Grievance policies under revision

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Mia McClellan

Mia McClellan

Southwestern Community College District Procedures 5500 and 5530 are undergoing revision spearheaded by Dean of Student Services Mia McClellan following an incident earlier this semester whereby SWC Sun reporters were banned by McClellan and campus police from covering a student grievance hearing.

Procedure 5500 is entitled “Standards of Student Conduct” and 5530 is “Student Rights and Grievance.” A draft presented by McClellan at the November 5 Shared Consultation Council (SCC) meeting and was met with several recommendations. Grade disputes currently directed to the office of the Vice President of Academic Affairs should include the Academic Senate as part of the final decision, according to Academic Senate President Patricia Flores-Charter. Faculty have primacy over grades, she said, and the policy in its current form allows disputes to go directly to one person, then be decided immediately.

“It is critical if a student believes they have been evaluated and graded unfairly that they get an opportunity to a get more than (a) one- or two-person review,” she said.

Flores-Charter said she asked for a timeline in a flow chart format so anyone could see how long each step in process takes and what a student could anticipate.

“I think having a flow chart that shows the timeline is going to be extremely helpful for students who are even just considering asking for a hearing,” she said.

Grievances must be initiated no later than the end of a term in which the incident occurred, reads the procedure, but McClellan said there is some flexibility.

“I have taken (grievances) after (a term),” she said. “If it’s a couple weeks after a semester and it just happened, let’s say it happened during finals week, I’m not going to say ‘Well sorry, you didn’t (get your grievance in) last week.’”

If a student waited until the next academic year to protest a grade , McClellan said there is probably not much she can do.

“People aren’t going to remember, there aren’t going to be any witnesses, there’s not going to be anything,” she said.

McClellan said she will no longer be doing full discriminatory action investigations and they will now be going to Human Resources. With new Title IX laws coming into place, she said, this particular part of the policy could be revised again.

Student workers were originally not included in in the groups of constituents that could file a Report of Student Misconduct, but they have been added in the current draft.

McClellan said the term Administrator has been changed to Dean of Student Services in most of language to easily identify the person responsible for any action taken during the process.

Policy 5500 currently reads that all formal hearings will be conducted within 30 days after one has been requested in the fall and spring semesters. McClellan said summer semesters are a little more troublesome because of the low attendance with faculty and students.

Current drafts say that hearings are confidential, closed to the general public and cannot be requested to be open. Both parties, however, may call witnesses. Campus police will also be present at every hearing, the draft says.

“(The police will be present) to keep the peace and so that panel members feel comfortable and safe,” said McClellan.

She said since it is an internal due-process hearing, students can have legal counsel, but cannot be represented by them.

If a student had any sort of problems with the hearing committee members, she said, they would have to challenge it at the beginning of the hearing as opposed to challenging it while it was in progress.

“This not a civil or criminal hearing,” said McClellan, “this is an administrative hearing.”

CSEA President Frank Post suggested that the college get a legal opinion about the legality of closed confidential hearings. A response is pending said Flores-Charter, who said she does not yet know who will provide the legal opinion.

“I don’t know if this legal opinion is coming from our lawyer (at SWC) or a legal office up in the chancellor’s office,” she said.

Flores-Charter said she supports the right of members of the public to attend the hearings, but said she understood if the media is involved why it would need the consent of both parties involved in the hearing.

Students often file grievances in the hopes of terminating an instructor’s employment, but McClellan said she would like to remind them that these policies are not for firing people.

“When a student comes in and says they want (someone) fired, they don’t want (someone) to be here, I clearly tell them this is not the procedure to use,” she said.

McClellan said if the student’s goal is to have an instructor removed, it becomes a personnel matter. Current drafts of the policy state that when deemed appropriate, the Dean of Student Services may direct a student grievance to the Vice President of Employee Services.

Many faculty and staff have said the existing college policies did not give students fair treatment and the proposed revisions did not look like it would get any better for them. Some faculty said it looked like it would be more difficult for students rather than easier.

Flores-Charter said she is feeling positive about the policies and hopes to get meaningful student feedback. She and McClellan will be “taking it slow” so they can “get it right,” she said.

“That is one of the things Mia and I discussed,” said Flores-Charter. “If our goal is met, that the language is clear, that would also help if the student does have a question. They will be able to zero in on it, be specific, it will be a smooth collegiate process if we’ve done a good job.”

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