4.5

The institution has adequate procedures for addressing written student complaints and is responsible for demonstrating that it follows those procedures when resolving student complaints. (See Commission policy “Complaint Procedures for the Commission or its Accredited Institutions.”) (Student complaints)

Compliance Judgment

    In compliance     Partially compliant     Non-compliant

Narrative

In accordance with the SACSCOC policy statement on Complaint Procedures against SACSCOC or its Accredited Institutions, Francis Marion University clearly establishes “student complaint policies and procedures that are reasonable, fairly administered, and well-publicized” and “maintains a record of complaints received by the institution” [1] as described below.

Student Complaint Policies and Procedures

The Catalog 2017-2018 provides a set of guidelines for students who have concerns or complaints. The fair-mindedness of the University’s practice is evident in the introduction to the guidelines, which states, “The University deems it essential that all students be provided an adequate opportunity to bring concerns, complaints, or suggestions to the attention of the administration with the assurance they will be treated promptly, professionally, fairly, and without fear of reprisal” [2-scroll down the page].

The guidelines below, which appear in the Catalog 2017-2018 [3-scroll down the page], clarify the correct process for students to follow in order to report any mistreatment by University faculty or staff:

  • Concerns about faculty on academic or other matters should be reported to the department chair or dean who supervises the professor or instructor.
  • Concerns about any form of perceived mistreatment by a University employee should be reported to the employee’s supervisor or to the office of the Vice President of the division to which the employee belongs.
  • Concerns about admissions, registration, advising, or financial assistance issues should be reported to the Associate Provost for Enrollment Management or the Provost’s Office.
  • Concerns about billing, student accounts, or other administrative issues (Campus Police, Dining Services, Bookstore, etc.) should be reported to the office of the Vice President of Business Affairs.
  • All other concerns about non-academic matters, including complaints about treatment by other students, should be reported to the Dean of Students’ Office

The procedures listed above “simplify the proper route for students to follow in reporting any perceived mistreatment by a University employee and are not intended to replace any existing policy or process for matters that may be grieved (i.e., sexual harassment, grade appeals, etc.)” [4-scroll down the page]. In some circumstances, written student complaints must be filed using a specific form, while in other cases an email will suffice, depending on the policy. The University has recently hired a Student Life Specialist/Student Ombudsman [5] to provide support for students as an advocate and to assist them with interpreting policies and procedures as seen in the attached position description [6].

Policies that involve sexual harassment are described in the Catalog 2017-2018 [7] and detailed in the Student Handbook 2017-2018 [8-scroll down the page]. Students receive explicit instructions in the handbook that the Francis Marion University Sexual Misconduct (Title IX) Policies and Procedures [9] supercedes all statements concerning discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct, and retaliation [10]. Procedures for grade appeals appear in both the Catalog 2017-2018 [11-scroll down the page] and the Student Handbook 2017-2018 [12]. The due process for students with disabilities to express their concerns appear in the Catalog 2017-2018 [13-scroll down to next page] and Student Handbook 2017-2018 as well [14-scroll down to next page].

Students enrolled in distance learning courses or programs have access to all complaint-related documents and procedures through the university’s website. Distance learners can file written complaints electronically for concerns regarding faculty, university employees, other offices and functions, and non-academic concerns [15].

Sample Records of Student Complaints

Table 1 provides elements of written student complaints that include documentation from involved individuals. Final resolutions are also documented in the table. Names have been removed when appropriate to protect the privacy of individuals.

DateComplaintResolutionLocation of Record
Conduct of police officerThe Dean of Student Affairs met with the student and recommended that she speak with the Chief of Police.Office of Student Affairs
Dining servicesThe Housing and Dining Appeals Committee approved the student’s request for a partial refund. Office of Business Affairs
Transcript and tuition payment issuesStudent Life Specialist/Student Ombudsman contacted Registrar’s Office and Office of Financial Services on behalf of student to investigate why FMU had not received transcript from another institution and why FMU had not received the student’s tuition payment. Student was dropped from courses because of (a) an outstanding balance owed to the other institution, which kept them from releasing the student’s transcript, and (b) not meeting the deadlines of FMU’s payment plan. Office of Student Affairs
Grade appealIn response to a grade appeal, the Grade Appeals Committee denied a change-of-grade request.Office of the Provost

Table 1. Processing of Student Complaints

Offices on campus track the number and type of written student complaints. Table 2 summarizes written students complaints reported to the Division of Student Affairs from Spring 2015 through Spring 2017.

Semester/YearNumber of Student ComplaintsSexual AssaultStudent Services (Financial Aid, Registrar’s Office, etc.)Academic Affairs (conflict with faculty)
Spring 2015
4
0
4
0
Fall 2015
5
0
5
0
Spring 2016
3
0
3
0
Fall 2016
6
0
5
1
Spring 2017
10
1
8
1

Table 2. Written Student Complaints to the Division of Student Affairs: Spring 2015 – Spring 2017

According to the Chair of the Grade Appeals Committee, “in 2015-2016, the Grade Appeals Committee evaluated eight grade appeals: three from the Fall 2015 semester and five from the Spring 2016 semester. The committee recommended a grade change for one of those appeals, and recommended the grades stand as recorded for the other seven. In 2016-2017, the Grade Appeals Committee has thus far evaluated 3 grade appeals from the Fall 2016 semester. The committee recommended the grades stand as recorded for all cases” [16].

Documentation

  1. Complaint Procedures against the Commission or its Accredited Institutions, p. 2
  2. Catalog 2017-2018, Guidelines for Student Concerns or Complaints, p. 46
  3. Catalog 2017-2018, Guidelines for Student Concerns or Complaints, p. 46
  4. Catalog 2017-2018, Guidelines for Student Concerns or Complaints, p. 46
  5. Student Life Specialist and Student Ombudsman
  6. Student Life Specialist and Student Ombudsman Position Description
  7. Catalog 2017-2018, Sexual Harassment Policy, p. 45
  8. Student Handbook 2017-2018, Sexual Harassment Policy, p. 45
  9. Student Handbook 2017-2018, FMU Sexual Misconduct (Title IX) Policies and Procedures, p. 82-86
  10. Student Handbook 2017-2018, Statement About FMU Sexual Misconduct (Title IX) Policies and Procedures, p. 78-79
  11. Catalog 2017-2018, Grade Appeals, p. 53
  12. Student Handbook 2017-2018, Grade Appeals, p. 69-70
  13. Catalog 2017-2018, Students with Disabilities, p. 14-15
  14. Student Handbook 2017-2018, Students with Disabilities, p. 21-22
  15. Online Grievance and Complaint Documents
  16. Report from Chair of the Grade Appeals Committee