Procedures for Handling Disputes
This policy applies to disputes arising in the undergraduate TE courses and in the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program internship courses: TE 501, TE 502, TE 801, TE 802, TE 803, and TE 804.
Some situations are so serious, or have potential consequences so grave, or invoke such policies, that an instructor and/or course or team coordinator should report them immediately and directly to the Associate Dean for Student Affairs and to the Department Chair at the same time. These include:
- situations in which a student in a TE course, or who has been admitted to the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program, is charged with or convicted of a crime or a gross violation of professional ethics.
- situations where the instructor will assign or has assigned a course grade of 0.0 only for academic dishonesty, and
- situations involving an actual or potential violation of MSU policy regarding academic records.
The instructor and/or coordinator should, at the earliest opportunity, inform the Associate Dean of situations from which any of the above cases might arise. The Subject Area Leader and Coordinator of Elementary Teacher Preparation Programs should be informed at the same time. An email with copies will be the usual form of notification.
- So that students may be informed, the syllabus for each section of each course should provide (a) the name and contact information for the person to whom students can address complaints that they cannot resolve with the instructor, and (b) the URL for these procedures.
- In handling disputes between instructors and students, each step in the procedure should give such help, hearing, satisfaction, disposition, or recourse as it can give, and should do so promptly.
- Without unduly lengthening the process for students, the handling of disputes should assure that faculty members with leadership responsibilities—Subject Area Leaders, coordinators,—are informed about situations involving students and instructors for whom they are responsible.
- Early in any emerging dispute, students should be referred to the MSU Ombudsman for an independent opinion about the situation and MSU policies.
- Elementary Teacher Preparation Program staff who participates in a potential or actual dispute as provided in the procedure below should keep documentation and make records as described below.
- The Department's policy for handling disputes should point to, agree with, and connect with MSU policies that govern many of these matters, so that students and instructors can, if they wish, see all the way to the potential end of any potential dispute.
Step 1.The student and instructor should try to solve the problem, with help.
1.1. If problems arise in the relationship between instructor and student, they should promptly seek advice and attempt to resolve their problems promptly in informal, direct discussions. The supplement to this step of the procedure, appended, provides advice for conducting those discussions.
1.2. If the dispute arises from TE 150, TE 250, or TE 348, the student and instructor should seek advice from the faculty course coordinator. If the dispute arises from TE 301, 401, 402, 501, 502, or 801 through 804, the student and instructor should seek advice from the team coordinator and/or faculty course coordinator.
1.3. The more difficult the issue and the more interpersonal conflict that has already occurred, the wiser it will be to include the team or course coordinator directly in the discussion immediately.
1.4. Disputes might involve any of several policies that are discussed in Step 2; instructor and coordinator should be aware of them.
Step 2. The student and/or instructor should take the matter to the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator or Subject Area Leader, and/or to the MSU Ombudsman, as indicated below.
2.1. If the problem remains unresolved after direct discussions called for in Step 1, then the student and/or instructor should take the dispute either to the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator (for matters arising from TE 150, 250, or 348) or to the Subject Area Leader (for matters arising from TE 301, 401, 402, 501, 502, or 801 through 804).
2.2. Additionally, the student and/or instructor can consult the MSU Ombudsman about MSU policies and their situation.
2.3. At this step, the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator or Subject Area Leader should determine which policy applies and proceed accordingly:
2.3.1. Note the matters for special handling in section A, above.
2.3.2. An instructor could be claiming that a student has violated some provision of MSU's policy on integrity of scholarship and grades, which addresses cheating, plagiarism, and related matters (the policy can be found on MSU's and the Ombudsman's website). The Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator or Subject Area Leader should see that the policy is followed and particularly that, when the penalty grade 0.0 for a course is given only for academic dishonesty, the instructor notifies the Associate Dean, who as necessary will inform the student's academic dean of the circumstances.
2.3.3. An instructor could be claiming that an undergraduate student has violated or failed to satisfy professional criteria stated in the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program's Criteria for Progression to the Internship, which appears in Academic Programs. The Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator or Subject Area Leader will handle these cases as required by Section II of the Criteria for Progression to the Internship.
2.3.4. An instructor might be claiming that a teacher candidate or intern has violated or failed to satisfy the TE Department's Professional Conduct Policy For Teacher Candidates. For undergraduates, the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator or Subject Area Leader should determine whether the Criteria for Progression for the Internship should be invoked and, if so, follow procedures provided in Section II of that policy. Otherwise, the case should be handled as a Departmental matter, which the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator or Subject Area Leader handles on behalf of the Department Chair, consulting with the Chair as needed.
2.3.5. A student could be bringing a complaint, unresolved in Step 1, about an instructor or about instruction, related to MSU's Code of Teaching Responsibility, or to Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University(both available from the MSU website), or related to the terms of a syllabus or a team handbook. In all of these situations, the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator or Subject Area Leader will be acting on behalf of the Department Chair, consulting with the Chair as needed. In general, The Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator or Subject Area Leader should be guided by the descriptions of undergraduate rights and responsibilities in section 2.3 of Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University and, for interns, of graduate student rights and responsibilities in the corresponding section of Graduate Student Rights and Responsibilities.
2.3.6. In the instances named in 2.3.5, the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator or Subject Area Leader should be guided also by the description of faculty rights that constrain student rights, recorded in section 2.2 of Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University and the corresponding section of Graduate Student Rights and Responsibilities. Specifically, the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator or Subject Area Leader should:
- Refer complaints concerning instructional practice or competence of a tenure-stream faculty member directly to the Department Chair, and handle complaints concerning instructional practice or competence of term faculty members and doctoral student instructors.
- Note that the only ground on which a grade can be disputed is that the instructor gave the grade in bad faith. Also note that a finding of bad faith can be reached only by a unit hearing board in a hearing on a grievance submitted by the student. See section 2.2 of Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University.
The Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator or Subject Area Leaders should handle the many other potential situations not otherwise discussed here.
Step 3. Submitting a formal grievance
If still aggrieved after the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator's or Subject Area Leader's disposition of a matter, a student may then submit a formal, written grievance.
3.1. The student should consult the MSU Ombudsman about a grievance, as the University policies are not always simple and straightforward.
3.2. A student's grievance of an instructor's or the Department's actions regarding actual or potential violation of laws, violation of the professional criteria in the Criteria for Progression to the Internship, academic dishonesty, or academic records should be submitted to the Associate Dean; see section 2.4 of Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University (undergraduate teacher candidates) or Article 5 of Graduate Student Rights and Responsibilities at Michigan State University (interns) for the policy and procedure that applies.
3.3. All other grievances should be filed with the Department Chair, who will review them for possible consideration by a Department hearing board. A grievance alleging violations of academic rights must include a proposed remedy that could be implemented by the Department Chair.
Step 4. Handling written grievances
For written grievances, the Department Chair and Department hearing board, if engaged, will follow the procedures described in section 2.4 of Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University (for undergraduate students) or Article 5 of Graduate Student Rights and Responsibilities at Michigan State University (Elementary Teacher Preparation Program interns).
This section addresses documentation and record keeping only in relation to potential or actual disputes.
Who should document and keep records? As potential or actual disputes emerge, instructors should begin to keep additional documentation and records, above and beyond the normal record keeping for a course. The status, purpose, and handling of those records are discussed below. Normally, instructors will keep their own records.
If and when other persons become involved with the dispute as provided in the procedures above, they should begin their own documentation and record-keeping. Normally, the Team Coordinator's and Subject Area Leader's records will be kept in the Team's file for each student. Normally, the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator's and Department Chair's records will be kept in the Department's file for any student who is involved in a dispute that they deal with.
What should be documented and recorded? Instructors and other persons who become involved in a dispute as provided in the procedures should record and document not only the student's conduct or performance, but also their own. Particularly important is documentation that they provided prior notice of expectations, gave timely feedback to the student, and provided opportunities and support to improve.
What are "student records”? Notes and documents that instructors, team and course coordinators, Subject Area Leaders, the Elementary Teacher Preparation Program Coordinator, and the Department Chair make for themselves and keep to themselves are not part of a student's record and thus cannot be demanded by the student or his/her parent or lawyer.
Notes and documents that instructors or coordinators share with any other person involved in the procedures given above, including notes delivered by e-mail and other e-mail messages about the student, are part of the student's record and can be demanded. Similarly, notes or other documents entered into a student's file in the Team or Department are part of the student's records. Therefore, when instructors and coordinators correspond with anyone about teacher candidates and interns, or when they enter notes to file, they should write exactly and only what is directly relevant, in language that could be read by anyone involved with a potential dispute at any stage.
Timely documentation and record-keeping. Documentation and records should be collected or constructed at the time that events occur. If the dispute proceeds to formal procedures such as grievances, documentation from the time of the events will have higher standing than later reconstructions, which are open to the criticism that they are self-serving in the dispute.
MSU policy regarding records. As stated in Article 3 of Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University (for undergraduate students) and Article 3 of Graduate Student Rights and Responsibilities at Michigan State University (Elementary Teacher Preparation Program interns), "All policies and practices governing access, maintenance, and release of student records shall conform to the University's published guidelines.” Those guidelines point to errors that can be made in record-keeping about disputes, and so are quoted here in their entirety:
3.2.1 No record shall be made, duplicated, or retained unless there is a demonstrable need for it which is reasonably related to the basic purposes and necessities of the University.
3.2.2 The University shall not make, duplicate, or retain records of a student's religious or political beliefs without the student's knowledge and consent.
3.2.3 A student shall have the right to inspect the official transcript of his or her own academic record and shall also have the right to inspect reports and evaluations of his or her conduct.
3.2.4 All policies and practices dealing with the acquisition of information for records shall be formulated with due regard for the student's right of privacy.
3.2.5 Every record containing information about a student's character shall state when the information was acquired and the name and position of the person who gave it.
3.2.6 Evaluation of students shall be made only by persons who are qualified to make that evaluation.
3.2.7 All persons who handle confidential records shall be instructed concerning the confidential nature of such information and their responsibilities regarding it.
3.2.8 No one outside the faculty or administrative staff of Michigan State University, except as specified by law, may have access to the records of a student's offenses against University regulations without the express permission of the student in writing.
3.2.9 All policies governing the maintenance and the selective release of records and of portions of records shall be made public in an appropriate manner and shall be subject to judicial review as provided in Article 4.
Between people who are working closely together, some conflicts are inevitable, just like the blues, taxes, and sunrises. In most cases, such conflict is not a sign of failure, but just a fact of life. Most often, you just need to talk to each other.
You may be reluctant to say difficult things to each other, but notice this: Left unsaid and therefore unsolved, difficult things tend to fester and cause worse problems in the end.
You may be reluctant to invite a team or course coordinator to help you to deal with an issue, but notice this: Problems that fester and escalate are likely to involve the coordinator at some point anyway, and the most constructive use of the coordinator is to solve problems early. That's their job.
So, take a deep breath and, as step 1 of the policy for handling disputes says, "try to solve the problem, with help.”Preparing for the hard conversation
Get clear about the issue. Write about it. Think it through. What is the issue, from your point of view? When does it arise, in the interaction with the other? And how does it affect you? Try phrasing your concern in language that neither blames nor threatens the other.
Practice in front of a mirror to make sure your facial expressions and tone of voice will not look or sound threatening or aggressive.
Think about some possible solutions or ways of proceeding that you might propose; at the same time, remain open to possibilities that the other person might propose.
Either or both of you could talk it over with the course or team coordinator. The more difficult the issue and the more interpersonal conflict that has already occurred, the wiser it will be to include the team or course coordinator directly in the discussion immediately.Having the conversation
Use statements that express what you observe, or what you feel, or what you think you need, rather than statements that blame the other person for something.
Check for clear communication by paraphrasing what the other person says and asking, "Is this what you mean?"
If the issue causes a strong emotional reaction in either or both of you, agree to think about it overnight and talk about it more tomorrow.
Try to find a solution that works for both of you.
If you have involved the course or team coordinator, let that person serve as moderator, referee, and, as necessary and desirable, arbitrator.Documentation and follow up
Each of you, including the course or team coordinator, if involved, should write a concise statement that summarizes the discussion and describes the plan or solution agreed to. Compare these statements to be sure that both (or all three) of you have the same understandings. Exchange statements.Plan to check in with each other soon about this issue. How does each of you feel things are going?