General Grievance Procedure
The faculty grievance procedures of The University of Alabama in Huntsville are designed to assure the fair and timely resolution of complaints, to encourage mediation of such complaints, and to provide for review processes that guarantee equitable and reasonable application of university policy to members of the faculty. Addressable complaints are defined as those relating to actions which directly and adversely affect the faculty member in his or her academic or professional capacity.
These procedures adhere to the principles of professional academic practices and are not considered to be judicial in nature. The essence of the procedures entails hearings that are conducted and heard by representative faculty with final recommendation of the hearing committee and by such faculty.
The deadlines outlined below are intended to insure that the process is carried out in an efficient and timely manner. Both the grievant and the institution have an interest in a decision that is made as early as is practicable. While it is expected that these deadlines will be observed, the fact that a specified action is late shall not support a claim that the process is inadequate or defective unless the grievant can show that the delay was unreasonable, in terms of cause and duration, and that it has seriously prejudiced or disadvantaged the grievant. Since resolution requires a final decision by the president, no such delay shall result in a decision "by default."
Faculty are advised that staff (including staff not assigned to an academic unit such as a Program, Division, Department, School, or College) and students wishing to make a general grievance against a faculty member will do so with this section’s process. Such individuals, in particular students, may have sought the advice of campus officials, such as the Dean of Students, to determine the process that is to be followed. Faculty are also advised that general grievances against a staff member or student are not covered by the procedures described in this Faculty Handbook section. Faculty wishing to make such complaints or grievances are directed to the procedures described in other relevant documents. Faculty wishing to proceed with such complaints or grievances may seek the advice of relevant campus officials (e.g., Dean of Students for complaints against students) for advisement about the process. Nothing in the statement here is to be construed as limiting a faculty member’s prerogative to deal with academic misconduct within the context of a course. Such prerogative is discussed elsewhere in the Handbook.
Appeal within the Administrative Chain
Resolution of an individual's grievance begins with the individual's immediate supervisor. If the problem cannot be resolved at this level, it is to be pursued through the appropriate academic administrative chain. For faculty members (including research and clinical faculty), this chain is the department chair, the dean of the college, and the provost, in that order. If resolution of the grievance is achieved at any level in the administrative chain, the process will be ended without further consideration.
The first step in the grievance process is discussion between the faculty member and his or her immediate supervisor. If resolution of the grievance is not reached through discussion, the faculty member may, in order to continue the grievance, present to the supervisor a letter defining the grievance and the redress sought. This letter of grievance, except when documented unusual circumstances exist, must be filed within 45 days of the action being addressed. Within seven working days of receipt of the letter of grievance, the supervisor must respond in writing to the faculty member, who may then pursue redress through the appropriate administrative chain of authority.
If the faculty member wishes to carry the grievance further, he or she will submit to the next level of the administrative chain a written statement of the grievance and redress sought, as well as any documentation deemed appropriate. This written statement must be submitted within fifteen working days following a response at the previous level. Documentation may be supplemented by the grievant to address points raised in successive written responses provided by the responsible individuals in the chain. However, if the grievance changes substantially from one administrative level to another, the previous administrator must be informed and will have an opportunity to respond in writing.
The grievant has the right to receive a written response from the supervisor at each successive administrative level within seven working days of receipt of the letter of grievance. The failure of a supervisor to respond will not be grounds for failure to respond at the next level. As appropriate to the case, the response with rationale will be one of the following:
1. a decision upholding the legitimacy of the grievance;
2. a decision denying the legitimacy of the grievance;
3. a statement of compromise agreed to in a discussion with all parties involved and signed by them;
4. a recommendation to the administrator's immediate supervisor with a copy to the grievant; or
5. an explanation for delaying the decision for an additional seven working days followed by a response as in 1 - 4 above by the end of that period.
If, at any level, a response as defined above does not resolve a grievance, the grievance may be submitted at the next level. The procedure at that level will be the same as described above. If, for any reason, the faculty member does not wish a written response to the grievance from a supervisor, he or she must submit a waiver of response in writing to that supervisor.
If, after exhausting the administrative chain described above, a faculty member still believes there is just cause for grievance, he or she may petition the president of the university for redress. The president may either act on the grievance directly or refer the grievance to the Faculty Appeals Committee (FAC). In either event, the president will respond in writing to the grievant within fifteen working days. A faculty member who still believes there is just cause for grievance may request a hearing by petitioning the FAC within seven working days of receipt of the president's letter.
Appeal to the Faculty Appeals Committee
A. Condition of Appeal
1. After fully pursuing administrative redress of grievance, a tenured, tenure-earning, clinical or research faculty member who still believes there is just cause for grievance may petition the Faculty Appeals Committee (FAC) if the grievance relates to one or more of the following:
a. violation of academic freedom;
b. non-compliance with due process as defined by the university and/or customary academic practice;
c. inadequate review;
d. discriminatory treatment in violation of federal law and university policy; and
e. violation or improper, unfair, or arbitrary application of university policy adversely affecting the faculty member.
2. In assessing the merits of a grievance, the FAC follows the interpretation of academic freedom, due process, and adequate review given in the following documents, found in the AAUP Policy Documents and Reports, (1990).
a. 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure;
b. Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings;
c. Procedural Standards in the Renewal or Nonrenewal of Faculty Appointments;
d. The Standards for Notice of Nonreappointment;
e. Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure;
f. Statement on Professors and Political Activity; and
g. Statement on Professional Ethics.
3. If the grievance does not contest the nonrenewal of contract or the denial of tenure, the FAC chair may, after consultation with the petitioner, enlist the aid of the faculty ombudsman in seeking a satisfactory resolution of the grievance. The ombudsman may seek an acceptable solution to the issues raised in the petition by informal consultation with the principal parties, by mediation, and by other voluntary means. All information communicated to the ombudsman during this process is confidential. If the faculty ombudsman is so enlisted, the chair of the FAC will suspend further FAC action for no more than ten working days before proceeding as required below.
4. When a grievance concerns judgments about professional competence made by faculty committees or academic administrators, the scope of review under the procedures shall be limited. In response to a claim of inadequate review, the role of the FAC shall be to inquire whether the decision was a bona fide, conscientious exercise of professional academic judgment, using relevant standards of the institution. The FAC may not substitute its judgment on the merits for that of the faculty committee or academic administrator. If a claim of inadequate review is sustained, the FAC (Hearing Committee) recommends to the president that reconsideration of the decision be undertaken by the appropriate decision-maker(s).
5. A grievance must be brought by a faculty member to the Faculty Appeals Committee no later than two calendar years after the date of the action that is the subject of the grievance or one calendar year after the faculty member leaves the university, whichever comes first. A grievance petition that is not filed within this period of time may be dismissed as untimely. (On tenure and promotion appeals see 7.9.14 and 7.10.12).
B. Submission for Appeal
1. To bring a grievance before the FAC, the faculty member (hereafter petitioner) submits to the chair of the FAC a petition not to exceed three double-spaced typed pages in numbered paragraphs. The statement sets forth:
a. the specific nature of, grounds for, and factual basis of the grievance;
b. the individuals against whom it is directed; and
c. the redress sought.
2. The chair of the FAC immediately forwards copies of the petition to the one or more individuals against whom it is directed (hereafter respondents).
3. The chair of the FAC solicits from the individual(s) against whom the petition is directed a written statement of response, limited to three double-spaced typed pages using numbered paragraphs, addressing the petitioner's allegations and stating pertinent matters of defense. This statement shall be submitted within seven working days of the chair's request. If there are two or more respondents, they may, at their option, file either individual responses or a joint response. A copy of responses will be provided by the FAC chair to petitioners.
C. Preliminary Screening of Appeal
1. The chair designates by lot a three-member Preliminary Screening Committee (hereafter PSC). By FAC form letter, PSC members, within three working days of receipt of notice of selection, either accept service or disqualify themselves on grounds of bias or conflict of interest only.
2. The chair of the FAC calls an initial meeting of the PSC, distributes copies of the petition and statement of response, instructs the PSC to elect a chair, and defines the PSC's charge. No member of the PSC may discuss any aspect of the grievance with any party to the grievance in any situation other than a formal meeting of the full PSC.
3. The PSC, after electing a chair, examines the petition and statement of response for the sole purpose of determining whether or not the petition should be referred for a hearing before a Hearing Committee (hereafter HC). In carrying out this charge, the PSC applies the following standard: A petition of appeal is referred for hearing unless:
a. The matters complained of in the petition fall outside the jurisdiction of the FAC process as defined in A.1.
b. The factual basis for the claim is clearly erroneous or consists of conclusions unsupported by reasonably specific allegations; or
c. The petitioner is clearly not entitled to the redress sought even if the factual basis for the claim was to be accepted as established.
If the PSC judges that the petition is deficient on any of these grounds, it shall be dismissed.
4. If the petition is dismissed, the petitioner and respondent are notified. The petitioner has the right to appeal the dismissal to the chair of the FAC on the grounds of substantial error or clear arbitrariness. Prior to dismissal, a petitioner is allowed to amend his or her petition in an attempt to remedy a deficiency. If the chair agrees, the case is referred to the FAC for a hearing; otherwise, the matter is deemed concluded.
5. The PSC has seven working days after receipt of the case to report its decision, by form letter, to the chair of the FAC. The case files are also forwarded to the chair.
D. Faculty Appeals Committee Hearing
1. Formation of the Hearing Committee
a. If a hearing is recommended by the PSC, the chair of the FAC sends to the petitioner and respondent(s) a list of names of FAC members available to serve on the HC. The list may not contain names of any members of the PSC or other FAC members with bona fide cause for disqualification (i.e. bias or conflict of interest). If necessary, the FAC chair will add names of alternate FAC members in order to make a total of seven potential HC members. The petitioner and the respondent(s) may each exempt two persons on the list without cause by notifying the FAC chair by form letter. In cases with multiple respondents, the respondents collectively agree on exemptions. The FAC chair then designates a HC of three members from the names remaining on the list, using a blind draw with witness if the pool of remaining candidates for service exceeds the requisite three.
b. The HC selects a chair. The FAC chair informs the petitioner and respondent(s) of the HC membership and chair. Hereafter, all communication between the petitioner and respondent(s) is through the HC chair. No member of the HC may discuss any aspect of the grievance with any party to the grievance at any point during or after the hearing process except as called for in Sections D.3 and D.4.
c. The HC chair will be provided the case file, which shall be limited to the petition and the statement of response.
d. After referral of the case to the FAC for a hearing, both the petitioner and the respondent have the right to be assisted in the presentation of their respective cases, even to the extent of full representation, by an advisor selected from within the university community. An attorney may not serve as an advisor, although any party may consult with an attorney, at his or her expense, outside the FAC process.
2. Requests for Information and Documents
a. In order to allow the parties to develop their cases, the petitioner and respondent(s) within seven working days of request by the HC chair, provide to each other through the HC chair a preliminary list of witnesses and documents to be relied upon in their respective cases.
b. Following receipt of preliminary lists of witnesses and documents, the petitioner and respondent(s) have seven working days in which to request additional information and production of documents through the HC chair. These requests may include written questions for the other party. The parties have up to an additional seven working days in which to respond to any such request and to respond to written questions.
c. Any disputes that may arise in this discovery phase are to be resolved by the HC chair.
3. Pre-Hearing Meetings
a. An initial pre-hearing meeting will be held with petitioner, respondent(s), and all members of the HC present. The purpose of this meeting is to clarify any questions about the hearing procedures; to identify advisor(s) assisting or representing either party; to agree upon a date and time for a final pre-hearing meeting at which hearing briefs will be submitted and exchanged; and to deal with any other preliminary matters needing attention.
b. Each party submits a hearing brief. The hearing briefs contain the following: (i) a statement of the issues presented and the party's assertions and arguments in no more than ten double-spaced typed pages of numbered paragraphs; (ii) an appendix containing documents the party intends to present in support of the argument; (iii) a list of witnesses to be called; and (iv) any written affidavits from witnesses that the party intends to offer. The parties provide copies of their hearing briefs to each other and to the three HC members.
c. A final pre-hearing meeting will be held at which the HC will (i) determine the location, time, and date for the hearing; (ii) receive and exchange hearing briefs; and (iii) resolve any other pending matters needing action prior to the hearing.
d. Within three working days after the final pre-hearing meeting, either party may supplement his or her brief by submitting one or more affidavits to the HC chair (in triplicate) and to the other party.
e. Only the HC, the petitioner and the respondent, their advisors and witnesses (during their testimony only) are present at the pre-hearing and hearing meetings.
f. Upon acceptance by the HC at either pre-hearing meeting or during the hearing, the parties may establish by stipulation any fact at issue, the admissibility of any document or affidavit, or any modification of these procedures.
g. Once scheduled, the hearing may be postponed only for reasonable cause as determined by the chair of the HC or with agreement of the parties.
h. The HC chair will encourage the cooperation of witnesses affiliated with the university by form letter and encourage the production of documents and other evidence.
i. Parties to the hearing are encouraged to maintain the confidentiality of substantive matters disclosed in the hearing.
4. The Hearing
The Hearing is an administrative fact-finding proceeding to determine the merits of the petition. Procedure will be informal rather than that used in a court of law. Deviation from established or agreed-upon procedures during the hearing or in any pre-hearing or post-hearing action shall not impair the proceeding or its outcome unless clear, significant prejudice is caused to the petitioner or respondent(s) as a result.
a. The HC chair insures that the hearing is conducted in a manner that is fair, orderly, not unduly delayed or prolonged, and in compliance with these procedures. Acting upon consultation with the other members of the HC when practicable, the HC chair has authority to rule on requests and objections that may arise in the course of the hearing.
b. A record of the hearing shall be kept by means of a tape recorder. The petitioner has the right to a taped copy of the record of the hearing and may produce a written record of the hearing from the recording at his or her own expense. The respondent(s) also have such rights.
c. The petitioner is entitled to be present throughout the hearing and to have the assistance of or be represented by an advisor. The petitioner has the right to support the petition by offering the testimony of witnesses, documents, and other evidence; to examine all documents submitted to the HC; to question all witnesses appearing on behalf of any other party (including a witness called by the HC); and to make argument to the HC by oral and/or written statement. Absence of the petitioner (or the petitioner's advisor) from the hearing without good cause shall be deemed a waiver of these rights, and the hearing may proceed.
d. The respondent has, in defending against the petition, the same rights and entitlement as stated above for the petitioner.
e. The HC may accept any evidence that is of probative value, using as criteria relevance to the issues presented by the petition and statement of response, fundamental fairness, and a preference against repetitious evidence that would prolong the hearing. Formal or technical rules of evidence do not apply, although recognized rules of confidentiality and privilege will be respected. The HC may include as evidence matters that are clearly within the general experience of members of the university community. Witnesses should be asked to affirm that their testimony is truthful.
f. A properly sworn affidavit is eligible to be received if the witness is not reasonably available to testify in person or if receipt of the affidavit would avoid the necessity of calling multiple witnesses on the same matter in issue and would not cause serious prejudice to the non-calling party. In order to be accepted by the HC, an affidavit must satisfy either of the foregoing conditions and have been served upon the other party (i) as an attachment to the brief or (ii) as a supplement to the brief submitted to the HC chair and the opposing party within 3 working days after submission of the brief. An exception to the latter, procedural requirement may be recognized in an instance where a witness' unavailability is due to unanticipated, exigent circumstances and the other party is given reasonably advance notice of the affidavit by receipt of a copy.
g. A document submitted to the HC as a part of the appendix to the brief shall be considered as accepted by the HC as a part of the hearing record without the need for the party to offer it as the hearing, unless the opposing party objects that the document ought not be received under the criteria stated in D.4.e. In the event of such objection, the HC rules on the admissibility of the document. Documents not included in the brief appendix due to lack of availability because of extenuating circumstances may also be offered at the hearing. Introduction of such documents are subject to objection and HC ruling on admissibility per the criteria in D.4.e.
h. Witnesses who are not participants in the hearing will be excluded from the hearing except when testifying.
i. A witness not included in the list of witnesses contained in a party's hearing brief may not testify on behalf of the party unless compelling considerations warrant.
j. The burden of proof is upon the petitioner. To satisfy or carry the burden of proof with respect to a claim, the petitioner must establish the claim by preponderance of the evidence in the record as a whole.
k. The hearing may be recessed and adjourned from time to time as necessary or appropriate at the discretion of the HC. Adjournments may be granted to enable either party to investigate evidence that elicits a valid claim of surprise.
l. At any time prior to the time the HC meets to reach a decision, the petitioner may withdraw the grievance with the consent of the HC, and that consent shall be forthcoming except where there are compelling contrary indications.
m. The hearing proceeds generally as follows, though departures may be permitted for good cause and where neither party would be treated prejudicially:
-- Any preliminary matters are addressed, as appropriate (e.g., the parties may desire to settle the status of documents appended to the brief, affidavits; stipulations may be offered; etc.).
-- The petitioner presents his or her case, with all supporting evidence (testimony of witnesses, documents, etc.).
-- The respondent(s) presents his or her (their) case, with all supporting evidence (testimony of witnesses, documents, etc.).
-- Rebuttal evidence may be offered by either party.
-- Each party may make a closing statement. The petitioner shall have the right to make the last closing statement.
5. Post-hearing Procedure
a. The petitioner and respondent(s) may provide summary statements within 7 working days of the close of the hearing. Such statements shall be confined to evidence accepted by the HC and arguments based on the evidence, and they shall be limited to ten double-spaced typewritten pages. A copy of all such statements will be provided to petitioner, respondent(s), and members of the HC.
b. The HC meets in closed session for deliberation after completion of the hearing and receipt of summary statements.
c. The HC determines by appropriate findings whether the petitioner sustained his or her burden of establishing the claims stated in the petition. Findings shall be based solely on the hearing record, which consists of all evidence (testimony of witnesses, documents, affidavits, or tangible articles) accepted by the HC. The HC may also consider the petition and statement of response, the briefs, and the summary statements, although assertions and arguments made therein shall not supplant the requirement for evidence to support a finding. When it finds in favor of the petitioner, the HC provides recommendation(s) concerning redress. The HC may state recommendation(s) in any appropriate instance.
d. The HC must reach its findings and recommendations by majority vote. A minority report may be filed, at the option of the non-majority member of the HC.
e. Within ten working days after the deadline for the receipt of summary statements, the HC submits its report of written findings and recommendations (if any) to the president, along with a copy of the tapes of the hearing. The president is also provided the petition and statement of response, the briefs, and the summary statements. The petitioner and the respondent(s) are notified of the determination of the HC by being given a copy of the HC's report.
f. The president has 25 working days after receiving the report to review and respond to the report. The president's review is based solely on the materials submitted to him or her by the HC. The president may sustain the findings and recommendation(s) of the HC. Alternatively, the president may reach a decision not in accord with the HC findings and recommendation(s). In the latter event, the president reports the reasons for his or her decision in writing to the HC, which has five working days to reconsider its report and/or respond. After review of the HC's second written response or after the lapse of five working days following delivery of the president's report to the HC, the president reaches a final decision. Copies of the president's final decision are provided to the HC chair, the petitioner and the respondent(s), the FAC chair, and any other parties who need to be informed for purposes of implementation or other action.