Informal and Formal Grievance Procedures for Student Complaints
The College community benefits from formal and informal procedures that encourage prompt resolution of complaints and concerns that students may have about the implementation of policies and procedures that govern the institution.
Informal Dispute Resolution Efforts:
A Necessary First Step Before Filing Formal Complaints
Before pursuing the formal complaint process, every reasonable effort should be made to constructively resolve issues with faculty, staff, administrators, or students. Whenever possible and safe, the problem or complaint should first be discussed with the individual involved in the complaint. If satisfactory resolution is not reached after discussion with the individual, and that individual is a member of the faculty, staff, or administration, the student should contact the individual's direct supervisor to attempt to resolve the complaint. If these efforts are unsuccessful, or the individual is a student, the formal complaint process may be initiated. The College does not require a student to contact the person involved or that person's supervisor if doing so is impracticable, or if the student believes that the conduct cannot be effectively addressed through informal means.
Formal Grievance Process
The Associate Dean of Students (or designee) is designated to formally investigate student grievances, address inquiries and coordinate the College's compliance efforts regarding student complaints and grievances. The College's Human Resources Manager is designated to formally investigate staff and administrator complaints and grievances. The Director of the Career Planning and Internships Office is responsible for investigating student employment complaints.The College's Dean of Faculty is designated to formally investigate faculty complaints and grievances and the Senior Athletics Administrator is responsible for investigating complaints and grievances by student athletes.
Notice of a formal complaint can be made in person or orally to the appropriate office, but the College strongly encourages that a grievance be submitted [in writing, by email attachment as a MS Word or pdf document, in other written form] to the applicable designated Title IX Grievance Officer as previously stated in this policy. The grievance should clearly and concisely describe the alleged incident(s), when and where it occurred, and the desired remedy sought. [The phrase, "This constitutes a formal grievance" should be included in the subject line of the grievance. If the grievance does not contain this phrase, the College will seek written confirmation of the initiator's intent before proceeding with an investigation.]
The grievance should be signed by the initiator or, in the case of an email submission, sent as an email attachment, in letter format and should contain the name and all contact information for the grievant. Any supporting documentation and evidence should be referenced within the body of the formal grievance. Additionally, the initiator of a formal grievance should submit any supporting materials in writing within fifteen (15) business days of submitting the grievance. Extensions will only be granted by permission of the investigating College official.
The grievant's supporting documentation should clearly demonstrate all informal efforts, if any, to resolve the issue(s) with the person involved and the person's supervisor. This includes, names, dates and times of attempted or actual contact along with a description of the discussion and the manner of communication made in the course of each effort. If contacting the person involved and/or the supervisor is impracticable, the initiator should state the reasons why.
Upon receipt of a grievance, the appropriate College official will open a formal case file and assign a Case Officer who will direct the investigation and confer with the Title IX Coordinator on interim action, accommodations for the alleged victim, or other necessary remedial short-term actions.
The Case Officer will then take the following steps and conduct the investigation within 20 business days:
- Determine the identity and contact information of the complainant, whether that will be the initiator, the alleged victim, or a College proxy or representative;
- Collaborate with the complainant to identify the correct policies allegedly violated;
- Conduct an immediate initial investigation to determine if there is reasonable cause to charge the accused individual, and what policy violations should be alleged as part of the complaint. If there is insufficient evidence to support reasonable cause, the grievance should be closed with no further action;
- Collaborate with the complainant to finalize the complaint and prepare the notice of charges on the basis of the initial investigation;
- Commence a thorough, reliable and impartial investigation by developing a strategic investigation plan, including a witness list, evidence list, intended timeframe, verbatim record of any hearings, and order of interviews for all witnesses and the accused individual, who may be given notice before or at the time of the interview;
- Complete the investigation promptly, and without unreasonable deviation from the intended timeline;
- Make a finding, based on a preponderance of the evidence (whether a policy violation is more likely than not);
- Present the findings to the accused individual, who may accept the findings, accept the findings in part and reject them in part, or may reject all findings;
- Provide written notification of the findings and update the complainant on the status of the investigation and outcome, including a summary of the facts, legal basis, and information concerning the actions to be taken to remedy any harm if discrimination is found.
Where the accused individual is found not responsible for the alleged violation(s), the investigation should be closed. Where the accused individual accepts the finding that they violated College policy, the appropriate Case Officer will impose appropriate sanctions for the violation, after consultation with the Title IX Coordinator. The College will act to end the discrimination, prevent its recurrence, and remedy its effects on the victim and the College community.
In the event that the accused individual rejects the findings in part or in totality, Title IX Compliance Coordinator will convene a meeting under its respective procedures to determine whether the accused individual is in violation of the contested aspects of the complaint. At the meeting, the findings of the investigation will be admitted, but are not binding on the decider(s) of fact. The Case Officer(s) may give evidence. The meeting will determine whether it is more likely than not that the accused individual violated the policies supporting the complaint. The goal of the meeting is to provide an equitable resolution via an equitable process, respecting the civil and legal rights of all participants.
The Title IX Compliance Officer has final decision making authority in regards to formal complaints, subject to appeal. Where an accused individual is found in violation, the Title IX Compliance Coordinator will impose appropriate sanctions for the violation. The College will act to end the discrimination, prevent its recurrence, and remedy its effects on the victim and the College community. Appeal proceedings as described in this Policy will apply to all parties to the complaint.
Elaboration on Student Participation in the Grievance Process
The Case Officer will contact or request a meeting with the initiator of the formal grievance and the complainant. The Case Officer also may contact or request a meeting with relevant College staff or others as part of the investigation. The initiator of the grievance may request to meet and discuss the allegations of the grievance with the Case Officer and may offer any documentation, witnesses, or other materials in support of the complaint. The complainant has the option to have an advocate present during a meeting with the Case Officer to discuss the documentation submitted by the student in support of the grievance. Such an advocate must be a member of the College Community: student, faculty member, academic advisor, or staff member, unless leave is given by the case officer upon request for an advocate from outside the College community. The student must advise the Case Officer of the identity of an advocate or witness at least two business days before the date of the meeting with the Case Officer. During a meeting with the Case Officer, an attorney acting as a lawyer may not serve as the student's advocate or formally represent the student. These procedures are entirely educational in nature and are not considered legal proceedings. No legal representation allowed. At the Case Officer's discretion, the Case Officer may eject anyone disrupting the meeting from the discussion.
Time Frame and Grounds for Filing an Appeal
The decision of Case Officer may be appealed by petitioning the Title IX Compliance Coordinator. The accused or complainant may petition within three (3) business days of receiving the written decision for the review of the decision or the sanction imposed. Such petitions must be submitted [by email attachment as a Word or pdf document] to [appropriate grievance resources]. If the Title IX Compliance Coordinator determines that one of the five bases for appeal below has been met, he/she may either re-open the hearing to allow reconsideration of the original determination and/or sanction(s) or will refer the matter back to case officer. The Title IX Compliance Coordinator serves as the final level of review in the conduct matter. Except as required to explain the basis of new evidence, an appeal to the Title IX Compliance Coordinator will be limited to review of the verbatim record of the initial hearing and supporting documents for one or more of the following:
- To consider new evidence, unavailable during the original hearing or investigation, that could be outcome determinative;
- To assess whether a material deviation from written procedures impacted the fairness of the hearing;
- To decide if a sanction(s) is grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offense;
- To determine that the finding does not accord with the preponderance of the evidence;
- To assess whether bias of investigators or the hearing board deprived the process of impartiality.
Every opportunity should be taken to return the complaint to the Case Officer for reconsideration, where possible. On appeal by any party to the complaint, the Title IX Compliance Coordinator may support or change a decision, increase, decrease or modify a sanction. An appeal is not a rehearing, though witnesses may be called or parties questioned as necessary. The Title IX Compliance Officer will be deferential to the original decision makers, making changes to the finding only where there is clear error and to the sanction only if there is a compelling justification to do so.
The Title IX Compliance Coordinator will render a written decision on the appeal to all parties within seven (7) business days* from hearing of the appeal. The Title IX Compliance Officer's decision is final.
*Business day is defined to mean normal operating hours, Monday through Friday, excluding recognized national holidays. In cases where additional time is needed in the investigation of a complaint, students will be notified accordingly. The College reserves the right to make changes and amendments to this policy and procedure as needed, with appropriate notice to the community.
Special Grievance Process Provisions
1. Attempted violations
In most circumstances, the College will treat attempts to commit any of the violations listed in the Student Code of Conduct, Employee Handbook, or Faculty Handbook as if those attempts had been completed.
2. College as Complainant
As necessary, the College reserves the right to initiate a complaint, to serve as complainant, and to initiate conduct proceedings without a formal complaint by the victim of misconduct. The College shall make every effort to investigate alleged incidents of harassment and discrimination even if no report is filed.
3. False Reports
The College will not tolerate intentional false reporting of incidents. It is a violation of College policy to make a false report of any policy violation, and it may also violate state criminal statutes and civil defamation laws.
4. Immunity for Victims
The College community encourages the reporting of violations and crimes by victims. Sometimes, victims are hesitant to make such reports because they fear that they themselves may be accused of policy violations. It is in the best interests of this community that as many victims as possible choose to report to College officials. To encourage reporting, the College pursues a policy of offering victims of crimes amnesty from policy violations related to the incident.
5. Bystander Engagement
The welfare of all members in our community is of paramount importance. At times, community members on and off-campus may need assistance. The College encourages community members to offer help and assistance to others in need. Sometimes, community members are hesitant to offer assistance to others, for fear that they may get themselves in trouble (for example, a student who has been drinking underage might hesitate to help take a sexual misconduct victim to Campus Safety). The College pursues a policy of full immunity for students who offer help to others in need. [While policy violations cannot be overlooked, the College will provide educational options, rather than punishment, to those who offer their assistance to others in need.]
6. Parental Notification
The College reserves the right to notify parents/guardians of dependent students regarding any health or safety risk, change in student status or conduct situation, particularly alcohol and other drug violations. The College will also notify parents/guardians of non-dependent students who are under age 21 of alcohol and/or drug policy violations. Where a student is not-dependent, the College will contact parents/guardians to inform them of situations in which there is a health and/or safety risk. The College also reserves the right to designate which College officials have a need to know about individual conduct complaints pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
7. Notification of Outcomes
The outcome of a campus hearing is part of the educational record of the accused student, and is protected from release under a federal law, FERPA.H owever, the College observes the legal exceptions as follows:
Complainants in non-consensual sexual contact/intercourse, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, stalking, and relationship violence incidents have an absolute right to be informed of the outcome and sanctions of the hearing, in writing, without condition or limitation.
The College may release publicly the name, nature of the violation and the sanction for any student who is found in violation of a College policy that is a "crime of violence," including: arson, burglary, robbery, criminal homicide, sex offenses, assault, destruction/damage/vandalism of property and kidnapping/abduction. The College will release this information to the complainant in any of these offenses regardless of the outcome.
8. Alternative Testimony Options
For sexual misconduct complaints, and other complaints of a sensitive nature, whether the alleged victim is serving as the complainant or as a witness, alternative testimony options will be given, such as placing a privacy screen in the hearing room, or allowing the alleged victim to testify from another room via closed circuit. While these options are intended to help make the alleged victim more comfortable, they are not intended to work to the disadvantage of the accused individual.
9. Past Sexual History/Character
The past sexual history or sexual character of a party will not be admissible by the other party in hearings unless such information is determined to be highly relevant by the Case Officer. All such information sought to be admitted will be presumed irrelevant, and any request to overcome this presumption by the parties must be included in the complaint/response or a subsequent written request, and must be reviewed in advance of the hearing by the Case Officer. While previous conduct violations by the accused are not generally admissible as information about the present alleged violation, the Case Officer may consider it him/herself if s/he is hearing the complaint, only if:
- The accused was previously found to be responsible;
- The previous incident was substantially similar to the present allegation;
- Information indicates a pattern of behavior and substantial conformity with that pattern by the accused individual.
It is a violation of this Policy for any member of the College community to retaliate against any person who has filed a formal complaint or sought advice through the process described in this document. It is also in violation to retaliate against anyone who has participated in any manner in such processes. This applies to all accused and all witnesses.
The College will intervene promptly and effectively to put an end to discrimination and sexual harassment. The accommodation or sanction will be consistent with the seriousness of the offense and will be designed and imposed in a manner reasonably calculated to end the harassment and to persuade members of the campus community to refrain from unlawful conduct. Possible accommodations for a complainant may include one or more of the following at the College's sole discretion:
- Removing the responsible person from the environment (or removing the complainant from the environment) with the assurances that the person found responsible will not be in a position to retaliate, judge the complainant's performance, or influence the judging of the complainant's performance.
- In cases where the complainant is a student and the respondent is a faculty member, moving the complainant to a new class or having the complainant's course work evaluated by another professor in the same department.
- In cases where both complainant and person responsible are students, moving the responsible student or the complainant to a different residence hall, class section or work environment, or suspension of the responsible student until the complainant has left the College.
- In cases where both complainant and the responsible individual are employees, a change of work hours or moving the respondent or responsible individual to another department.
Disciplinary sanctions may consist of one or any combination of the following in the sole discretion of the College and in accordance with its policies:
- Verbal warning;
- Written warning;
- Performance of community service;
- Completion of an educational program;
- A letter in the individual's personnel or student file;
- Expulsion; and
- Termination of Employment
The College recognizes the sensitive nature of discrimination and sexual harassment complaints, both for the complainant and the accused. Both parties are entitled to as private a resolution of informal and formal complaints as can be afforded. The College expects all members of the College community to respect the right of the parties and the private nature of these issues.
Any person named in the policy, whether by name of position, with an official role, as participants in the processes established by this Policy, shall not disclose any information relating to any complaint of discrimination or sexual harassment to anyone who does not have a legitimate need to know in order to implement this policy. Designated Case Officers who receive informal and formal complaints, should, at the initiation of each stage, discuss with complainants and accused the extent to which their discussions may be kept confidential under this Policy.
While efforts will be made to communicate information about alleged discrimination and sexual harassment only to those who have a legitimate need to know, there may be situations where the designated Case Officer or other College officer will be required to make appropriate disclosures in order to eliminate a threat of imminent harm to a complainant or other members of the College community.
Location of Records
If the investigation following any complaint does not result in a finding of a violation of this Policy, the records relating to the complaint and the investigation will not become a part of any individual's personnel or student record. If the accused is found to have violated this Policy, those records of the case will become part of the permanent personnel or student file of the person responsible. Records of all complaints and their resolutions will be kept by the Title IX Coordinator for seven years. Access to personnel and student files, and the records maintained by the Title IX compliance officer, is limited by Title IX, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (Buckley Amendment), and various state statues and common law. These restrictions on the disclosure are designed to protect students, employees, and The College. Questions regarding access to records may be directed to the Title IX Compliance Officer/Director of Human Resources.