Academic Appeals and Problems
What is an Academic Appeal?
An academic appeal is the appeal of an academic decision. There are many kinds of academic decisions. Some are made by individual faculty members, some by the students, some by the deans. Many academic decisions are the consequences of rules, such as the rules governing progression in a program.
Before launching an appeal, you need to know;
- whether there is an established procedure
- the deadline for initiating the procedure
- the reasons behind the decision
- who has the power to overturn the decision or modify it
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by academic rules and bureaucratic procedures. Begin by reading your course outline and reviewing the relevant section(s) of the Calendar. Talk to the decision maker, and listen closely to the explanation for the decision. Remember, it is the job of the professors, chairperson, and deans to make decisions in accordance with the rules, policies and practice, and also to be consistent in how they apply the rules. If a decision maker has said "no" to dozens of requests like yours, saying "no" to your request may be the fairest decision.
When Should You Appeal?
You should think of appealing only when you believe you have a good reason for thinking that an academic decision should be different in your case. What counts as a good reason will depend on the academic decision you are appealing. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Is there information about you or your circumstances that the decision maker didn't know and which might have made the decision different?
2. Did the decision maker make a mistake about a rule, policy or some other thing which might make the decision invalid?
3. Do you yourself know that the decision is not consistent with other decisions made in cases like yours?
4. Were you mislead or misinformed through no fault of your own so that you inadvertently did the wrong thing ? (NB: this does not include missing a deadline you should have known about!)
If you cannot answer yes to one of the above or to a similar question you probably do not have a good reason to appeal. But it is still important to try to understand the decision. You can always ask the decision maker to explain it; or check the policies in the Calendar or other relevant documents.
The Benefit of the Doubt
Many students feel that they should be given the benefit of the doubt in appeal situations. Others assume that it is hopeless to appeal unless they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a particular decision about them is unfair. Both of these assumptions are wrong.
The onus is usually on the student making the appeal to make the case. Academic appeals are decided on "balance of probabilities," which means that an unbiased decision maker who has heard all sides of the story and examined the evidence should be able to say: "The fair decision in this case is X, more likely than not."
Many students feel asking for help shows weakness. They believe that when they explain that they did not seek help for their problems they will be perceived as noble or admirable. We all value independence, but independence is not the same as not asking for help when you need it. Think of "help" as reaching for the right tool for the job - not as showing weakness.
Not giving up is not admirable or sensible when you are failing a course or in any struggle which is costing you more in time, effort, nerves, or money than you can afford to pay. Instead of thinking of dropping that problem course as "giving up," consider that you are "cutting your losses," "rethinking your goals" or "containing damage." Only you can protect your academic record from failure.
People some times confuse responsibility with blame. The University expects every student to take responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of his/her academic record, and for registering for the right courses to meet degree requirements. The University also expects students to know about deadlines and to keep authorities informed about whatever might interfere with their academic obligations. The University sees itself as a partner in your education: not as an adversary.
No one wants to be seen as a "complainer or whiner". At the same time, we don't want anyone to take advantage of us. So when and how should we complain? And for what purpose?
If you feel you are being treated fairly or receiving the service you have a right to expect, perhaps you can get fairer treatment if you complain constructively. A constructive complaint is one that focuses on how to fix a problem, rather than on blaming someone. It seeks change for the future instead of an apology for the past. Complaining constructively is easier if you do not feel that what went wrong was personal.
In considering appeals based on extenuating circumstances, decision makers are usually more sympathetic when the student has taken some effective steps to deal with the problem situation.
*Portions of this page were created by Frances Bauer, University of Western Ontario, used with permission*