Procedures for Appealing Allegedly Capricious Course Grades of Graduate-Level Students

Original Policy Source APPM Section III Item 8
Primary Audience Faculty
Status Active
Effective Adoption Date 04-09-1975
Last Review Date 12-13-2000
Policy Category/Categories Faculty & Academics


The following procedures are available only for review of alleged capricious grading of graduate students and students-at-large, and not for review of the judgment of an instructor in assessing the quality of a student's work. Capricious grading, as that term is used herein, is limited to one or more of the following:

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

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 abilities, faculty are to maintain grading materials in accordance with Section III, Item 5, F.

The Right of Fair and Equal Evaluation of Students

A course grade must be based on evidence of the student's performance in the course, 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 graduate-level 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

If, at any step of the process, the instructor cannot be contacted or fails to respond, the department chair shall designate a faculty member to act for the instructor.

A student who believes a semester grade is capricious 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 seeking to understand fully the grounds and procedures the instructor has used in determining the grade. The aim of such a conference is to reach mutual understanding about the grade and the process by which it was assigned, and to correct errors, if any, in the grade.

Two: If after consultation with the instructor, the student believes that a grade is capricious, 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 not later than the end of the fourth week of the semester following the semester or summer term for which the grade is being appealed.

Although petitions regarding spring grades must be submitted no later than the fourth week of the fall semester, they may be submitted during the summer session. (If an assigned grade is officially changed, an appeal petition must be submitted no later than four weeks following official notification to the student of the grade change.)

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, and 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 his or her position on the matter. The Board shall provide the student with a copy of the instructor's response.

The Grade Review Board shall make a 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 instructor. The Board shall convene a meeting with the student should the latter ask for one, and it may initiate a meeting with the student, with the instructor, or with both.

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.

If conclusion "b" is reached, the Grade Review Board may then arrange for the instructor or a group of two departmental colleagues (this 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 students' level of mastery and achievement in the subject matter.) The Grade Review Board shall, as a result of its consideration, recommend a grade the same as or different from the grade alleged to be capricious.

The Grade Review Board shall immediately notify the Dean of the Graduate School of its decision.

Four: The Dean of the Graduate School shall notify the student, the instructor, and the department chair of the Grade Review Board's decision, and review the case. If the decision of the Grade Review Board is that the grade 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 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, the dean (a) may then concur with the decision of the Grade Review Board and, as appropriate, direct the instructor to make the grade change or notify the instructor that the original grade stands; either of these decisions shall be final, or (b) may then request the Grade Review Board to reconsider its decision, providing the Grade Review Board with a statement of reasons for reconsideration. After a reconsideration by the Grade Review Board, its recommendation regarding the student's grade is final. Should the reconsideration of the Grade Review Board involve a change in grade, the dean shall direct the instructor to make the grade change. In the event the instructor declines to make the grade change, then the dean shall authorize the Registrar to make the grade change and such a decision shall be final.

Note: At all points of decision, the student, the instructor, the department chair, and any parties involved, shall be notified promptly and no later than one week after each decision has been reached.

Composition of Departmental Grade Review Board

Early in each academic year each academic department shall establish a Grade Appeals Panel to be available to consider appeals from students alleging that they have received capricious course grades.

The Panel shall consist of four tenured graduate faculty members, excluding the department chair, and two to four graduate students. The students shall be selected by the appropriate departmental graduate student advisory committee. (If there is no department graduate student advisory committee, the students shall be selected by the college student advisory committee.) Prior to the initial meeting of the Grade Review Board, the student and the instructor involved in the grade appeal each have the right to exclude one member from the panel from which the Grade Review Board will be selected.

The Grade Review Board for hearing a graduate-level student's appeal shall consist of two graduate faculty members and one graduate-level student. The faculty and students shall be selected by lot from the faculty and students remaining on the Grade Appeals Panel after excluding any who have been removed by either party in the appeal. Neither the student nor the instructor involved in an appeal may be a member of the Grade Review Board reviewing that appeal.

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 which may be considering disciplinary action concerning an instructor whose grading has been found by a Grade Review Board to be capricious. That body shall make an independent determination based upon its own consideration of all evidence, irrespective of the findings of the Grade Review Board.

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 graduate faculty and graduate students affiliated with that unit.

Approved by the Graduate Council March 24, 1975 and the University Council April 9, 1975 
Amended by the Graduate Council December 2, 1985 and the University Council March 5, 1986 
Amended by the Graduate Council April 7, 1997 and the University Council January 21, 1998 
Amended by the Graduate Council March 6, 2000 and the University Council December 13, 2000 
Editorial correction July 2, 2002


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