Section 15. The Resolution of Student Grievances with Members of the Faculty
The responsible administrator for this section is the Office of the Provost and Dean of Faculty. Amherst College faculty have approval authority.
I. Informal Resolution
Student grievances that do not involve sexual harassment or sexual misconduct against members of the faculty can be resolved through informal or formal procedures. Students are encouraged to seek informal means of resolving grievances and are urged to consult with other persons who would be able to provide competent advice or referral concerning the issues involved. Such persons might include the Dean of Students, a Class Dean, a member of the faculty (sometimes, especially, the student’s faculty advisor or the chair of the student’s major department) or a member of Residential Life.
If a student decides that there are no grounds for submitting formal charges, or if he or she believes that such grounds exist but nonetheless does not wish to submit formal charges, he or she is encouraged to resolve the matter through informal means, with the consultation and assistance of such persons as those listed above. The pursuit of such informal resolution does not prevent the aggrieved student from submitting formal charges at a later date if informal resolution fails.
II. Submitting Formal Charges
If informal procedures fail to resolve the grievance and if, after consultation with the Dean of the Faculty, the student wants to proceed with the grievance, he or she may submit formal charges against a member of the faculty. The complaint should be directed to the Dean of the Faculty and should contain a full written description of the nature and grounds of the grievance.
Throughout the informal procedures for the resolution of grievances, both the student and the faculty member may each be accompanied and represented by an Advisor of his or her choosing from among the Amherst College faculty, administration, staff or student body, and the student may be accompanied and represented by such an Advisor in the presentation of formal charges to the Dean. Upon receipt of such charges, the Dean of the Faculty will provide written copies to all of the parties against whom the complaint is directed. Within one week of receiving a formal charge, the Dean of the Faculty will proceed as follows:
If the Dean deems the charges insufficiently serious or insufficiently supported by evidence to warrant a formal hearing, he or she decides the matter him/herself. This decision can be appealed to the President.
If the Dean determines that the charges, if proven, are sufficiently serious that, for cause, the imposition of either dismissal, suspension from service for a stated period, demotion in rank or deprivation of pay would be warranted, he or she shall immediately initiate the procedure for the imposition of such sanctions as provided in Section III, I.2 of the Faculty Handbook.
If the Dean deems the charges insufficiently serious to raise the possibility of such severe sanctions, but sufficiently supported by evidence to warrant a formal hearing, he or she shall explore with the aggrieved student and the accused member of the faculty the possibility of resolving their dispute through an alternative dispute-resolution procedure, including arbitration by the Dean. This procedure, however, must include: an explicit time schedule; may not result in the dismissal, suspension from service, demotion in rank or deprivation of pay of the faculty member charged; and may not provide for further review thereafter. The parties shall have one week in which to agree on such a procedure. If they do, the grievance will not come before a Hearing Board. If they do not, the Dean will notify the chairs of the Committee on Adjudication and the Community Standards Review Board of the necessity of forming a Hearing Board within 5 business days thereafter. Immediately upon the formation of the Hearing Board, the Dean will forward the grievance to it.
In order to protect the integrity of a potential appeal, once formal charges are submitted to the Dean of the Faculty, he or she must not discuss the case with the President. In the case of a complaint against the Dean of the Faculty, his or her role in all phases of the grievance procedure will be assumed by the President. Similarly, the President’s role as the officer to whom appeals are directed will be assumed by the Board of Trustees.
III. The Hearing Board and Hearing
The Hearing Board shall be composed of three faculty members, chosen by the Chair of the Committee on Adjudication from among its members, and two students, selected by the Community Standards Review Board from among its members. The Chair of the Committee on Adjudication will normally not sit on a Hearing Board in order to be available to serve on appeals, should they arise.
Each Hearing Board will elect its own chair. The Chair of the Hearing Board will preside over the hearing, maintaining good order and recognizing who is to speak, and will be responsible for keeping a summary record of the proceeding. A verbatim transcript may be taken at the discretion of the Chair and will be taken if requested by a member of the Hearing Board or by either party to the dispute.
A faculty or student member of the Hearing Board may be disqualified for bias or a conflict of interest in response to a challenge brought by one of the parties (or may deem herself or himself disqualified for either of the same reasons). The Chair of the Committee on Adjudication shall decide any such challenge to a faculty member and shall appoint a replacement from among the members of that Committee or, in exceptional cases where no alternative member of the Committee is available, the Committee of Six will appoint a substitute from the faculty at large; the Chair of the Community Standards Review Board shall decide any such challenge to a student member and shall appoint a replacement from among the student members of that Committee, or, in exceptional circumstances where no alternative member of the Committee is available, the College Council will appoint a substitute from the student body at large.
The Hearing Board shall have the right to request information concerning allegations, to question witnesses and to ask for written accounts of alleged violations. It is expected that both the Complainant and the accused will be present at the hearing, but if the accused chooses not to attend, the hearing may continue in his or her absence. The Board may consider any testimony or other evidence it believes has a probative value not outweighed by unfair prejudice, except (1) any written or oral statement made by any member of the College community in confidence to an official of the College, with the mutual understanding that it was made in confidence, shall remain confidential if the original maker of the statement so chooses, and the Board shall not consider it, and (2) the Board shall not have access to the confidential personnel file of the faculty member against whom charges have been made. The Board has the right to call witnesses and to oblige any member of the College community to appear. The burden of proof rests with the Complainant and will be satisfied only by clear and convincing evidence in the record as a whole.
The Dean of the Faculty will present the formal charges to the Hearing Board, thereby initiating formal proceedings which will normally begin within three weeks of the formation of the Hearing Board.
All hearings of the Board will be confidential except when both parties to the dispute request open hearings and the Chair of the Hearing Board concurs. All members of the College community are reminded that, except in the case of an open hearing, any breach of confidentiality may threaten the fairness of the process. All parties are expected to refrain from any action, intentional or inadvertent, which might threaten the confidentiality of the proceedings. The Chair may close an open hearing at any time if he or she determines that the presence of spectators interferes with the conduct of the hearing or might undermine the integrity of the process.
Prior to the hearing, the Chair will inform both parties of the following rights:
- The right to receive a copy of the formal charges, a copy of the Hearing Board’s procedures and notice of the time and location of the hearing. This information must be delivered at least 15 days prior to the date of the hearing.
- The right to present their case to the Hearing Board at the earliest possible date consonant with the right to advance notice. Although the Chair will insure expeditious progress of the proceedings, either party may petition the Chair for more time to prepare his or her case.
- The right to select a member of the Amherst College faculty, administration, staff or student body as an advisor and to have that advisor present during the hearing. Advisors may assist the parties in preparing the case. Advisors are present at the hearing not to serve as legal counsel, but to support and advise the parties. Advisors have the right, however, to address the Hearing Board and to address questions to witnesses.
- The right to challenge any member of the Hearing Board with bias or a conflict of interest in the case. (Prior acquaintance or knowledge of the facts of the matter do not necessarily constitute conflict of interest, absent a showing of an actual conflict of interest.) The Chair of the Committee on Adjudication will rule on the challenge of any faculty member of the Hearing Board, and the Chair of the Community Standards Review Board will rule on the challenge of any student member.
- The right to have any decision based solely upon evidence introduced at the formal hearing.
- The right to present evidence; to call, hear and question witnesses; and to review and question all written testimony or documents. The Board will not consider anonymous statements made on either side of the case. All parties must be aware of the specific source and content of all testimony.
- The right to appeal the decision of the Hearing Board under procedures described in Section VI below.
Normally, hearings will be concluded within two weeks.
IV. The Finding
The Hearing Board will reach a determination as to responsible or not responsible, and, if the former, a recommendation for an appropriate course of action to remedy the harm done to the Complainant and to protect other members of the College community, including a recommendation, if necessary, of any disciplinary action to be taken against the faculty member, within one week of the close of the formal hearing. The Hearing Board may not itself, however, recommend the imposition of dismissal, suspension from service, demotion in rank or deprivation of pay, but may recommend that the Dean of the Faculty initiate the procedure established for that purpose. A determination of responsibility requires a majority vote of the Hearing Board. The Hearing Board will prepare a written report summarizing the evidence, its determination of responsible or not responsible and its recommendation for a disposition. Any member of the Hearing Board who disagrees with the majority opinion must file an accompanying written minority report. The report and minority report(s) must be signed.
The report(s) will be directed to the Dean of the Faculty, who will forward copies directly to the parties.
The finding may be appealed by either party in accordance with procedures specified below (Section VI, Appeals).
V. The Disposition
If the Hearing Board recommends that the Dean of the Faculty initiate the procedure for dismissal, suspension from service, demotion in rank or deprivation of pay for cause provided in Section III.I.2 of the Faculty Handbook, the Dean of the Faculty shall do so as soon as practicable, and there shall be no other review of this disposition other than the initiation of such proceedings and the review provided therefrom. Such subsequent proceedings shall be conducted de novo without regard to the procedure of the Hearing Board described above.
In all other cases, the Dean shall review the Hearing Board’s finding(s), report and recommendations (if any) and whatever relevant information may be contained in the faculty member’s confidential personnel file, normally within one week of receipt of such finding(s), report and recommendations. The Dean may implement a disposition of the case different from that recommended by the Hearing Board (but not dismissal, suspension, demotion in rank or deprivation of salary) only after notifying it of his or her intention to do so, providing written reasons for the same and providing the Hearing Board an opportunity to reply. Both parties will be informed, in writing, of the Dean’s determination.
Either party to the original grievance can appeal the determination of the Hearing Board or of the Dean to an Appeal Board. Such an appeal may be made only on the grounds that one or more of the findings are not supported by the evidence, that substantial new evidence has been uncovered subsequent to the hearing or that the Hearing Board or the Dean has committed specified procedural errors.
The Notice of Appeal must specify, in writing, the grounds on which the appeal is being made and must be presented within 15 days of receipt of the Dean’s determination.
The Notice of Appeal will be directed to the Chair of the Committee on Adjudication, who will convene and chair the Appeal Board. The remainder of the Board will be composed of one faculty member, selected by the Chair of the Committee on Adjudication from among its members, and one student member, chosen by the Chair of the Community Standards Review Board from among its members. None of the members of the Appeal Board shall have served on the Hearing Board for the case under consideration. Any member (including the Chair) of the Appeal Board may disqualify him/herself or be disqualified upon a challenge by any party for any of the reasons for which a member of the Hearing Board may be disqualified. Such a challenge to a member of the Appeal Board shall be decided and he or she will be replaced by the procedures outlined above for Hearing Board members, except that, if the Chair of the Appeal Board is challenged, the Committee of Six will rule on the challenge and appoint a substitute if necessary.
All three members of the Appeal Board vote and a majority decides all questions. If a member of the Appeal Board disagrees with the majority choice of one of the four actions listed below, he or she must file an accompanying written minority recommendation. All reports must be signed. These reports will be directed to the Dean of the Faculty.
The Appeal Board considers an appeal on the basis of the notice of Appeal and the summary record or verbatim transcript of the hearing. After reviewing these materials, it may determine that it needs to hold additional hearings, question and otherwise take testimony from the parties and the Dean and solicit such additional information as it deems necessary for a thorough review. After such review, the Appeal Board will take one of the following actions:
- Inform the Dean that the Appeal Board upholds the decisions of the Hearing Board and the Dean.
- Inform the Dean that one or more of the findings are not supported by the evidence and that the Dean and/or the Hearing Board is to reconsider the recommended disposition or the charge is to be dropped.
- Inform the Dean that the Hearing Board has made one or more specified procedural errors or that new evidence has been uncovered, which requires that the Hearing Board undertake a new hearing.
- Inform the Dean that he or she has made one or more specified procedural errors, which require(s) reconsideration by the Dean.
Whatever its action, the Appeal Board shall prepare a written report that will be sent to the parties.
When the final disposition of a case results in a finding that a member of the faculty is responsible of a violation, that finding, together with the determination of penalty, shall be placed in the member’s employment file.
When the final disposition of the case results in a finding that the accused is not responsible of a violation, all references to the case will be removed from the accused’s employment file.
A permanent file, with the names of all parties and witnesses removed, will be maintained for each case that reaches the formal stage, regardless of its outcome. This file will be kept in the office of the Dean of the Faculty and will include all summary records, Board findings and penalties imposed. This file will be available to any future Hearing Board for the purpose of researching precedents and to any committee of the College charged with revising the policies concerning The Resolution of Student Grievances with Members of the Faculty.
The verbatim transcript, if taken, will remain in the confidential files of the Dean of the Faculty until such time as all appeals and civil or criminal cases which may result from the original complaint are settled. It shall then be destroyed.
None of the foregoing in any way limits rights, responsibilities and procedures described in other College documents, nor does it in any way alter the power and responsibilities of the Dean of the Faculty and the President to enforce the extant rules and regulations of the College.