No standard appeal in faculties

Appeals exist at the University of Calgary to ensure fairness in university decisions. However, some critics have called the system unfair.

“It is generally understood that with the same extenuating circumstance it is easier to win your appeal in the arts and science faculties, for instance, than in engineering,” explained Students’ Union Student Rights Advisor Patti Spady. “The degree of extenuating circumstances necessary for sufficient grounds for appeal varies somewhat from faculty to faculty. Deans have an enormous power to run their faculty as they see fit.”

“It’s play it by ear,” said Faculty of Science Associate Dean Dr. Herb Rosenberg, about deans’ decision making. “There are so many humans involved there has to be variety.”

SU Vice-President Academic Demetrios Nicolaides believed part of the problem was the lack of criteria given to decision makers.

“There wasn’t something in place to give the GFC guidance [for extenuating circumstance],” said Nicolaides. “It was a rumour that hadn’t really been looked at in the past.”

It is the validity of “extenuating circumstance” that entitles students to an appeal hearing and, because each dean creates their own definition, some students may feel they are being dealt with unfairly. Where a student is required to withdraw from one faculty, a student in another faculty might be given another chance.

“The real issue is where the decision lies, with the associate dean,” said Nicolaides. “That’s individual decision making. You can’t legislate that.”

While he maintained “inconsistencies will always exist,” Nicolaides has created guidelines for “extenuating circumstances” as well as for “appropriate documentation” in an effort to limit discrepancies.

Spady has also recently begun to investigate these inconsistencies. She sees over 250 appeals each year, about 125 are students required to withdraw due to low GPA.

Her experience, along with her research, has led her to agree with Nicolaides. Though differences exist, she explained, they are due to decisions, not inconsistencies in procedure. Moreover, she contends deans need to consider factors specific to their faculties when ruling on appeals and challenges the assumption faculty specific decisions are unfair.

“Even with decisions you have to consider there may be perfectly legitimate reasons for inconsistencies. Does that necessarily make it unfair? No,” concluded Spady.

This need for faculty specific decision making is a sentiment shared not only by Spady and Nicolaides, but by deans and student representatives alike.

“Cultures differ between faculties,” said Communications and Culture Dean Dr. Kathleen Scherf. “I think the system works well because faculties are best positioned to respond to the issues of their particular students.”

“In general, there are discrepancies between faculties. I would, however, like to point out that each faculty does have its own unique chara- cteristics,” said Communications and Culture Representative Laura Schultz. “Every effort is made to ensure a fair proceeding occurs with due process. I have never felt uncomfortable or felt that an appeal has been unfair to students.”

This opinion is not, however, unanimous. Rosenberg felt factors such as workload and nature of work may vary greatly between faculties.

“I would hope the rulings made would not reflect those differences,” he said.

Nonetheless, other faculty representatives seem to share Schultz’s approval of the current system, even the engineers who believe they are treated unfairly.

“The appeals process in my faculty is very well coordinated, fair and objective. I had a positive experience sitting on this committee earlier in the semester,” said Science Representative Gloria Mak.

“The way it’s done is a fair process,” said Engineering Students’ Society VP Academic Rob Johnston, who has helped students through the process. “The undergrad office and the dean’s office are quite helpful. They’ll be fair if the student is prepared.”

Therein lies the problem: the failure to follow procedure can easily destroy an otherwise valid appeal.

Spady outlined a strong appeal as one where the student not only has valid extenuating circumstances, which directly affected their performance, but documentation to prove it. The student must also demonstrate a plan to remedy situation in the future.

“Read the calendar,” said John- ston. “If you come in and there’s something you haven’t done, it will make your appeal a lot harder.”

Rosenberg instructs students to seek help before an unfavourable decision is handed down.

“If there’s a problem, they have to let someone know,” he said. “In the majority of cases that appeal I never know that. In some of the cases, if I had known I wouldn’t have acted. I can only deal with the information I have.”

Information about appeals is available in the U of C calendar, SU offices or at www.su.calgary.ca, or contact Student Rights Advisor Patti Spady at sra@su.ucalgary.ca.


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