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It's obviously a very undesirable thing to even contemplate suing my university, but please hear me out on it. I'm leaning in that direction and seeking advice from anyone who's been there before, please. Please let me know how it went, whether it was a good idea or a bad idea and all.

I go to a top 10 Canadian university, and we don't really do rankings or such so my school is reputation enough. In fact, it's more reputable than surrounding ones, so people have cautioned me against going running for the hills at this point, as I might jeopardize grad school opportunities. So, I may be stuck here and I may have to carefully navigate this situation, but in fairness to myself, hiring a lawyer may be my only option at this point. I study physics and economics, upper yrs.

However, bullying drove me away from physics, and now I'm seeking to major in pure math. I'm all signed up for the math courses for the upcoming academic year, and of course, physicists have to take a strong mathematical foundation in linear algebra and in calculus. So, although I'm very upset about having been driven out of physics by bullies, I'm trying to shrug it off an remain optimistic for all that I will learn as a future mathematician.

Nonetheless, I hit a new roadblock, and now I am at the last tether of my patience. Last semester, an economics professor relentlessly bullied and harassed me for my disabilities and injuries (I've been hit by a car). He called me a useless, broken kitten that no one would ever pick up from the animal shelter, and mistreated me in other ways as well. All of my assignments automatically got 0's on them, so this person was out to get me. I should have dropped the course, but you know, by the time I realized someone was out to get me, it was too late to drop penalty-free. Plus, I required this course if I wanted to get a double major in economics.

However, my tenacity in hanging tight backfired on me in the end. I got an F in the course. This is my first-ever failed grade in anything mathematics, economics, or even business-related (I was part of the business school before realizing that pure sciences were more my thing; I used to study finance). I had reached out to the department head the day of my final exam, saying that I would get an automatic F in the course because the game was rigged against me; this prof wanted to fail me. Furthermore, I had argued that I probably deserved an automatic pass in the course (C minus or greater), with a long list of reasons, including the bullying and harassment issues. I had also argued that I had run small businesses prior to re-engaging in university studies, so I almost deserved a free credit class anyhow. This was not an "entitlement" based argument, but rather, an argument that the school wouldn't want me suing for the disability harassment.

Lo and behold, I finally got my results in. I hadn't even bothered to check my transcript, so an exam supervisor had broken to me the scores to rip off the band-aid. We all knew I was headed for an F in that single course. I had seen it coming from 10k miles away, and it came. The dpt head is being stubborn with me. Several people have listened to my concerns about the disability harassment, including a school lawyer. But no one has taken my F seriously, which means that I'm left to hire a lawyer, from the looks of it. I'm exhausted, burnt-out from this situation, and depleted. Help please? How to best navigate the legal process? To be fair, I did not deserve an F, as this prof had wanted to see me fail and had gone out of his way to see it happen. Nonetheless, even if I had truly failed, this would have been the first time I could have failed such a class, and maybe it's no wonder why I couldn't have performed by best on the final exam (worth 70%) of my grade. Would appreciate any thoughts or perspectives, thanks.

edit: I can't delete a question that's been posted. This isn't about extortion, as I faced very bad circumstances with a professor and these obviously greatly hindered my ability to complete the coursework. I wound up consulting a lawyer but I doubt that I will pursue any serious form of legal action here. I think that people saying negative stuff obviously don't know what it's like to be bullied or harassed, as that's far scarier than involving a lawyer in anything. Nonetheless, I'm not going to comment further on anything here.

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  • which country ?
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jun 23, 2023 at 6:58
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    If you are genuinely considering legal action then consult a lawyer before you do anything else. It's not something anyone can reasonably expect to pursue on their own. And as far as what you've done so far, some of the steps look to me like strategic mistakes that a lawyer would have advised you against. But on the flip side, if you consult a lawyer, be willing to listen what they have to say, even if it's not the answer you were hoping for, and even if it seems totally unfair. Commented Jun 23, 2023 at 7:59
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    In particular, I think a lawyer would advise you against posting details of your case on the Internet, even anonymously (there is more than enough info here for someone at your university to identify it as you). You might inadvertently hurt your cause by admitting something that the university would otherwise find it hard to prove. Commented Jun 23, 2023 at 8:01
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    @EarlGrey 2nd paragraph says Canada.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Jun 23, 2023 at 13:21
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    "I had also argued that I had run small businesses prior to re-engaging in university studies, so I almost deserved a free credit class anyhow." This sounds like a very entitled perspective, and it will not do your credibility any good to bring it up. I suggest forgetting about this fallacious argument entirely. Commented Jun 23, 2023 at 18:18

3 Answers 3

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I'm very sorry to hear about your experience. I just want to address one specific part:

Furthermore, I had argued that I probably deserved an automatic pass in the course (C minus or greater), with a long list of reasons, including the bullying and harassment issues. I had also argued that I had run small businesses prior to re-engaging in university studies, so I almost deserved a free credit class anyhow. This was not an "entitlement" based argument, but rather, an argument that the school wouldn't want me suing for the disability harassment.

To be honest, I don't think this is a likely outcome at all. Academics in general, including your university's administrators, are likely to be dead-set against anything that looks like awarding academic credit when academic standards were not met, regardless of the circumstances.

As far as "already knowing the material": if that is something the university is generally willing to consider in awarding credit, they will have a documented procedure for you to demonstrate that knowledge and experience (e.g. credit by examination or "challenge"), and they're not likely to be willing to consider bypassing it.

Finally, "you wouldn't want me suing" can easily come across as pure extortion, making the university much less willing to compromise.

Instead of framing it as "I deserve credit for the course", I think you'll get farther by framing it as "I want a fair opportunity to complete the coursework and have it fairly evaluated". Here are some possible solutions that I think the university might be more willing to consider, alone or in combinations:

  • Take the coursework you had originally submitted, and have it regraded by somebody else. (Of course, this will not help if, due to the harassment or for any other reason, you were not able to submit work that was at a passing level.)

  • Drop the course from your transcript altogether.

  • Refund your tuition for the course, and/or let you retake it for free.

  • Let you demonstrate knowledge of the course material in some other way, e.g. by taking some version of a final exam, and assign a grade based on your performance on that.

  • Substitute some other relevant course (possibly from a different institution) to fulfill the requirement for the major.

  • Pay you some amount of money to settle your legal claims.

Also, at this point, I think you should at least consult with a lawyer, if legal action is within the realm of options you want to consider. It isn't something you can reasonably take on by yourself, and without proper legal advice, you risk making the situation much worse.

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  • Thank you so much for a thoughtful and honest reply, as I find some of these comments a little harsh and I never intended for harm when I had made this argument with my university. My plan had always been to successfully complete the course, and when things went very seriously awry with the bullying and harassment, I had reached out the day of the exam in a last-ditch attempt to not fail and to explain how badly I'd been bullied and how I could get credit instead. Did I negotiate badly? Yes, but not maliciously so. Your points are very helpful and those seem more valid as action plans. Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 4:10
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Universities take inclusion and diversity very seriously and blatant cases of bullying need to reported appropriately. Before considering suing the university, you might want to consider a simpler option of finding office that deal with academic grievances. The usually set up a separate panel having no conflict of interest. I Will strongly recommend that

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This is what I recently suggested to a colleague that is having difficulties in reconcile his perspective with the one of his supervisor.

https://francescolelli.info/more/resolving-conflicts-in-academia/

In general, suing your institution should be considered as a last resort when internal avenues have been exhausted. Consequently, I would definitively recommend you to try an internal solution before. Overall, it is essential to evaluate the specific circumstances of your conflict and choose the most appropriate course of action based on your unique situation and the advice received from professionals.

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