Undergraduate and graduate students of VCU have a right to appeal course grades they consider to have been arbitrarily or capriciously assigned or assigned without regard for the criteria, requirements and procedures of the course stated in the syllabus or guidelines for assignments. Grades determined by actions under authority of the VCU Honor System may not be appealed through this procedure, nor may dismissals that have occurred as a result of correctly derived course grades.
Though the faculty has the responsibility for assigning grades on the basis of academic criteria, such grade designations can sometimes raise conflicts. Thus, while affirming the importance of maintaining standards of excellence and the integrity of the teaching/learning process, the university and its faculty also recognize that, on occasion, grades may be inappropriately assigned. Should such conflicts occur, students have a right to be fairly heard. When discrepancies occur concerning the grading process, the welfare and integrity of both faculty and students are equally important. This document is in no way intended to compromise the work of the faculty.
The faculty member (or members, in the case of a jointly taught course) bear the responsibility for specifying in writing at the beginning of each class section the formal requirements of the course and the weights that will be employed in determining the final course grade. The faculty member(s) shall apply relevant grading criteria uniformly to all members of the class.
Grades received through the grade review procedure are final and may not be appealed.
Initiating an appeal
When a student has evidence that a final grade has not been assigned in accordance with the stated criteria, the student shall discuss it first with the faculty member. The faculty member will explain how the final grade was determined. If the student continues to feel that the grade was incorrectly assigned, a written appeal may be submitted to the chair of the department in which the course was taught. Students appealing grades assume the burden of proof. The appeal shall state and support with all available evidence the reasons why the student believes the grade should be changed. For grades awarded for the fall semester, the written intent to appeal must be submitted no later than 14 calendar days after the beginning of the spring semester. For grades awarded for the spring semester or summer sessions, the written intent to appeal must be submitted no later than 14 calendar days after the first day of the fall semester. For schools that have a summer session or other less common sessions, school policies may specify other deadlines to ensure a timely appeal. Appeals submitted after the deadline will be heard only in exceptional cases, as determined by the appropriate vice president.
The grade issued by the faculty member shall remain in effect throughout the appeal procedure. In instances in which the failing grade is in a prerequisite course in which safety or well-being of clients, patients or the public is involved, the student shall not be allowed to enroll in the subsequent courses in which safety and well-being may be at issue until and unless the appeal is resolved in the student’s favor. In these cases, the student who wishes to appeal is advised to do so as soon as possible and it is the responsibility of the school to move the appeal process expeditiously.
The chair of the department shall attempt to mediate an amicable solution within two weeks of receipt of the written appeal. If the complaint is not resolved, the chair shall forward the student’s appeal to the dean (or appropriate associate/assistant dean)1 of the school in which the course was taught. The chair also shall submit to the dean in writing the recommendation made to the two parties regarding the appropriateness of the grade. If the grade being appealed was assigned by the chair of the department, the dean shall assume the mediation responsibility. If the grade being appealed was assigned by the dean, the mediation responsibility will fall to the appropriate vice president.
In instances in which the dean of the school chooses for the appropriate associate/assistant dean to manage the grade appeal, the term “associate/assistant dean” may be substituted for the term “dean” throughout this document.
Grade review committee
The dean shall form a grade review committee and designate the chair. The committee has the option of either raising the grade or leaving the grade unchanged.
The committee shall consist of one non-voting faculty chair, two faculty members and two students selected by the dean from disciplines whose methods and techniques of teaching and testing are as similar as possible to those of the discipline of the course in question. If the course is multidisciplinary and the instructor(s) whose grade is being appealed does not belong administratively in the school in which the course was taught, the committee shall have at least one of the faculty members from the instructor’s school.
Either party may challenge the committee’s membership for cause within a week of being informed of the membership. The dean shall determine if there is sufficient cause to remove the challenged committee member.
The committee shall meet initially to examine the written appeal and the department chair’s recommendation. It can require the faculty member(s) to turn over to the committee grade records for that class or section and any tests, papers and examinations by students of that class that they may possess. The committee may require the student bringing the appeal to turn over all tests, papers or other evaluations that have been returned and all existing evidence that an improper grade was awarded. The committee shall disregard any claim that a test or paper that has been returned to a student was unjustly graded unless that test or paper is produced for the committee’s inspection.
After examining the materials, the committee may, by a majority vote, decline to hear an appeal that it judges to be patently without merit. Otherwise, the committee will authorize its chair to arrange a date for a hearing. The chair of the committee shall meet with each party prior to the hearing to explain the rules and procedures of the hearing.
Grade review hearing
Grade appeal hearings will be open, closed or partially open (i.e., a few close associates of each party may attend) by agreement of the appealing student and the faculty member(s) and the chair of the committee of the appealing student. In case of disagreement, the committee shall decide. The chair has the option to declare closed an open or partially open hearing in cases of disruption or in order to ensure necessary confidentiality.
Both parties may have with them an adviser of their choice (who may not be an attorney), with whom they may consult but who will not participate in the questioning of witnesses and presentation of evidence unless the opposing party and chair agree to it. The committee shall ask any member of the VCU community whose testimony it deems relevant to be available at an agreed-upon time to give testimony.
Either party may present additional witnesses as long as they remain within their allotted time and their testimony is directly relevant to the course at issue. Performance in other courses is not relevant. Witnesses other than the appealing student and the faculty member(s) shall be excluded from the hearing except when testifying. A hearing shall begin with the student outlining the reasons for the appeal and all evidence that exists of an improper grade. The faculty member(s) shall then explain the criteria used for the original grade assigned. Each party will have a time period not to exceed two hours in which to present a position.
The committee shall determine in executive session whether the grade was justified according to the course in which the grade was given. If the evidence is that the grade was determined according to the stated objectives, criteria and grading procedures of the course, the committee shall uphold the grade. The committee should also take into account that purposes, methods, requirements and grading criteria differ from course to course and that difference is a legitimate characteristic of a university and its faculty. Further, the grade in some courses may be partly or solely determined by a faculty member’s professional judgment, which in itself cannot be overturned without evidence that the judgment was arbitrarily or capriciously rendered. The committee shall consider (a) whether the faculty member(s) articulated the criteria to be used (some criteria may be implicit within the discipline), (b) whether those criteria were actually used to determine the final grade and (c) whether the results of the evaluation were communicated to the student.
No grade may be changed except by a vote of at least three out of four voting members. When the committee has reached a decision, the committee chair shall submit to the dean in writing the decision and the reasons for it. The dean shall communicate in writing the decision of the committee to the appealing student, faculty member(s) and the department chair. If the grade has been changed, the dean also shall notify the registrar.
The evidence, proceedings and the final decision of the committee shall remain confidential. All documents shall be held in a confidential file by the dean for one year. The party from whom a document was obtained may request that it be returned at the end of the year. All documentation not returned shall be destroyed by the dean one year later.
Approved by the University Assembly Dec. 3, 1981.
Effective Feb. 15, 1982.
Revised September 1996. Effective Aug. 15, 1997.
Please note: Any student who has questions about initiating an appeal using the grade review procedure should call the office of the dean of his or her school or college.