Student Concerns and Complaints
While every student will experience some moments of challenge while on the path to obtaining their academic goal, the majority of SF State students will find that they are able to quickly resolve most problems they experience. However, for a proportion of students, the barriers they encounter will require the assistance and/or intervention of a University administrator, faculty or staff member to resolve.
For students experiencing difficulties, or who wish to lodge a concern or complaint, it is important to keep the following things in mind:
- Ensure that you have contacted the appropriate office to address your issue. Students can find on this Quick Reference List: Student Concerns & Inquiries a list of common areas in which students initiate complaints and inquiries. Be sure that you have contacted the personnel most able to understand your issue and get your help. It would be helpful before contacting an office to have all of the necessary info needed regarding your complaint, including any written documentation, a rough timeline of events, and the outcome or resolution you are seeking. Taking a few moments to organize the contents of your inquiry complaint will help others best assist you.
- Resist the temptation to go “right to the top.” Many of us want a prompt and fair response to any complaint or concern that we present. You may believe that immediately elevating your concern to the highest administrative level, e.g., the President’s Office or a Vice President’s Office, will result in a more favorable response in a quicker time period. However, in large complex organizations like a University, elevating your complaint right to the top may actually delay the response time as your complaint or inquiry must be forwarded to the office that can best handle the issue and respond to the complexities and technicalities involved.
- Utilize the chain of communication, or chain of command, to appeal an outcome. It is usually most efficient to initiate your inquiry or complaint at the level of the organization that has the appropriate expertise to resolve your situation. However, you will occasionally find that a staff/faculty member or office/unit is not responsive, is not being timely in their response, or that you disagree with their handling of your situation. In these situations, you may escalate your inquiry up each step of the chain of communication, while being careful to avoid skipping levels of communication. When escalating your complaint, you can feel free to ask for the name and contact info for the supervisor of the individual who is handling your complaint.
- Whenever possible, advocate on your own behalf. Once you turn 18 years of age, SF State treats you as an adult. Asking parents, family members or other individuals to escalate a concern or question on your behalf is usually not recommended. Federal privacy laws known as FERPA make it virtually impossible for SF State faculty, staff and administrators to share info about your educational record unless you are willing to issue a written release. Also, friends and family members may not have the ready answers to questions we may need to ask to gain a better understanding about your situation.
- You don't have to do this alone. The staff and faculty in Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, in particular those who work in the Dean of Students Office, serve as points of contact for students experiencing difficulty, and can help you navigate the University’s policies, procedures and protocols. They can also help ensure that your voice and “story” are heard and given their due consideration. Whenever you are in doubt about how to proceed with a question or concern, don’t hesitate to contact the Dean of Students Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Keep in mind that not every complaint will be resolved in the student’s favor. Our commitment to every SF State student is to treat each of you with respect, courtesy, care, compassion and a commitment to what is right and just. However, there are times when the resolution being requested is either not allowed by law or by policy, or the exception being asked for is too extreme to be reasonable or justifiable. We understand that as students, you are on a learning journey, and that sometimes mistakes happen – both on our part as a University and on your part as a student. Our goal is to hear the facts of every question or complaint, and then provide the most appropriate and reasonable resolution – one that balances the wellbeing and success of the student with the overall integrity of our educational mission, values, principles and policies. If we have made a mistake, we will make all reasonable attempts to remedy it to the best of our ability, and if you have made a mistake, we ask that you be fair in your expectations for leniency and flexibility.
Problem-Solving Guide: Tips for Getting Started
As noted earlier, students find they are able to quickly and readily resolve many problems that they encounter. You can utilize the resources below to see if you are able to address your question/complaint informally, or to determine what your plan of action should be in the event that you must seek more formal resolution.
- Click on "problem solving steps" for advice on how to figure out exactly what to do, based on what has proven to be effective for other students such as you.
- Click on "problem solving pathways" to determine the most appropriate point of contact at SF State to contact first (and, if necessary, who's next), depending on the kind of problem that you need to resolve. Of course, if you end up not being able to solve your problem informally, there is a formal grievance policy, but that can kick in only after you complete the "problem solving steps." The exception to this is in the case when allegations of discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation are being made; in these instances, formal complaint procedures immediately come into play.