Here are some tips that might help you prevent or reduce the potential for disputes or misunderstandings in your academic (and non-academic!) life:
Keep copies of all official documents you send and receive [i.e. fee receipts, identification cards, advising worksheets, course outlines, petitions, financial aid information, etc.]. Document everything that is or could be important. If you're in doubt about whether you need to document your actions or conversations, keep track of it. It just might help you solve a big problem down the road.
Carefully read your Student Guide, department handbooks, course outlines, course schedule, receipts, and all other information you receive from the University regarding registration, courses, housing, financial aid, and loans etc.
You are responsible for knowing University policies and deadlines.
Be informed about your financial responsibilities and University deadlines, e.g. keep track of what you owe and why. This may seem self-evident, but it is easy to forget. Losing track of the debt you owe, the deadlines, and the reasons for your debt are a good recipe for increasing the debt itself unnecessarily.
Before you contact a University office, take some time to think about and simplify your complaint. Decide what the main issue is and what action you are seeking. Write down your questions in advance. Have the information and documentation available that you may need in your discussion.
Collect relevant information from a variety of sources (i.e. counsellors, professors, TAs, Student Services etc.). Be sure you communicate your needs to professors, staff, and administrators; they will not know what you need or what your issues are unless you tell them, so be specific.
Save steps by calling ahead for walk-in hours or to make an appointment. If you do not know who to ask or how to find what you are looking for, ask the Ombudsperson Office.
Ask questions until you understand what happened and why:
WHY was my request denied? WHY did the person or office act as they did?
WHAT rule or policy applies?
Are there EXCEPTIONS to the rule?
Is there any APPEAL process?
WHO are you talking to? (i.e. get names and titles of employees)
Ask for copies of policies or records that are relevant to your situation.
When checking your status with a University office, ask to have your particular file checked. This can help to catch problems that might otherwise go undetected.
Know Where to Go Next (*or how to ask!)
The first person you speak with may or may not have the authority to address all of your concerns, especially if your situation is out of the ordinary or particularly complex. If you cannot resolve the matter, ask who else you might be able to talk to and how best to contact them. Some people prefer to answer questions in person, others prefer that you call or email. Remember that you may not always be able to schedule a face-to-face meeting with someone.
It is important to understand university policies and the channels you must go through to resolve your problems.
For example, if you have a grade dispute with an instructor, discuss the matter with the instructor first. If your situation is not resolved at this stage, the next step is to talk with the department chair or director where the course is being taught. At this point, if nothing has been accomplished, you may consider filing a formal appeal with the teaching department.
"Oh, I'll handle it at the end of the semester" is a common thought that many students have when a conflict arises with the University. In most cases, the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to resolve your problem.
The University places a strong emphasis on taking care of issues as soon as they arise.
Ryerson's Academic Consideration and Appeals policy requires that students inform their instructors as soon as possible when special circumstances arise. You should consult with your Program Director or Chair if more than one course is affected or if you are having problems resolving the issue directly with the instructor. Failure to do so can jeopardize your chance for academic accommodation and your ability to appeal.
For example, if you disagree with the way an assignment has been marked during the term, Ryerson policy requires that you raise the matter with your professor within ten (10) working days of the date when the work was returned to the class. The general rule is that no re-assessment will be done unless the student has met this deadline.
Many university decisions may be appealed, but there are deadlines. Be sure to follow appeal guidelines and meet deadlines.
If you wish to withdraw from a course, make sure you go through the withdrawal procedure with your department or at Registration and Records. Do not assume that the instructor will automatically withdraw you when you stop going to class (even if you let them know)!
Be Courteous and Persistent
Try to remain civil and avoid blame and personal attacks. Everyone appreciates being treated courteously. Getting angry or rude will not resolve your problem. It may only confuse the real issues. If you believe you have not been able to make your point successfully in the time available or the person you're speaking to does not have the authority to address your concern, ask who else you might be able to speak to and when and how best to contact them.
** Many thanks to the Ombuds Office at Portland State University for permission to make use of their PSU Survival Tips web page.