Got a Problem or Complaint?
Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay
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The best way to deal with a problem is not to have it. Here are some tips:
- Read the Catalog and be aware of course prerequisites, rules and regulations, and major requirements.
- Read the Timetable and Addenda.
- Let your instructor know as soon as possible if you will have problems attending class or meeting deadlines. Before the fact is much better than after!
- Keep your course syllabi, all course assignments, and exams.
If you have a problem with a course or instructor, there are several things you can do. In increasing order of seriousness, you can contact:
- The Instructor, personally or via CCQ
- The Instructor's Chairperson
- The Dean
- The Provost
- The Chancellor
The temptation is to go straight to the top, but complaints always end up going back down the chain anyway. Start at the lowest level you can.
If you can't reach an instructor, instead of hanging out at his or her office or making endless phone calls, go to one of the instructor's classes just before it begins or after it ends and make contact there.
What Can and Can't Be Done
The University Can:
- Deal with issues of misconduct, sexual harassment, discrimination, and so on. These are covered by State and Federal law and are taken with the utmost seriousness.
- Deal with issues of inappropriate or unprofessional language or behavior.
- Take measures to protect students from retaliation for lodging a complaint.
- Require an instructor to offer classes and exams at the scheduled times and places. An instructor cannot arbitrarily reschedule classes or exams.
- Require instructors to make reasonable accommodations for final exam conflicts or three exams on the same day.
The University May:
- Be able to resolve complaints about grades, work loads or grading standards.
- Be able to resolve class schedule conflicts.
- Be able to resolve some problems dealing with poor instruction.
- Problems of this sort are best resolved by talking to the instructor, or the chairperson.
The University Cannot:
- Summarily fire or penalize an instructor. There are strict due-process procedures that must be followed. Many people criticize the system, with some justice, but it practically takes a nuclear weapon to remove a tenured professor.
- Guarantee anonymity in formal complaints. The right to face your accuser in any formal proceeding is written into the Constitution. However, informal complaints, where the issue is solving a problem rather than punitive action, can be handled anonymously.
- Tell a professor to include or remove topics from a course if there's a legitimate reason for having them in the course.
- Penalize an instructor for including material or presenting viewpoints that offend your personal beliefs if that material has a valid academic purpose.
These are taken more seriously than students often think. They are used in evaluating instructors for tenure or promotion and for determining merit pay raises. However, students often use CCQ's wrongly or ineffectively.
- No Sympathy: complaints about the course having too much math, history, writing, etc. Sorry. Goes with the territory.
- Also No Sympathy: complaints about the course based on your disagreement with the instructor's opinions or conclusions.
- The ability to cope with differing viewpoints is a hallmark of theeducated adult.
- If you don't challenge something you disagree with in class, don't expect a comment on the CCQ to count heavily.
- Is it at all possible that the instructor may have more information on the topic than you do?
- Organization: if the instructor is chronically late, unprepared or rambling, that's a problem to be addressed. Things outside the instructor's control like equipment breakdowns are not included here. Not understanding the course because you don't study is most emphatically not included here.
- Written Comments are helpful only if they are specific. Not helpful: "The class was boring" (what would you add or eliminate to make it more interesting?). "The exams were unfair" (How?)
Return to Professor Dutch's Home Page
Created 11 December 1997, Last Update 2 April 1999