Procedure for Student Complaint Against Faculty

In fulfilling their instructional responsibilities, faculty are expected to treat their students with civility and respect. They “should make every effort to be accurate and should show respect for the rights of others to hold opinions differing from their own. They should confine their classes to the subject matter covered by the course and not use them to advocate any cause” (2000 Faculty Handbook). Students who feel that members of the Columbia University School of Nursing faculty have not met those obligations may take advantage of informal mechanisms Columbia Nursing has created to provide them with help. They also may request a formal grievance hearing by following the procedures described in this statement.

These procedures provide students with avenues for informally resolving complaints against the faculty and for seeking formal redress from the Dean if those efforts at mediation fail. They also provide for an appeal to the Provost of the Dean’s decision by either the student or faculty member.

Informal Conflict Resolution

Students are encouraged to seek a resolution to their complaint by talking directly with the faculty member. A grievance might surface through a faculty member or a program director that a student chooses to approach. In many cases the matter can be resolved informally at that level, if both parties are in agreement.

For disputes that cannot be resolved at the student/faculty level, the student is referred to the Dean of Students. The Dean of Students may discuss the situation with the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs. Some complaints stop here through a process of counseling and evaluation if both parties feel that the matter can be addressed at this level. Accurate assessment and mutual solution are the goals at this stage of proceeding. Students are advised of their options. They include:

  1. Taking no action (sometimes discussion is the goal).
  2. The Dean of Students serving as an intermediary between the faculty member and the student to mediate the concerns.
  3. The Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs speaking to the relevant faculty member.

Students may also bring their problems to the University’s Ombuds Officer, who serves as an informal, confidential resource for assisting members of the University with conflict resolution. The Ombuds Officer provides information, counseling, and referrals to appropriate University offices. The Ombuds Officer will also mediate conflicts if both parties agree. The Ombuds Officer does not have the authority to adjudicate disputes and does not participate in any formal University grievance proceedings.

Formal Grievance Procedures

Students are encouraged, but not required, to seek an informal resolution to their complaints against their faculty. They may elect, instead, to ask for a formal grievance hearing. They may also seek a grievance hearing if informal mediation fails. The grievance procedures students should follow will depend upon the school within which the faculty member is appointed and the nature of the alleged misconduct.

If the faculty member holds an appointment in Columbia Nursing, the student may use the procedures described in this statement to address the issues listed below. If the faculty member belongs to another school, students must use its procedures. They may, however, ask for help from program directors and the School’s deans to identify and understand the appropriate procedures.

Issues that are grievable under these procedures include:

  1. Failure to accord appropriate respect to the opinions of students in an instructional setting;
  2. Misuse of faculty authority in an instructional setting to promote a political or social cause; and
  3. Personal conduct in the classroom or another instructional setting that adversely affects the learning environment.

This procedure does not take the place of the grievance procedures already established to address disputes over grades. Students should also use alternative procedures in the following situations:

  1. If the alleged misconduct involves discrimination and sexual harassment, a student should file a complaint with the Associate Provost for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. The procedures or handling such complaints are described in the statement, "Student Policies on Discrimination and Harassment."
  2. Complaints against the School’s faculty that allege scientific or scholarly misconduct are also evaluated using other procedures. These are contained in the statement, "Guidelines for Review of Misconduct in Science for the Columbia University's Health Sciences."

Any student currently enrolled in the University and directly affected by the behavior of a faculty member of the School may ask for a grievance hearing under the procedures in this statement. The student initiates the hearing by submitting a written statement to the Dean documenting the grievance. The request must be submitted no later than 30 days after the end of the semester within which the misconduct was alleged to have occurred.

The Dean will review the complaint to determine if there is sufficient grounds to proceed with a hearing or if the issues raised by the student can be resolved in another manner. If the Dean determines that a hearing is warranted, he or she will appoint an ad hoc committee to operate as a fact-finding body and report back on whether the complaint is justified. When appropriate, the committee may also recommend remedies to the student’s complaint and disciplinary action against the faculty member. The composition of such an ad hoc committee cannot be determined before the event. It is selected by the Dean for its expertise in meeting the issues raised. The membership will normally consist of faculty members, and, at the discretion of the Dean, could include a student, and/or senior administrator.

The faculty member is given the student’s letter of complaint and invited to provide the ad hoc committee with a written response. The committee reviews both statements and is given access to any other written documents relevant to the complaint. The committee will normally interview both the grievant and the faculty member and may, at its discretion, ask others to provide testimony.

The investigative committee serves in an advisory capacity to the Dean of the School. It is expected to complete its investigation in a timely manner and submit a written report to the Dean who may accept or modify its findings and recommendations. The Dean will inform both the student and the faculty member of his decision in writing.

The Dean may discipline faculty members who are found to have committed professional misconduct. Any sanctions will be imposed in a manner that is consistent with the University’s policies and procedures on faculty discipline. In particular, if the Dean believes that the offense is sufficiently serious to merit dismissal, he or she will initiate the procedures in Section 75 of the University Statutes for terminating tenured appointments, and non-tenured appointments before the end of their stated term, for cause.


Either the student or the faculty member may appeal the decision of the Dean to the Provost. Findings of fact, remedies granted the student and penalties imposed on the faculty member are all subject to appeal. The three grounds for appeal are:

  1. A procedural error affecting the findings or determinations
  2. New information that was not available at the time of the hearing that may change the determination
  3. Excessiveness of the sanction

A written appeal must be submitted to the Provost within 15 working days of the date of the letter informing them of the Dean’s decision.

The Provost will normally confine his or her review to the written record compiled by the School’s grievance committee and the Dean, but reserves the right to conduct the review of the Dean’s decision in any manner he or she considers appropriate.

The Provost will inform both the student and the faculty member of his or her decision in writing. If the Provost decides that the faculty member should be dismissed for cause, the case is subject to further review according to the procedures in Section 75 of the University Statutes, as noted above. Otherwise, the decision of the Provost is final and not subject to further appeal.


All aspects of investigations of a student grievance are confidential. The proceedings of the grievance committee are not open to the public. Only the student grievant and the faculty member accused of misconduct receive copies of the decisions of the Dean and the Provost. Everyone who is involved with the investigation of a grievance is expected to respect the confidentiality of the process.