Appeal of Academic Decisions Section 1

1.1 – General Overview of Appeal of Academic Decisions

The Academic Regulations for the Faculty of Arts and Science are designed to ensure that academic standards are upheld and that all students are treated fairly and equitably. The Faculty does, however, understand that there are occasions in which extenuating circumstances – that is, personal circumstances beyond a student’s control – adversely affect a student’s performance at Queen’s University. The appeal process is available to reconsider the suitability of sanctions or penalties imposed upon a student in light of information brought forward by the student concerning such extenuating circumstances.

In general, with the exception of appeals related to final examinations, final grades, or non-academic discipline where other criteria will apply, appeals are only granted where there are significantly extenuating circumstances, beyond the student’s control, which would merit the waiving of a particular Faculty regulation or decision. Extenuating circumstances normally involve a significant physical or psychological event that is beyond a student’s control and debilitating to his or her academic performance. These kinds of extraordinary situations should be supported by official documentation from an appropriate professional.

Official documentation does not need to outline the specifics of the particular condition or matter affecting the student, but should clearly indicate ways in which the extenuating circumstances directly affected the student’s performance, and should verify that these effects were substantial enough to cause the academic problem. Information on the start, duration and present state of the extenuating condition is critical to helping the instructor, Associate Dean (Studies) or Board of Studies to make an informed decision. Further, a clear statement on whether the condition or circumstances have either improved or are being managed so that they will not have a significant detrimental effect on future academic performance is also essential.

The appeals process does not compensate for extenuating circumstances that the student is unable to resolve, or for which the student is unwilling to actively seek accommodation. In addition, the appeals process does not compensate for extenuating circumstances that are actively being accommodated, for example where a student’s permanent disabilities are being accommodated through the university’s Disability Services Office. Multiple appeals citing the same extenuating circumstances will be reviewed very closely. This review may include, with the permission of the student, consultation with the appropriate professionals involved to obtain more detailed information. In order for such an appeal to succeed, there must be convincing evidence that the circumstances that affected the student’s academic performance will be resolved within a reasonable timeline, or will be appropriately managed on an ongoing basis.

1.2 – Contexts for Appeals in the Faculty of Arts and Science

1.2.1 – Academic Integrity

The Centre for Academic Integrity defines academic integrity as “a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to five fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility. From these values flow principles of behaviour that enable academic communities to translate ideals into action.” This concept is more fully explored in Academic Regulation 1 in the Arts and Science Calendar, but the educational mission of Queen’s with its emphasis on “intellectual integrity,” “freedom of inquiry and exchange of ideas” and “equal dignity of all persons” depends on an adherence to academic integrity in all its actions (see the Senate Report on Principles and Priorities). In support of the concept of academic integrity, students have the responsibility to familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations of the Faculty. Additional information on academic integrity regulations, information for instructors and students and direction for appeals can be found in Academic Regulation 1. Appeals for issues of academic integrity are described in Appeal of Academic Decisions, Section 2.

1.2.2 – Procedural Fairness

Procedural fairness or natural justice holds that:
(i)     Students must have access to any evidence and information relevant to the academic matter in question;
(ii)    Students must have a meaningful opportunity to respond;
(iii)    Students have a right to seek support or advice (normally from the Office of Dispute Resolution Mechanisms);
(iv)   The decision maker must be free from apprehension of bias; and
(v)    The decision maker must provide reasons for the decision based on evidence and the decision must be consistent with the Academic Regulations.

1.2.3 – The University Setting

The University environment is characterized by a spirit of free exchange and inquiry, and the appeal process should be carried out with this in mind. The appeal process should take into consideration the educational context and role of disciplinary proceedings.

Educational hearings are not legal proceedings and should not resemble a courtroom. The proceedings should not be adversarial or prosecutorial; instead they should be conducted in an environment of mutual respect.

1.2.4 – The Senate Policy on Student Appeals, Rights and Discipline

The Senate Policy on Student Appeals, Rights and Discipline (SARD) provides a procedural framework for proceedings in the Faculty of Arts and Science. The expectation is that disputed matters will continue to be resolved as closely as possible to the level at which they originate, and as quickly as is consonant with careful review. In accordance with the SARD policy, informality has characterized the administration of regulations in the Faculty of Arts and Science as far as possible. However, when a matter cannot be resolved through an informal review, the Faculty’s regulations provide students with the opportunity to formally appeal academic decisions.

The SARD policy also offers the following guidance on decision making:

“[All decision making bodies are intended] to ensure that students are treated fairly, but at the same time [it is recognized] that primary responsibility for making decisions about individual students rests with those who are closest to the students, who can fairly compare the individual students to other students in similar positions, and who have knowledge of the context in which the decision is made.

It is recognized that a decision-making body has the discretion to select among a number of reasonable alternatives. A decision that is fairly made shall only be reversed if the [decision maker] is satisfied that it was not a reasonable decision. “Reasonable” in this context means a decision that is grounded in logic. In other words, a reasonable decision is one that is supported by logical inferences from accepted premises and facts. If there is more than one conclusion that may be reasonably drawn from the same premises and facts, the choice of one conclusion over another does not make the decision unreasonable. [Decision-making bodies] shall not reverse a decision solely on the basis that it would not have made the same decision itself if it were exercising discretion. There is a considerable body of Canadian jurisprudence that helps define what constitutes review on the ground that a decision is not ‘reasonable’.”