Got complaints? There’s a process for that

Picture this: you have a professor who doesn’t meet the expectations set for themselves. They continuously forget to grade homework, show up to class late, or don’t show up at all. 

Students hold the power to ensure professors do the best job they can, but most don’t know it.

Minnesota State University, Mankato senior Gannon Jordahl has never sent in a complaint about a professor before, mostly because he never felt like he needed to.

“I haven’t sent in a complaint, besides the end of year thing they put out,” Jordal commented.

Around the time of mind-terms and final exams, professors release a course evaluation form where students rank the professor on a variety of topics concerning the class and bring up any problems they may have experienced. 

Similarly, senior Jakob Rusten hasn’t had an issue with a professor to the point of reporting them, as he also doesn’t know how to do so. Rusten does, however, keep a track record throughout the semester in order to accurately fill out the course evaluations.

“Normally I save up a bunch of choice words for those course evaluations at the end of the semester,” Rusten stated. “If it [the problem] kept happening over and over and I went to their office hours and asked them about it and they danced around the question, I would report it I guess.”

Eventually, however, things may rise to the level of lodging a formal complaint. But what does that process entail?

“The goal is to facilitate a solution,” said Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Brian Martensen, noting that each complaint will have a different process depending on its nature.

The first step is trying to informally resolve the issue, where students come forward with an oral or written complaint to the professor or department. If needed, the dean of the college in question will get involved as well. 

If this doesn’t solve the issue, a formal process is suggested where students fill out an official grievance form (which can be found through the MNSU Student Government). Once the complaint is received, the department head or dean will determine how the complaint will be handled. 

“We figure out A) is the complaint supported, and B) what’s the right remedy,” Martensen explained. 

After this determination, the department head or dean may gather the student and professor to go over the complaint as well as the different ways the problem could be resolved.

“The goal of the process is to be fair and have avenues where we can hear what’s happening. The ultimate goal, of course, is to come up with some resolution,” Martensen stated.

In the case of multiple students coming forward with concerns about a professor, the University has a plan to handle it. This would involve setting expectations, scheduling check-in dates with the faculty to see if the problem has been fixed, and determining whether additional training or workshops are needed.

“The dean would acknowledge what the problem was with the faculty and they would figure out a path forward so that behavior would not continue in the future,” he said. 

One important question surrounding these types of complaints is whether tenure will affect a student’s complaint. 

Martensen said that, while tenure may seem like it completely defends the faculty, this isn’t the case. 

“They [the faculty] do have a lot of protection, but that’s not to say that if problems continue to exist — and in particular if we don’t see that faculty member commit to improvement — there are disciplinary steps that can be taken.

“Whether they’re tenured or untenured, there’s no line there that says discipline looks any different,” he added.

“Here’s the expectations, here’s a warning, it’s not improving, it can go to suspension or even termination if the problems are serious enough and persistent.”

The complete grievance and complaint forms can be found on the University’s website.

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