What is a Grievance?
A grievance is defined as a "cause for complaint, especially of unjust treatment". Common sense should be used before seeing a grievance officer. The fact of failing a course or a particulary assessmentis not by itself a grievance. There has to be an element of unfairness. There does not have to be a failure - if you have unfairly been given a mark that is lower than you deserve, and your lecturer or tutor will not correct this, then you may have a grievance.
Who should you see?
For a course-related grievance, the possibilities include: your tutor or demonstrator, your lecturer, your program director, or a grievance officer. For a harassment-related grievance, the people mentioned above may be able to help if you are a student, or, if you are a UNSW Computing employee, you can approach your supervisor or supervisor's supervisor (if the supervisor is harassing you), or a grievance officer. For a grievance related to claimed exploitation (e.g. of a casual tutor or top-up scholarship holder by a lecturer in the course they are tutoring, mentoring, or demonstrating in) talk first with the lecturer, then if necessary go to a grievance officer.
You should also consider whether you should instead be contacting:
- University Security on extension 56666, or phone 9385 6666, e.g. because you are facing an immediate threat to your safety;
- the University Counselling Service e.g. because the problem you face is not specific to a particular course. Counselling may be able to help if you are failing courses despite working hard, or because you cannot get motivated to work, or cannot concentrate, or feel depressed, or ...
One UNSW Computing grievance officer was recently approached by a student who was having trouble concentrating because a person in the flat next door to him was playing loud music late at night. Problems like that are real enough, but UNSW Computing can't help you with them.
- the Equity and Diversity Unit, e.g. because you have a disability and your lecturer will not take what you believe are adequate steps to allow for your disability.
Who is the UNSW Computing Grievance Officer?
If you have a grievance that has to do with UNSW Computer Science and Engineering, you can appeal to the School Grievance Officer.
Putting it in Writing
If the grievance has to do with a course that you are enrolled in, then you should in the first instance either discuss the problem with the lecturer or your tutor or better, express the problem in writing and send the written description to your lecturer. Reasons that a written description of the problem might be better are:
- You are more likely to remember and put down in writing all the relevant facts - in an oral discussion of the problem you may not make your case in the best way;
- In an oral discussion, you lecturer may feel under pressure to make a decision in your favour, and in an effort to make a considered decision may put you off - you will find this frustrating;
- Because you feel strongly about your case, you may say something that you later regret. Your lecturer will, of course, try not to be influenced by any inappropriate behaviour, but lecturers are only human.
On the other hand, if the matter is a minor one - e.g. a mistake in adding up marks on a test paper, then usually a calm personal approach to the tutor or lecturer is sensible, at least as a first attempt to resolve the problem.
Should you see your Program Director?
In some cases, it might be appropriate to talk to your Program Coordinator next (see table below).
If you contact a Grievance Officer or your Program Coordinator in writing, be sure to include your full name and student number. This is particularly important if you are sending a paper letter, or an e-mail from a non-UNSW Computing account. If you are complaining about a particular person, we will of course be contacting that person to get their version of events. If you do not wish for your identity to be revealed to the person about whom you are complaining, please indicate this.
Approaching one of these people might be appropriate, for example, if the problem affects many or all persons studying for the same degree as you.
Applying for a Re-Mark
If your grievance is that you don't feel you were awarded a fair mark for a course, be aware that you can apply to the University, through the Student Centre in the Chancellery, to either have the mark checked (make sure all assignment marks were recorded, all parts of exam marked, and final grade calculated correctly), or to have the mark checked and the whole of your exam re-marked. [Following a re-mark, your final mark could go either up or down, or remain unchanged.]
If the problem cannot be resolved by other means, you have the option of appealing to a School Grievance Officer.
If your grievance should happen to relate to both School Grievance Officers, then you could contact the Head of School, or your Faculty's Grievance Officer.
How to Approach a Grievance Officer
In most cases, you should begin by sending an e-mail to the the grievance officer describing the problem in reasonable detail and requesting an interview. Please also indicate what steps you have already taken to resolve the problem. This will allow the grievance officer to do some groundwork on your case - sometimes grievances can be resolved immediately in this way.
Abuse of the Grievance Procedure
A tiny proportion of students attempt to use the University's Grievance procedures for a range of improper purposes, including unfairly blackening the reputation of another person. UNSW has penalties for this practice.
If you send to a Grievance Officer an unsigned letter (or something similar, like an e-mail from a non-University e-mail address which we cannot confirm comes from a particular student) then we will of course read the contents. However, it is unlikely that the Grievance Officer will be able to do anything about the complaint in the letter. To be able to act, we have to know who is complaining, we may have to check that they are enrolled in a UNSW Computing course/program if that is what you are complaining about, and if it is not something quickly checked and fixed, we may need to interview you about the problem.
If you so request, the Grievance Officer will of course keep your identity confidential to the full extent possible, and will not reveal your identity to the person about whom you are complaining without your permission. However, in many cases, to get anywhere, we would have to tell the person about whom you are complaining what the complaint is about, so that they can (a) give their viewpoint; and hopefully (b) fix the problem.
If you are unsatisfied with the decision of the grievance officer whom you approach, there is a chain of appeal possibilities, including the Head of School, Faculty Grievance Officer, and Registrar. Sometimes there is more than one School Grievance Officer - in this case, if you take a case to one School grievance officer, you may not seek to have your complaint considered by another School grievance officer. [Your case might, however, be referred by one grievance officer to another, e.g. because the other grievance officer has special expertise, or because the first grievance officer has too much work at the time.]