Are you experiencing…

  • a dispute with a professor, TA, or other university staff and you’re not sure how to approach it?
  • a tough spot and you’re not sure what the process is for dealing with the problem?
  • a situation where you need to write a statement to complain about an issue?

How should I approach an issue?

If you disagree with a grade you received and want to address it with your instructor, it’s important to keep fairness in mind. Pause and ask yourself:

1) Have I fact-checked? Begin by asking for feedback on the assignment. Get all the information you need, and stay objective by double-checking your assumptions about the problem.
2) What am I trying to accomplish? Are you trying to learn how to do better for the next assignment? Or do you simply want the grade checked? Make sure you communicate your goals to your instructor.
3) Who can do something about this? Who is the most appropriate person to discuss the problem with? Should this be brought to your TA, your professor, or a higher level, such as the chair of your department?
4) What are the possible implications of my options? Weigh the consequences of your different options, which may include doing nothing, speaking directly with the instructor, involving a third party, requesting a review, or making an appeal.

Process is key!

Ben is worried about his grade because he thinks his instructor is singling him out for his political orientation. The professor doesn’t share Ben’s ideas, so when she asked him not to post certain messages on the online class forum, Ben responded angrily that he had a right to express his opinions. It turned out that Ben’s email identified people in a way that breached confidentiality, and the professor warned him this was considered unprofessional.

Check your assumptions: Ben assumed the instructor disagreed with his postings because of his political views.
Check your expectations: Ben expected that the class forum was an area for discussing any matter related to course themes.
Get accurate information: Ben didn’t know about the confidentiality and professional behaviour requirements in his program, or that they applied to the class forum. Do your homework by keeping notes, understanding the requirements, researching relevant policies and asking for feedback.
Take responsibility where it is due: Ben can admit to misunderstanding the expectations for the online class forum, and apologize for behaving unprofessionally.
Present your perspective and treat people respectfully: Ben responded angrily. Even when making a complaint, raise your concerns constructively. Keeping a calm and professional attitude goes a long way. Use a respectful statement to raise the issue constructively.

How to write a statement of concern

A respectful statement of concern has three parts:

1) The situation: A short and factual description that shows the problem but does not attack the person.
2) The impact on you: Such as how it’s affecting your ability to learn.
3) A future-focused statement: How you hope to resolve the issue, best expressed as a need or a request.

A possible statement for Ben:

“I know we don’t have the same political opinions and I’ve been very vocal about my views. I assumed the online forum was for discussing any material related to the course topic, and I apologize for behaving unprofessionally. I’m beginning to feel silenced on the class forum because no one picks up on the points I make. I have no idea how I am doing in this course and I’m worried about the report we have to write. I would appreciate some input on how to relate my perspective to the class topic. Could I please make an appointment with you to discuss this?”