Student Concerns and Grievance


The Physical Sciences Division (PSD) is committed to creating a climate that supports robust education, research, and student and faculty development. Abuses of authority are unacceptable in the PSD. 

This policy establishes a process by which currently enrolled graduate students and students on an approved leave of absence in the PSD may file a formal grievance alleging abuse of authority by faculty, other academic appointees, postdoctoral researchers, or staff.

This policy also offers options for informal means for resolving conflicts or addressing concerns (including conflicts or concerns that do not involve allegations of abuse of authority) and information about offices and individuals who can support students.

Absent exceptional circumstances, the PSD requires students to attempt informal resolution for addressing all conflicts, concerns, or complaints alleging abuse of authority before filing a formal grievance.

Grievances Involving Individuals from Other Academic Units

In a case where a PSD student has a potential grievance alleging abuse of authority by someone outside the PSD, students should follow the grievance policy of the PSD.

Office of the Provost

In extraordinary circumstances, students may request that a grievance case be handled by the Office of the Provost rather than the PSD. To request Office of the Provost review, students must provide a supporting rationale for why their case cannot be fairly heard within the PSD. Please review the University Grievance Policy for Graduate Students in the Student Manual.


A. Abuse of authority 

Abuse of authority is the arbitrary or capricious exercise of authority for purposes inconsistent with the University’s educational and research mission. Expression occurring in an academic, educational, or research context is a special case and is broadly protected under the principle of academic freedom. Expression in these contexts will not constitute abuse of authority unless (in addition to satisfying the definition above) it is targeted at a specific person or persons and serves no bona fide academic purpose.

Identifying abuse of authority can be challenging. A non-exhaustive list of examples is provided below to provide general guidance for identifying and understanding abuse of authority. Students are welcome to seek out the help of individuals noted in the “Informal Resolution” section to discuss their individual situation and options for resolution. 

Not abuse of authority

Potential abuse of authority

A student receives a lower-than-expected score on an exam.

A student has been assisting one of their instructors by running personal errands. During this time, they have received high grades and positive feedback on coursework. After informing the instructor that they can no longer assist with these errands, the student receives an atypically low score on an exam.

An instructor disagrees with a claim made by a student during class and corrects the student in front of the entire class.

An instructor responds to a student’s comment in class by calling the student stupid and commenting that they should not have been admitted to the PhD program.

A student emails a faculty advisor requesting feedback on a dissertation draft and doesn’t receive an immediate response.

Over the course of several months, a faculty advisor does not respond to continued attempts by a student to get feedback on dissertation work. The chronic lack of communication and feedback causes the student to fall behind on progress towards degree.

B. Informal Resolution 

Informal resolution is the first method students must use to attempt to resolve concerns or complaints. There are a range of resources and approaches to informal resolution that are discussed in more detail in Sections VI and VII.

C. Formal grievance process

The formal grievance process is the submission of a formal complaint alleging abuse of authority using the mechanism described in Section VIII.

D. Complainant

Complainant refers to the student who submits a formal grievance.

E. Respondent

Respondent refers to the person(s) whom the complainant alleges committed an abuse of authority. Students may file a formal grievance against faculty, other academic appointees, postdoctoral researchers, or staff.


  • Allegations of academic fraud (e.g. plagiarism; fabrication or falsification of evidence, data, or results; suppression of relevant evidence or data; conscious misrepresentation of sources; theft of ideas; intentional misappropriation of the research work or data of others) should also be addressed using procedures from the University’s Policy on Academic Fraud.

  • Grade and Academic Evaluation Disputes

A grade dispute or complaint about other academic evaluations cannot constitute a formal grievance on its own, though it may be evidence in support of a formal grievance alleging abuse of authority.

Faculty have the authority and responsibility to assess academic performance of students. For individual courses, this means that only the instructor who gave the course, examination, or evaluation has authority to change their assessment of the student’s performance. At the departmental or program level, the department/program has the authority to evaluate students’ academic progress and standing in the program.

Students should bring concerns about an academic matter forward in a timely manner, and the concern should be responded to as expeditiously as is feasible. If a student feels that a grade has been assigned unfairly or improperly, they should: discuss their concerns with the instructor directly, consult with advisers, directors, or chairs within the program or department, or bring concerns to the Dean of Students. Whoever ultimately responds to the student's concern will base their response on either metrics laid out in course syllabi, or on policies and practices established by the graduate program, Division, or University. Note that in some cases a student's questions may be resolvable through informal conversation without additional steps being necessary. In other cases, following from this initial conversation, the student may determine that they still have concerns about a real or perceived wrong or other cause for complaint or protest, especially unfair treatment.

Academic Matter Resolution Process

The academic official to whom the student brought the concern will meet with the student to discuss and resolve the issue. This official may consult as appropriate with other faculty and/or the Dean of Students to resolve the matter. The official will discuss the outcome of the review in a meeting with the student and follow up in writing. Should the matter remain unresolved, the student may bring the case to the attention of the PSD Dean of Students by writing to the DOS about their concerns and providing an articulation of why the matter is still unresolved. The Dean of Students will review the written materials, may ask the student for clarification, may consult with the official who initially responded to the dispute and/or the chair or program director and the academic dean, and will make a final determination. The resolution process addresses whether the academic assessment was made impartially, solely based on academic performance, and conducted using standard procedures. The Dean of Students will discuss the outcome of the review in person with the student and follow up in writing.

Students with questions about the procedures may contact the PSD Dean of Students Office


There is no time limit on filing a grievance, though grievances may only be filed by a current student or a student on an approved leave of absence.

Students are encouraged to file a grievance as soon as is practicable to maximize the University’s ability to respond promptly and effectively.


All members of the community should be able to bring forward conflicts, concerns, and possible grievances in a respectful environment and are expected to do so in good faith. The University prohibits retaliation against any person who exercises any rights or responsibilities under this policy. Any act of retaliation may be a separate violation of this policy.


The informal resolution options presented in this section are available to all students regardless of the specific nature of their complaint or concern.

Resources for Seeking Advice

The individuals and offices listed below are able to assist students and discuss options for constructively approaching informal resolutions. Students are encouraged to ask for help and seek support.

PSD Resources

  • The Dean of Students. The Dean of Students can meet with students to discuss their individual concerns, provide an overview of grievance procedures, and offer guidance for informal resolution.
  • Departmental/Program Staff and Faculty. Students can seek guidance on resolution within their departments, including: a Director of Graduate Studies, Department Chair, Program Director, faculty advisor, or Student Affairs Administrator.
  • Local Peer Resources. Some departments or programs may have departmental ombudspersons, student-faculty committees, or other student representatives who can bring concerns to departmental or PSD leadership. Students may reach out to their Dean’s Student Advisory Committee (DSAC) representative.

Campus-wide Resources

  • The Student Ombuds Office. The Student Ombuds Office serves as a peer resource to assist in resolving conflicts, concerns, and other problems students may encounter at the University.
  • The Associate Director for Graduate Student Affairs (UChicagoGRAD). The Associate Director serves as a resource for students on issues around grievance policy and procedures. The Associate Director can meet with students individually, and also is available to provide trainings and workshops to support constructive conversations around student concerns. Email for assistance.

Personal Support

The PSD strongly encourages students to also seek support from the following university resources:

  • Student Wellness can connect students with counselors who can help students navigating a variety of challenges and provides services and programming for managing stress
  • Sounding Board assists graduate students with negotiating work/life balance issues, navigating relationships, and creating strategies for having difficult conversations with peers, faculty, and others.
  • The Office of Spiritual Life offers advisers and programming for students.


Students utilizing the informal resolution process are encouraged to consider the following methods for addressing their concerns. This list is non-exhaustive and intended to be a starting point.

  1. Facilitated Conversation

Students can request that an administrator or faculty member arrange a meeting to be attended by the student and the individual(s) with whom there is conflict to discuss the source of the conflict and collaboratively explore solutions.

  1. Shuttle Diplomacy

Faculty and administrators can speak on the student’s behalf with the individual(s) relevant to a student’s complaint or concern and report back to the student about the conversation.

  1. Informational Reports

Students may wish to report a complaint or concern but do not want to have their individual case acted upon. Students can submit an informational report to the Dean of Students Office or submit an anonymous report to the Office of the Provost. These reports can be used to identify patterns of concerning behavior.

Students may make an informational report to the PSD by reaching out to the Dean of Students to discuss their concern or complaint. The information in this report may be shared with the student’s department and other university officials without prior consent if (1) there is a concern about abuse or possible misconduct that rises to the level of requiring immediate action or (2) there is a concern about the student’s or another person’s health or safety.

Students may make an anonymous report to the Office of the Provost through this form. Anonymous reports will be reviewed by the Office of the Provost and shared with academic units and other university officials as appropriate.


Students may use the formal grievance process where there is an allegation of abuse of authority and attempts at informal resolution have been ineffective.

  1. Parties Involved in Formal Grievance Process
  • Student/complainant – the individual submitting a formal grievance
  • Respondent – the individual(s) alleged in the formal grievance to have abused their authority
  • Dean – the Dean of the Physical Sciences Division
  • Dean’s designee – an individual designated by the Dean to act on their behalf in formal grievance cases, typically the Dean of Students
  • Grievance Committee – the group convened by the Dean to review all information about the case and make a recommendation to the Dean
  • Support person – both the student/complainant and respondent are entitled to bring a support person of their choice to any meeting conducted as part of the formal grievance process; this person does not function as an advocate
  1. Role of Support Person

If either the student/complainant or respondent chooses to bring a support person to a meeting as part of the formal grievance process, they must notify the individual(s) with whom they are meeting of the identity of the support person in advance.

The support person does not function as an advocate or participate directly in any way during the meeting. If the support person is a lawyer, a representative of the University’s Office of Legal Counsel may attend the meeting. 

Both the student/complainant and respondent(s) are expected to speak for themselves and submit their own written statements.

  1. Standard of Review

The Committee will apply a preponderance of the evidence standard. This standard means that the Committee will decide whether, in consideration of all the information before it, it is more likely than not that an abuse of authority occurred.

  1. Submitting a Formal Grievance

Students must submit a complaint using this online form to file a formal grievance.

  1. Timelines

Timelines are specified for all stages in the formal grievance process. If necessary, specific deadlines may be extended with notice to the student and respondent[s].

  1. Initial Review of Formal Grievance

The Dean or the Dean’s designee will review the formal grievance form and any provided written documentation to determine if:

  1. The case is appropriate for formal resolution to the grievance policy; and
  2. The case cannot be resolved by informal means.

As part of this initial review, the Dean or designee may request a meeting with the student/complainant to discuss the complaint. The Dean or designee will discuss support resources that the student may find helpful.

The student/complainant will receive written notification within 30 calendar days of submitting the formal grievance complaint regarding whether the case meets the criteria for formal resolution.

If the Dean or designee determine that the complaint is appropriate for resolution using the formal grievance process, the respondent(s) will be provided with written notice and a copy of the complaint within 7 calendar days of the notice to the student/complainant.

  1. Grievance Committee

The Dean will convene the Grievance Committee to consider the formal grievance complaint. The Committee is charged with reviewing all relevant information about the case and making a recommendation to the Dean.

The Committee will be composed of the Dean of Students and three PSD faculty members from outside the complainant and respondent’s department or program, one of whom will be appointed by the Dean to serve as faculty chair.

Members of the Committee shall maintain independent judgment and open-mindedness about the alleged grievance, free from material bias and conflicts of interest. If Committee members are unable to execute these duties, they shall recuse themselves.

The student/complainant and respondents(s) will be notified of the Committee’s composition as soon as practicable before the Committee begins its formal review.

Either party may request a substitution of a Committee member if the participation of any individual on the Committee poses a conflict of interest. Substitution requests must be made to the Dean in writing within two (2) business days of receiving notice of the identities of Committee members. Substitution requests must articulate the alleged nature of the conflict of interest with specificity.

The Dean will determine whether the alleged conflict is genuine and material and whether the alleged conflict merits the Committee member’s replacement.

  1. Physical Sciences Division Grievance Committee Process

The Committee shall designate a member or members to:

  1. Interview, as necessary, individuals who may have relevant knowledge
  2. Collect materials, as necessary, including relevant documents

The student/complainant and respondent(s) will have the opportunity to provide relevant documentation and names of relevant individuals. The respondent may provide a written response to the complaint if the respondent wishes to provide this. All parties will have the opportunity to meet with the Committee or a designated representative of the Committee.

Based on interviews and materials, the Committee will determine whether it is more likely than not that an abuse of authority occurred.  The committee may consult with the Dean when making a final determination.


In cases where the Committee determines that it is more likely than not that an abuse of authority occurred, The PSD will be guided by the principle that outcomes should focus on addressing the harm to the student and preventing its recurrence.

The range of possible outcomes vary according to the role of the individual found responsible for violating the policy, the nature and severity of the violation, and whether a pattern of violations exists.

If any respondent is found to have abused their authority as defined in Section II, the Dean and/or other supervisor will meet with the respondent to discuss the finding and expectations regarding future conduct. A notation regarding the formal grievance finding and expectations for future conduct may be made in the respondent’s personnel record.

Other possible outcomes include, but are not limited to: required trainings, changes to teaching and advising assignments, removal from leadership positions or committee assignments, ineligibility for annual pay increases, and referral to applicable additional processes if further action is warranted.

Timing and Notification of Outcome

The student/complainant and respondent(s) shall be notified in writing of the Dean’s determination no more than 90 calendar days after the formal grievance was filed.

Outcome Review

The notification will provide both parties with information about how to request review of the outcome. Outcome review is limited to cases where the procedures outlined in this policy were not followed. New information/evidence is not sufficient to merit review of the outcome; rather, the party with new information that may impact the outcome of the grievance should present that new information directly to the individual who notified them of the decision.

More information on the Graduate Student Grievance Review Process is available in the Student Manual.


The below is a broad outline of steps students may take to seek resolution to their concerns and grievances.

  1. Students should seek advice when first confronting challenging situations (See Sections VI and VII). Resources may include the DOS, Director of Graduate Studies, Department Chair, Program Director, faculty advisor, Student Affairs Administrator, and/or Student Ombuds Office. Students should attempt informal resolution methods (See Section VII).
  2. Where informal approaches have not resolved the matter and the complaint involves a question of abuse of authority, then a formal grievance may be appropriate. The student/complainant should submit their grievance via the Formal Grievance Form and notify the Dean of Students that they have submitted a report.
  3. The student/complainant will receive written notification within 30 calendar days of submitting the formal grievance complaint regarding whether the case meets the criteria for formal resolution.
  4. The grievance process will be followed in a consistent and transparent manner as explicitly articulated in Section VIII.
  5. This process will be completed by the Grievance Committee no more than 90 calendar days after the case was initially submitted.

After receiving the determination of the Grievance Committee, either party (complainant or respondent) may seek Outcome Review if they believe that procedures outlined in this policy were not followed.