Department of Federal Justice if internal remedies do not stop the behavior.
-- Schools often also have policies related to instructor competency, dereliction of duties and intellectual dishonesty.
-- Allegations of theft or other illegal behavior should be reported to university security, in accordance with the campus crime reporting policy.
- Arizona Daily Star: Ask the Dean: Students with Complaints Do Have Recourse
- Northern Arizona University: Affirmative Action: Title IX
- Michigan State University: Human Resources
- U.S. Department of Education: Office of Civil Rights
- U.S. Department of Justice: How to Contact State and Local Agencies
- Law & Higher Education: Equal Educational Opportunities Act
- Photo Credit Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
- University of Wisconsin Stout: Student Complaint Process
- Indiana University: Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct
- University of California Los Angeles: How to Get a Professor to Change Your Grade
- American Psychological Association: What Should You Do if You Have a Complaint about Your Program?
- City University of New York: Procedures for Handling Student Complaints About Faculty Conduct in Academic Settings