Complaint & Appeals Process - MS

Complaints and Appeals Policy

MS Program

Department of Computer Science

November, 2020

The university and the department have safeguards in place to protect members of the community both as students and as employees, and to maintain standards of responsibility and professionalism in graduate education.  Here is the graduate school code of responsible conduct and professionalism in graduate education, for faculty, students, mentors and mentees: https://gsnb.rutgers.edu/code-responsible-conduct-and-professionalism-graduate-education

We expect and encourage:

Honesty and integrity

Respect and tolerance

Sensitivity to differences among individuals

Professionalism

Attention to goals and responsibilities

Timely and constructive feedback

Acceptance of constructive feedback

Inappropriate behaviors:

Mistreatment, abuse, bullying, or harassment, whether by actions or language

Unprofessional criticism

Requests for personal services

Assigning tasks as punishment or retribution

Sexual assault or sexual harassment

Discrimination

Indifference to inappropriate behaviors that are witnessed

University Resources:

School of Graduate Studies (SGS) Problem Resolution: http://gsnb.rutgers.edu/student-services/problem-resolution

Code of Student Conduct: http://studentconduct.rutgers.edu/disciplinary-processes/university-code-of-student-conduct/

Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance: http://vpva.rutgers.edu/

Title IX, to report complaints http://compliance.rutgers.edu/title-ix/

CAPS: https://sasundergrad.rutgers.edu/academic-standing/student-services/1895-caps

University ethics and compliance: https://uec.rutgers.edu/programs/ethics/

We expect you to fulfill your part here.  But we also are ready to assist you if you feel you are not being treated fairly by the people you are working with in the program, which includes your advisor or any staff members you are interacting with.  The above listed university resources are here to help you. If you don’t know or are unsure what university resource to reach out to, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Barbara Bender (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), Senior Associate Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. She will get you in touch with the appropriate university resources.

Goals and Scope of this Document

The goal of this document is to clarify the complaint and appeals process for the MS program in the Department of Computer Science. For simplicity, we will refer to a complaint or appeal as simply a “complaint”.

If you experience any form of inappropriate behavior including harassment, bullying, or retaliation, you should reach out to Dr. Ulrich Kremer (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), the Graduate Program Director, or any university resources as listed above. Any member of the University who is aware of any harassment, bullying, or retaliation is strongly encouraged to report such inappropriate behavior. Any such behaviors will not be tolerated. There are separate processes and procedures in place to deal with these situations.

The scope of this document is limited to complaints addressing academic decisions or situations, including your study plan, course grades, thesis, essays, independent study, and CPT.

Sometimes graduate students need another avenue for dealing with problems that cannot be resolved within their graduate programs or other Rutgers office. If you have been unable to solve a problem or if you do not feel comfortable addressing a concern within your graduate program, you may wish to contact Dr. Barbara Bender (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), Senior Associate Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, who is available to confidentially assist students and faculty in addressing a wide variety of concerns. Dean Bender will help students and faculty identify options, consider avenues to pursue, and seek alternate resolutions to disputes.

When and How to File a Complaint

As a general rule for academic decisions, you first need to clarify a decision or try to resolve a disagreement with the faculty member who made the decision. This may be your instructor who graded your homework or exam, your thesis or essay advisor, or the MS program director who approves your CPT. The root of many conflicts is a misunderstanding of a particular decision or situation, or a miscommunication about the expectation of a deliverable. If you made a good faith effort to resolve the situation, but still feel that you are treated unfairly or that a decision is not justified, you may file a complaint. Keep in mind that being unhappy about a grade or a decision is not a sufficient reason to file a complaint. For example, the fact that an instructor could have given you more points for an exam problem is not a valid reason for a complaint as long your score is consistent with the grading policy used for the particular exam problem, and the grading policy has been applied evenly and fairly.

  • Where to send your complaint? If the complaint is about a grader or teaching assistant (TA), you should send the complaint to the instructor of the class. If your complaint is about the instructor of the class, you should file the complaint with the MS Program Director, assuming that the MS Program Director is not the instructor. If you have a complaint about the MS Program Director, you should file a complaint with the Graduate Program Director. If the complaint is about the Graduate Program Director, you should file it with the Graduate Program Committee. For any complaint beyond this level you should reach out to the Dean’s office or general university administration.
  • What is the format of a complaint? The format of a complaint is an email message. You should clearly state the reasons for your complaint, list all individuals involved, and describe your failed, good faith effort to resolve the conflict in question. Be respectful and do not leave out any relevant details even if they may seem to weaken your case.
  • What to expect after filing a complaint? You can expect to receive a response to your complaint via email within 10 working days from sending your complaint email. Please note that you may be asked to clarify some aspects of your complaint in order to allow a fair and informed decision. If you believe that the resulting decision is unfair or unjustified, you may escalate the complaint to the next level (see “Where to send your complaint?”). Please note that any escalation has to be justified and is not just another opportunity to be successful with your complaint.

Sample Situations Where Conflicts May Arise

This is not meant to be a complete list.

(a) Study Plan

Your study plan is an essential part of our MS program. You will need to meet with your advisor to discuss and develop your study plan. Your advisor will monitor and guide your progress towards successfully finishing your degree requirements. If you and your advisor cannot mutually agree in a timely fashion on a study plan that reflects your interests and is consistent with the MS program requirements, please contact the MS Program Director. If the MS Program Director is your advisor, please contact the Graduate Program Director.

(b) Course Grades

You can appeal your grade in a course. You should first contact the grader or instructor, (the latter for classes without graders or TAs) stating the grade you received, the grade you think you deserved, and your justification. In many cases, the grader or instructor will agree with you, apologize for the error, and make the change.  (Remember how quickly grading has to be done—errors unfortunately occur.) In other cases, the grader or instructor will explain their reasons for sticking with the original grade.  Be open to the possibility that there may be areas where you fell short in the class that you didn’t appreciate, in terms of technical skills or specific tasks and requirements. If you are still unsatisfied, you have the option of initiating the complaint process.

(c) MS Theses, Essays, and Independent Studies

Some aspects of our MS program involve a negotiation between you, the student, and a faculty advisor. Examples include the MS thesis, MS essay, and an independent study course (198:60X). Here, you and your faculty advisor will have to agree on the scope of the work required to successfully accomplish your deliverables. The negotiation of these required deliverables should be done in advance, resulting in an agreement between you and your advisor. However, since some of this work requires research or implementation work, things are unpredictable in nature, i.e., things may not work out, or are harder (or sometimes easier!) than expected. In these cases, a “re-negotiation” is often required which should involve your advisor and all members of your thesis committee. Your thesis committee members are an important resource who will be able to guide you and help with solving conflicts. Do not hesitate to reach out to them. If you believe that your advisor’s and committee’s expectations with respect to workload and timeline to produce results is unreasonable, and your advisor and committee disagree with your assessment and are not willing to change their expectations, you may file a complaint.

Please be aware that an MS thesis counts for 6 credits, i.e., involves a significant amount of independent work. Most likely, there will be stumbling blocks on the way, which is the expected rather than the exceptional case when conducting research or implementing a larger software system. You should inform your advisor as soon as possible about such stumbling blocks in order to get your advisor’s help to solve your issues, or allow your advisor to adjust your “deliverables” if these issues cannot be solved within a reasonable time. It is your responsibility to keep your advisor informed in a timely fashion, and it is your advisor’s responsibility to guide you around these stumbling blocks. The same expectation holds for essays and independent studies.

(d) CPT

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is another important aspect of your MS education. If you are an international student, you are allowed to spend up to 20 hours per week during the fall and spring semesters at an industrial internship covered by the CPT. During the summer, the CPT can be up to 40 hours per week. Your CPT has to be approved by the MS Program Director. The CPT has to match your study plan, and will only be approved if you are making good progress towards your study plan’s goals. The CPT should not be a distraction, but a contribution to your educational and professional goals. Typically, up to 10 - 15 hours per week may be considered reasonable, but based on your academic performance, you may only be able to work fewer hours, or not take a CPT at all. You may appeal any CPT decision.

Other Matters

Students can reach out to the Graduate Program Director about all matters concerning their status in the MS program, including any paperwork that requires approval from our MS program office, or a request for advice how to proceed with a potential complaint. In addition, students may contact Dr. Barbara Bender, Senior Associate Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, about any issues related to our MS program.