Academic appeals: the road less traveled
by Rachel Ott
Last semester I travelled an avenue previously unexplored during my four-year academic career: I appealed a grade. Despite being lectured in every class about the hazards of plagiarism and minimum standards of referencing, I have never once had a teacher inform me that I was able to formally appeal a grade if I did not agree with their assessment of my work.
I quickly got the idea that this is not a common practice around the institution; when I went to the registrar’s office to begin the process, it took the person behind the desk over half an hour to find the appropriate form.
From day one of elementary school, students are implicitly taught that the teacher is always right. Lacking the mental faculties as a child to contest this view, I urge you now, as a post-secondary student, to make use of everything you’re learning and question your professors. As a first course of action, you will be required to try and work out the grading discrepancy informally with the instructor. If it’s not resolved to your satisfaction, read the Academic Calendar to familiarize yourself with your options. If you decide to file a formal appeal, I recommend the following to help ease you through the process.
Document everything. If possible, correspond by email to ensure an accurate record of what has been said. Retain all papers, homework and outlines from any class you’re taking – you may require them to build a case. You are entitled to see and assess a copy of your final exam.
Contact the Students’ Association as soon as you decide to formally file an appeal. You are entitled to bring whomever you wish with you to any meetings that may take place, and I highly recommend someone from SAMRU. They serve a dual purpose in that they are there to support you, and they also serve as a witness to anything that is said during the meeting.
If the process is taking particularly long, contact the registrar’s office for an extension on an appeal. You only have 15 days to file after receiving a final grade. Hound your instructor to provide you with any promised materials. Utilize SAMRU to this effect.
Keep in mind during this process that you are doing nothing wrong by questioning your instructor. “You are simply exercising your rights, as you are entitled to do,” said Kit Dobson, assistant professor in the department of English. “Ideally, people will recognize that you are willing to stand up for yourself.”
Speak with other instructors that you trust about their experience and ask for their advice.
If you feel you are not being treated fairly during the appeals process, contact the ombudsman. It is his or her job to ensure you’re being treated fairly and with respect, and they will work with you to ensure a satisfactory outcome.
As a final caution, be aware that your grade can go up or down as a result of this process. I say this not to discourage those of you who genuinely feel like your work has not been fairly assessed, but to warn those who would file out of maliciousness or ignorance. It is your right as a student to contest your grade.