Procedures for Appeals of Course Grades by Undergraduate Students

Section III. Item 7.

Introduction

The following procedures are available only for review of allegedly capricious grading or an excessive or inappropriate grade penalty due to allegations of academic misconduct.  The following procedures are not for review of the judgment of an instructor in assessing the quality of a student's work, or whether the student did or did not violate the standards of academic integrity.

Capricious grading, as that term is used herein, is limited to when the final grade assigned in the course is alleged to have been the result of one or more of the following:

  1. the assignment of a grade to a particular undergraduate student on some basis other than performance in the course;
  2. the assignment of a grade to a particular undergraduate student by more exacting or demanding standards than were applied to other undergraduate students in that section;
  3. the assignment of a grade by a substantial departure from the instructor's criteria distributed in writing during the first fourth of a course.

As stated in the Academic Misconduct Policy, grade penalties are also eligible for appeal through this process.  This is distinct from the Community Standards and Student Conduct Board hearing process defined in the Academic Misconduct Policy.  In cases of allegations of academic misconduct, the Community Standards and Student Conduct Board hearing is used to determine if a student is responsible or not responsible for the alleged misconduct. In cases where the student is found responsible, the Community Standards and Student Conduct Board determines the sanctions that might be imposed outside of grade penalties assigned by the instructor.

 

The grade appeal process is limited to addressing allegations that the grade penalties assigned by the instructor are excessive and/or inappropriate.  In cases where the student considers the penalty assigned by the instructor as a result of allegations of academic misconduct to be excessive and/or inappropriate, the student may invoke this process to seek a reduction in the grade penalty.

 

The assessment of the quality of a student's academic performance is one of the major professional responsibilities of university faculty members and is solely and properly their responsibility. It is essential for the standards of the academic programs at Northern Illinois University and the integrity of the degrees conferred by this university that the professional judgments of faculty members not be subject to pressures or other interference from any source. In order to assure the equitable assessment of a student's academic performance, faculty are to maintain grading materials in accordance with Section III, Item 5,F.  Materials regarding violations of academic misconduct will be maintained by the Office of Community Standards and Student Conduct.

The Right of Fair and Equal Evaluation of Students

A course grade must be based on evidence of the student's performance, the student must have access to the evidence, the instructor must explain and interpret the evidence to the student, and a single evaluative standard must be applied to all undergraduate students in a course section. It is also expected that grades be determined in accordance with written guidelines that should be distributed in each class within the first fourth of the course.

At any time, a student may seek the counsel of the university ombudsperson regarding procedure in appealing allegedly capricious grades or the merits of a particular case.

Appeal Procedures

A student who believes a final course grade is capricious or the grade penalty imposed for allegations of academic misconduct is excessive and/or inappropriate may seek clarification and, where appropriate, redress as follows:

One: The student shall confer with the instructor, informing the instructor of questions concerning the grade and/or grade penalty, and seeking to understand fully the grounds and procedures the instructor has used in determining the grade and/or grade penalty. The aim of such a conference is to reach mutual understanding about the grade and/or grade penalty, the process by which it was assigned, and to correct errors, if any, in the grade and/or grade penalty.

If, for any reason, the instructor cannot be contacted by or fails to respond to the student, the department chair shall designate a faculty member to act for the instructor.

Two: If after consultation with the instructor or the designee, the student believes that a grade is capricious and/or the grade penalty is excessive and/or inappropriate, the student shall confer with the chair of the department in which the course is offered, who shall consult and advise with both the instructor and student, separately or together, in an effort to reach an understanding and resolution of the matter.

Three: If Steps One and Two do not resolve the problem, the student may submit a petition in writing to the Grade Review Board in the academic department in which the course in question was offered. This petition must be submitted through the department chair.  If the student chooses to appeal the grade penalty through the grade appeal processes following review by the Community Standards and Student Conduct Board, such appeal must be initiated within one month of the final decision of the Community Standards and Student Conduct Board.  Otherwise, the student must submit their appeal not later than the end of the fourth week of the semester following the semester or summer term for which the grade was assigned and/or grade penalty imposed, as announced in the schedule of classes. (Petitions regarding spring grades must be submitted no later than the end of the fourth week of the fall semester but may be permitted during summer session.) If a temporary grade was assigned initially, the petition to appeal a grade must be submitted no later than four weeks following the Registrar notification to the student that the final grade has been assigned.

The petition shall request a meeting with the Grade Review Board and shall present evidence allegedly proving that the grade is capricious as defined above, or the grade penalty is excessive and/or inappropriate, and it shall present the student's conclusions and the arguments which substantiate those conclusions. The Grade Review Board shall refer the petition to the instructor and secure from him or her a response in writing, setting forth the instructor's position on the matter. The Grade Review Board shall provide the student with a copy of the instructor's response.

The Grade Review Board shall make every reasonable effort to conduct an inquiry within two weeks of receipt of the petition to ascertain and consider relevant facts. The inquiry will be based on a consideration of the student's petition, the instructor's response, and any interviews by the chair of the Grade Review Board with the student or the instructor. The Grade Review Board shall convene a meeting with the student should the latter ask for one, and may initiate a meeting with the student, with the instructor, or with both.

If, for any reason, the instructor cannot be contacted by or fails to respond to the student, the department chair shall designate a faculty member to act for the instructor.

The Grade Review Board shall make one of these decisions:

  1. That the grade was not assigned capriciously and shall stand as assigned.
  2. That the grade may have been assigned capriciously and merits further consideration.
  3. That the grade penalty was not excessive or inappropriate and shall stand as imposed.
  4. That the grade penalty may have been excessive and/or inappropriate and merits further consideration.

If conclusion "b" or "d" is reached, the Grade Review Board may then arrange for the instructor or a group of two departmental colleagues (these may be the faculty members of the Grade Review Board) to re-examine all the evidence of the student's work. (If there is not enough evidence, an additional examination may be conducted or additional work assigned to help determine the student's level of mastery and achievement in the subject matter.)

The Grade Review Board shall, as a result of its consideration, recommend a grade and/or grade penalty the same as or different from the grade alleged to be capricious.

The Grade Review Board shall immediately notify the department chair and dean of the college in which the academic department is housed of its decision.

Four: The dean shall notify the student and the instructor of the Grade Review Board's decision and review the case. If the decision of the Grade Review Board is that the grade and/or grade penalty should be changed, the dean shall consult with the instructor if requested by the instructor; if the decision of the Grade Review Board is that the grade and/or grade penalty should stand, the dean shall consult with the student if requested by the student. The dean may consult both the instructor and the student, either individually or collectively. 

On the basis of the review, and the meeting with the instructor and/or student, there are two possible outcomes:

  • The dean may concur with the decision of the Grade Review Board and implement its findings. This decision shall be final.
  • The dean may request the Grade Review Board to reconsider its decision.  After a reconsideration by the Grade Review Board, it shall make a final decision regarding the student's course grade and/or grade penalty.  This decision is final.

In either case, should the final decision involve a change in grade and/or grade penalty, the dean shall authorize the Registrar to make the grade and/or grade penalty change and such a decision shall be final.

Note: At the conclusion of each step, the student, the instructor, and the department chair shall be notified promptly and no later than one week after each decision has been reached.

Composition of Departmental Grade Review Board

Each academic department shall establish early in each academic year a Grade Appeals Panel to be available to consider appeals from students alleging that they have received capricious course grades and/or excessive/inappropriate grade penalties for alleged academic misconduct.

The Panel shall consist of four tenured faculty members, excluding the department chair, and four undergraduate students from the department. In a department with fewer than four tenured faculty members, the dean may appoint other tenured faculty members from the college to the Panel. The four student members of the Panel shall be selected by the appropriate departmental student advisory board. (If there is no department student advisory board, the students shall be selected by the college student advisory board.) Prior to the initial meeting of the Grade Review Board, the student and the instructor involved in the grade appeal each has the right to exclude one member from the Panel from which the Grade Review Board will be selected.

The Grade Review Board for hearing an undergraduate student's appeal shall consist of two faculty and one undergraduate student. The members will be selected by lot from those faculty and student Panel members remaining after any members of the Panel have been excluded at the request of either the student or the instructor involved in the appeal. Neither the student nor the instructor involved in an appeal may be a member of the Grade Review Board reviewing that specific appeal.

NOTE: If the course under consideration is administered by a unit other than an academic department e.g., a college or an interdisciplinary center), the "department chair" in this document is understood to mean the administrative head of that unit, and the Grade Appeals Panel and Grade Review Board will be composed of faculty and students affiliated with that unit.

Protection of the Instructor's Rights

No decision of a Grade Review Board shall, by itself, be used as a cause for dismissal of a tenured faculty member or for dismissal of a non-tenured faculty member before the expiration of a contract period. Nor shall a decision, by itself, be a basis for any other disciplinary action. Any disciplinary actions shall be in accordance with regular university procedures. All evidence considered by a Grade Review Board shall be made available to any body that may be considering disciplinary action concerning an instructor whose grading has been found by a Grade Review Board to be capricious or whose grade penalties have been found to be excessive and/or inappropriate. That body shall make an independent determination based upon its own consideration of all evidence, irrespective of the findings of the Grade Review Board.

 

Approved by the University Council December 11, 1974
Reviewed and Amended by the University Council: April 14, 1976; April 28, 1982; February 11, 1987; April 13, 1988; April 6, 1994; April 10, 1996; January 26, 2000; April 12, 2000; April 11, 2012.
Editorial correction July 2, 2002; July 13, 2010

Last Updated: August 12, 2013.