Strengthened Grievance Procedures and Other Actions

April 11, 2005

To the Columbia Community:

I am writing to report on two important improvements in the University's procedures for responding to student concerns and grievances. All of us on the faculty care deeply about our students, and these are among several steps we will be taking to better address their needs. Overall, I want to ensure that we have open and clear channels of communications in place among all students, faculty and administrators in order to strengthen our entire community.

Of primary importance is the need to clarify and improve our grievance procedures.

Because our scholarly community is large and diverse, the faculties and administrations of the individual schools each have their own grievance procedures. Over the past several months, we have been working with our deans to review, clarify and, where appropriate, augment the processes already in place to create a more cohesive and effective system for responding to student grievances. Discussions with students, faculty and administrators have been an important part of this effort, and these discussions are ongoing.

It is imperative that those handling our procedures are informed and invested with the authority of the particular schools to resolve complaints. It is also imperative that our systems for handling student concerns and grievances are sufficiently robust, readily accessible and clear in what they cover, with reasonable timeframes for responses to the student and with an opportunity to appeal.

Most student concerns are best dealt with in informal and collaborative ways at the school level, such as with the class dean or the dean of students, as explained in the procedures for each school. Whenever possible, we must continue to facilitate that kind of resolution for initial complaints related to teaching and other areas of student concern.

But, occasionally, more formal procedures are needed, and these, too, will now be provided. For example, at the school level, ColumbiaCollege, the School of General Studies and The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) have clearly articulated informal or collaborative grievance procedures for undergraduates. Integrated with these procedures are opportunities for lodging a formal complaint at the level of the dean or vice president.

Undergraduate students registering complaints are encouraged to do so initially by using their school's procedures. Any complaints of undergraduates or other students served by the faculty of the Arts and Sciences that remain unresolved at the school level can now be reviewed by a standing faculty committee of the Arts and Sciences. Students may also access the faculty committee directly if they feel this is a more appropriate venue for registering initial grievances. Students and faculty will also have the option of appealing directly to the provost.

Our graduate and graduate professional schools have also reviewed and revised their procedures, refining and creating new procedures to make sure the avenues for complaints and concerns are clear and understandable, and to provide for an opportunity for appeal to the provost for both the student and the faculty member.

There is a great institutional need to have appropriate procedures in place as soon as possible, and these new procedures signify important progress in this area. However, more work needs to be done. Together, we will continue to review these procedures as we gain practical experience in their application and amend them as required. We must communicate about these procedures effectively and ensure that those who administer them have the necessary training and support. We will relate what happens in the grievance system with our advising of and interactions with students in all other settings. And we will step back periodically to see how we are doing.

Hearing from the community in the months ahead will help us improve on what we have now put in place. Each undergraduate school is soliciting feedback, as are the graduate and graduate professional schools. To view the enhanced grievance procedures for your particular school, please visit your school's website. Alternatively, you can visit Provost Alan Brinkley's website, which contains a full list of links to the grievance procedures at all schools. Comments, concerns or questions on school-specific procedures can be submitted to the College, the School of General Studies and SEAS through specially created email addresses found on each school's Website. They may also be directed to offices of school deans, the Office of the Vice President for Arts and Sciences, the University ombuds officer or the provost.

In a related matter, I know it can be difficult at times for the University leadership to keep apprised of students' concerns about campus issues. While we interact with students in many ways, the absence of a formal way of connecting with students has become apparent, and I believe it is beneficial to establish a regular way of meeting.

After considerable discussion with students and others, I have decided to form a President's Council on Student Affairs. This body will help ensure that students from across the University, as well as the administrators responsible for addressing the quality of student life, have a forum for bringing important matters directly to my attention.

The council will be composed of one student representative from each undergraduate school and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as well as the respective dean of student affairs from each of those schools. The vice president for student services and the University chaplain will also sit on this council, and two students and two deans of student affairs from our graduate professional schools will join on a rotating basis. Provost Brinkley and I will meet with this council three times a year.

The student councils for each school will nominate three students, who are not already officers, to join the council. From these nominees, Provost Brinkley and I will select the final student representatives, who will serve for the academic year. The selection of students for council representation in the 2005-2006 academic year will take place by May 2005.

Also, I intend to meet formally with all student government leaders, including members of the University Senate Student Caucus, at least once a semester. And given the extremely important role that Chaplain Jewelnel Davis plays in hearing and addressing student concerns and ideas, I also will be holding regular meetings each semester with her and the Executive Council of Earl Hall.

I hope and expect that these initiatives will be helpful in advancing the interest all of us have in building our sense of community at Columbia.


Lee C. Bollinger