As a student-centered institution of higher learning, Northern Illinois University strives to create a professional environment that is free from incivility, misuse of authority, intimidation, or retaliation. This grievance policy is intended to be consistent with the preamble of the Northern Illinois University Constitution which declares that “Respect for the intrinsic dignity of each member of the university community, both by the university itself and by each member of that community, is the basic cornerstone governing all community activities.”
Enactment of the grievance procedures shall promote the values inherent in the American Association of University Professors’ “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.” That is to say, faculty and staff have an obligation to (a) promote the common good, (b) pursue a free search for truth, and (c) protect students’ freedom in learning. The pursuit of these values shall not be cause for grievance, especially if conducted within the individual’s discipline or as a member of a learned profession. Students do, however, have a right to expect that these values be demonstrated throughout the university.
Throughout these procedures, all persons involved should exercise discretion in receiving and transmitting information pertaining to the complaint.
6.2 Summary of Timelines for the Grievance Process
Initiating the formal grievance process is possible once an attempt at informal resolution has been completed. A written complaint must be filed with the University Council chair within the next ten (10) workday period (see Article 6.5 Formal Procedures).
Within five (5) workdays of receipt of the formal grievance, the University Council chair will forward a copy of the formal grievance and accompanying materials to the respondent(s). Each respondent will have ten (10) workdays to submit a response to the University Council chair.
Also within five (5) workdays of receipt of the formal grievance, the University Council chair will forward to the grievant and respondent(s) the names of Grievance Panel (GP) members eligible to serve on the Student Grievance Committee (SGC) to oversee the complaint. The grievant and respondent(s) will have ten (10) workdays from receipt of the GP members’ names to request the University Council chair to exclude people from consideration as members of the SGC.
Within ten (10) workdays of the establishment of a pool of acceptable candidates, the University Council chair will select by random drawing the SGC members, provide them with copies of the grievance and response(s), and convene the SGC. The SGC will elect one of its members to serve as chair of the committee at this first meeting.
The SGC will have fifteen (15) workdays from the first meeting to review the facts, gather additional information as necessary, and come to a decision regarding the complaint. The SGC may remand the matter to Affirmative Action Diversity Resources if the nature of the complaint should be addressed by another procedure; it may also remand to other personnel who may have been bypassed during the required informal process; it may deny the grievance if there is not sufficient grounds, or it may initiate an informal hearing.
If the SGC determines that a hearing is necessary, it must call for the hearing no later than the end of its 15 workday review period and the hearing must then be executed within 15 workdays of being called for.
The SGC will meet immediately after the hearing in a private session to reach a conclusion pertaining to the grievance.
The SGC must issue its final report no later than fifteen (15) workdays following the decision.
6.3 Grounds for Grievances
These procedures provide opportunity for a student to seek resolution of allegations of unfair treatment by faculty or staff in the university setting. Grievances may include good faith claims of incivility, misuse of authority, intimidation, retaliation or professionally inappropriate acts or decisions by a member of the faculty or staff of the university that adversely affects the status, rights, or privileges of a student in a substantive way.
6.3.1 Exceptions. These grievance procedures apply only to those claims that are not expressly covered under other university, Board of Trustees, or state procedures. Other procedures exist for the following matters, which will not be subject to this grievance procedure: discrimination, sexual harassment, Title IX, appeals of disciplinary decisions, claims pertaining to student employment, graduate assistantships, and grade complaints. In some situations, (e.g., situations involving violence, or the threat of violence), informal conciliation may not be appropriate. In such cases, response should follow procedures established in accordance with Illinois state law, including workplace violence protocols, and established threat assessment procedures. A formal grievance cannot be filed for complaints that have been addressed by another procedure (e.g., discrimination).
6.3.2 Academic Rigor and Performance. These procedures do not pertain to the level of academic rigor and performance expected by faculty of students in the classroom. Moreover, these procedures are not applicable to issues pertaining to the enforcement of academic policies, or those related to curricular change.
6.4 Informal Procedures
STEP 1. The university encourages the maintenance of positive student-faculty/staff relations that includes effective communication and feedback and attempts to informally resolve complaints. The university strongly encourages attempts to resolve issues through informal procedures, beginning, if possible, with the faculty or staff member against whom the student has a complaint, and, prior to invoking formal grievance procedures, must include his/her immediate supervisor (e.g., department chair, unit supervisor). Initial attempts will normally include discussions with those alleged to have committed the action or conduct described above. Where confidential mediation or alternative resolution option is agreed to by the parties, such processes may be used as a substitute for these grievance procedures to conclusively resolve grievable issues. The complainant must be notified of the right to end the informal process at any time and initiate a formal grievance.
6.4.1 Facilitation. In an effort to resolve complaints informally, those involved in the discussion are urged to invite the assistance of other university employees or offices, such as, but not limited to, the university ombudsperson, Human Resource Services, and/or the faculty and SPS personnel advisor, to facilitate communication and strive toward resolution of disputes. In all discussions the complainant and respondent(s) will have the right to choose, and be accompanied by, a representative (including student, faculty, or staff member) as a non-participating advisor, other than a person acting in the capacity of legal counsel. This is an administrative process, not a legal process, and legal representation is not appropriate at this time. As these discussions look toward conciliation, no transcripts or recordings shall be made.
6.5 Formal Procedures
STEP 2. Should the problem not be satisfactorily resolved on an informal basis, the complainant becomes a grievant and may initiate the formal grievance procedures. The grievant must complete and submit a formal grievance form to the chair of the University Council. The University Council chair will forward a copy of the grievance form and accompanying materials to the respondent(s). Each respondent will have ten (10) workdays to submit a response to the University Council chair. The University Council chair will provide both the grievant and the respondent(s) with GP names and both parties can provide a written request to exclude any individual from consideration for inclusion on the SGC. The University Council chair will then select, by random drawing, a five-member SGC to screen and review the complaint. The SGC will examine the complaint, any response received, and obtain further information as necessary from either party, and determine whether an investigation, in collaboration with Human Resource Services, is necessary to collect more information to make an informed decision. If the SGC determines that it would be appropriate to elicit more facts, assess credibility, or develop a record for potential serious disciplinary action, it may call for a hearing. If a hearing is necessary, it must be called for within seventy (70) workdays of the formal grievance submission.
In the event a hearing is conducted, all parties may have a representative present at the hearing for support, but not to speak for them. Following the hearing, the SGC will prepare and submit a report with written findings of fact and identify an appropriate course of action.
In instances when the SGC calls for a hearing, the SGC may request legal counsel support for itself concerning procedural and substantive matters. The grievant and respondent(s) are entitled to consult with any person(s) they choose, prior to, or outside of, the hearing. In addition, each party is allowed to have present during the hearing one non-participating advisor. The hearing shall be closed to all other non-participants. Witnesses shall be present only if invited by the SGC and only when providing testimony or being otherwise involved as invited by the SGC. Prior to the hearing, the grievant and the respondent(s) shall each deliver to the SGC all relevant written information and other material as evidence supporting their respective positions, including a description of the original grievable act. This information will be shared with both the grievant and respondent(s).
The specific hearing proceedings will be conducted consistent with these stipulations and in a manner determined by the SGC. The grievant and respondent(s) are entitled to be present during any presentation by another party. The SGC may admit any evidence it feels may be important in addressing the issues under consideration, including written or oral testimony from any persons who might provide evidence or information relevant to the grievance. If a witness is unable to appear personally at the hearing, a signed written statement may be accepted by the SGC. These statements will be made available to all parties.
The grievant, the respondent(s), and each member of the SGC shall have the opportunity to question each witness. Grievants and respondents may not question each other without express permission of the SGC chair. The senior administrator responsible for Human Resource Services or his/her designee will facilitate the participation of all respondents and witnesses summoned by the SGC including the guarantee of work-release time as necessary for participation.
The SGC will meet immediately after the hearing in a private session to reach a conclusion pertaining to the grievance. The SGC will then create a report to be disseminated as identified in the post-hearing process.
6.6 Post-Hearing Process
Appropriate courses of action can include: 1) Denial of the grievance (grievance not sustained), 2) Referral of the matter to Affirmative Action Diversity Resources, 3) Referral of the matter to alternative dispute resolution (e.g., mediation), or 4) Referral to administrative authority (e.g., unit director and supervisor(s) to whom the director reports) with a SGC recommendation for action. Recommended actions may include, but not be limited to, a letter of apology or an educational intervention. Within fifteen (15) workdays of the SGC decision, the chair of the SGC will forward a written report of the findings and recommendations to the University Council chair, who will then distribute it to all parties involved. This report need not contain negative judgment of the actions of any party and it may include recommendations for systemic change, such as modification of procedures or working conditions.
In instances where an action is recommended by the SGC, the SGC will send a report to the division director and unit director with a recommended action. The unit and division director is expected to work with Human Resource Services to act on the recommendation.
The University Council chair is to maintain records pertaining to each grievance including the outcome. The University Council chair will provide a summary report of the number of grievances filed and the disposition to the University Council at the April meeting each year.
6.7 Composition of the Grievance Panel (GP)
The GP is to be composed of 60 members with 15 representatives from each of the following constituencies: faculty, operating staff, supportive professional staff, and students. The GP will also include the senior administrator responsible for human resource services or his/her designee who must be included in any SGC constructed to oversee a complaint. The GP members are selected as follows:
a) The faculty, operating staff, and supportive professional staff members of the GP are those selected as per Article 188.8.131.52 (b) for faculty and staff grievances.
b) The student representatives are to be selected by the Student Government Association in conjunction with the student advisory committees in each college, including the College of Law, and must include both undergraduate and graduate students with at least one representative coming from each college.
These names will be forwarded to the University Council chair at the beginning of the academic year.
6.8 Composition of the Student Grievance Committee (SGC)
The SGC will be selected by the University Council chair by random drawing from the GP. The SGC is to be composed of five members with representation from at least one faculty and one student, and the senior administrator responsible for human resource services or his/her designee. At least two members must be from the same employment classification as the respondent(s). The SGC will elect one of its members to serve as chair of the committee.
6.9 Conflicts of Interest
In instances where a grievance involves a member of the GP or relates to a GP member’s organizational unit (e.g., department), that member is prohibited from serving on the SGC that will screen the grievance. In the event that a member of the SGC has a conflict of interest related to the alleged act, he/she must recuse himself/herself and is to be replaced by an alternate. The grievant and the respondent(s) each have the right to present written justification to request exclusion from SGC membership any grievance panelist(s) as described in Article 6.8. Also, any SGC member can request to be excluded on the basis of a real or potential conflict of interest or personal relationship.
Retaliation is strictly prohibited against any individual(s) who participate(s) in the process in the following manner(s): utilizing the grievance procedures, providing information under these procedures, cooperating in an investigation under these procedures, serving as a witness in a grievance hearing, or otherwise participating in grievance proceedings. Claims of retaliation should be reported to the senior administrator responsible for human resource services and the University Council chair, and proven claims will subject the offender(s) to corrective measures, including disciplinary action.
Complainant. A student presenting a complaint.
Complaint. An allegation that there has been an adverse situation as described in Article 6.3.
University Council chair. The chair of the University Council. Please visit https://www.niu.edu/university-council/index.shtml to identify the University Council chair.
Grievance. A formal, written allegation, not resolved by the informal steps of Article 6.4, that there has been an adverse situation as described in Article 6.3.
Grievance Panel (GP). The pool from which student grievance committees are drawn.
Grievant. A student who is presenting a grievance.
Respondent. A person whose action is identified as possibly contributing to the adverse situation described in the grievance.
Student Grievance Committee (SGC). The five-member committee selected from the Grievance Panel to hear a specific complaint.
Workdays(s). All days during which the university is normally scheduled for operations, excluding weekends, official holidays, and closure periods. For employees on appointments of less than 12 months per year, “workdays” do not include any days outside of the period of their appointment.
Grievance Procedures for Students established by University Council 04/02/2014.
Proposed amendment approved by University Council 04/29/2020.
Faculty Advisory Council to the IBHE