Reducing Instructional Complaints

Outlined below are some areas where student-instructor conflict is common, along with suggestions on how to avoid these problems. Most of this information can be included in the syllabus; students need to know what is expected of them, what is required and what grading methods are being used.

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1. Syllabus

A good tool to reduce course related complaints is an up-to-date syllabus. To be effective, the course syllabus should clearly define the course objectives and expectations. Reviewing the syllabus during the first course meeting is an opportunity to clarify expectations and answer any questions.  A course syllabus needs to be developed for each offering of a course (see policy).

Major changes to the syllabus (e.g., adding a research paper or major examination) should be avoided during the term and instructors should not make major syllabus changes after the second week of the semester.

2. Grading Criteria

A list and weight of the course measures (papers, exams, etc.) should appear on the syllabus.

If class participation/attendance is evaluated as part of students' grades, define what this means (attending class, answering questions, discussing reading, etc.).

Some courses require a specified performance on a single component to pass the course (such as passing the final). Instructors should announce this requirement in class and highlight this requirement on the syllabus.

Midterm Notices. Professors/instructors are encouraged to provide mid-term grade alerts for students who appear to be in danger of receiving a grade of D, F, or N based on their performance through the sixth week of the semester. This is a requirement for 1000 level courses (see policy).

3. Make-Up Exams, Late Assignments, and Incompletes

The University recognizes students will be unable to attend class for unavoidable, legitimate reasons.  In recognition of these situations, a legitimate absence policy has been established. Students who provide appropriate notice for a legitimate absence may not be penalized.  Reasonable and timely accommodation should be made for work that may have an impact on the course grade.

It is useful to discuss on the first day of class what the University recognizes as a legitimate absence and the type of documentation required for making up the work missed due to a legitimate absence (see policy).

It is helpful to specify the conditions under which an incomplete ("I") will be assigned. An example of a  formal incomplete contract can be found here.

4. Grading Systems

Course syllabi should specify how the A-F grading system will be applied and whether or not "+" and "-" grading symbols will be used. 

Conflicts tend to arise over the method used to determine grades or students' perceptions of unfair or arbitrary grading. Students are entitled to an explanation of the criteria used to evaluate their work (see policy). Encourage students to discuss concerns related to grading early in the semester. Consider returning at least one major assignment before the end of the eighth week of the semester to give students the chance to withdraw before the deadline. You may wish to refer students to the Student Conflict Resolution Center for assistance.

Inconsistency Among Graders: Multiple graders on a single assignment can result in different applications of grade criteria. Provide clear, specific grading criteria for papers and projects to both graders and students to minimize the occurrence of these problems. Comparison of mean scores issued by various graders may also help to discover evaluation inconsistencies.

Graduate and Undergraduate Students in 5000-level Course: Many instructors make a distinction between graduate and undergraduate students registered for the same course. Be sure to note if grading procedures or course requirements are different for those receiving graduate credit.

5. Outside Activities

University community members have varied schedules. To accommodate course expectations and individual schedules, trips, classes, or other activities that take place outside the regularly scheduled class-time, or at an off-campus location, should be:

  • posted in the class schedule
  • included on the syllabus, and
  • announced during the first class

Students with legitimate academic conflicts should be provided with alternative times or assignments to satisfy course requirements (see policy).

6. Course Records

Graded materials (including exams and assignments that are not returned or picked up) must be retained for 30 days after grades for the class are posted to the student’s transcript. The grade books for each course must be maintained for one year (see policy for other guidelines). Students have the right to a timely review and an opportunity to discuss their grades with instructors.

Remember confidentiality guidelines when returning work or discussing it with students. Leaving exams/papers in a pile (and/or in a public place) for students to pick up is a violation of student confidentiality, as is posting grades by student ID# (see policy appendix for guidance on confidential information).

7. Midterm and Final Exams

Exams are an important measure of students’ mastery of course material.  Accordingly, the University has established a policy that dictates the date and time of all undergraduate finals.  The dates, times and locations of all exams (midterm and finals) should be included on the course syllabus.  If the final exam is administered at a location different from where the class meets, this should be announced in class and appear on the syllabus. 

The University’s examination policy addresses:

  • midterm exams
  • study day(s)
  • accommodations for three or more final examinations in one calendar day
  • prohibitions for changing finals dates and times
  • finals week

If you have any questions about this policy, please contact SCRC at 612-624-7272.

8. Access to Instructors and TA's

To ensure student access to the professor, instructors and TAs, the course syllabi should include information on how students can most effectively reach you and your TA(s) (whether by phone, email, or in person).

Office hours should be included on course syllabi. Provide appropriate notice (class email or announcement) in the event office hours cannot be held. If you need to miss office hours without giving prior notice, leave a note on your door and/or send a message to the class.