I have a problem with a course, but my informal communications with the instructor and chair led nowhere.

My student handbook shows a policy for filing a formal grievance, which seems more like a legal process for solving problems. I must mail a letter to my instructor and wait for a reply from them.

In the letter, I will explain my complaint regarding the course. Should a formal grievance letter also list which actions I hope they will take to resolve the problem? Such as, "My grade should be raised." or "Let me retake the course without record of the first time." or "Tuition refund."

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    What are you hoping to accomplish with a formal complaint? Prove that you are right? Get a higher grade? Get a refund? Because, I highly doubt that you will accomplish these goals with a formal complaint. – Alexandros Nov 25 '14 at 12:48
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    @Village "Get a refund" based on "My grade should be raised" is very unlikely to happen, because this sets a bad precedent. On the other hand "Please, let me retake the course" sounds reasonable – Alexandros Nov 25 '14 at 13:11
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    Also this "Many businesses offer refunds when services are not rendered" might be true but not based on the word of one person. If 100 people were enrolled in this course and you are the only one posting a formal complaint, that might reflect bad on you. You might be right (for all I know) but formal complaints are for very serious reasons (e.g. professor harassment) and not for not good enough teachers or too difficult courses. – Alexandros Nov 25 '14 at 13:16
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    @Alexandros: in the US at least, students with a valid grievance often do get a positive outcome such as a grade change from a formal complaint. It does depend on the kind of complaint and its validity – Oswald Veblen Nov 25 '14 at 13:50
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    "Many businesses offer refunds when services are not rendered." -- As perverted the US system is, note that the service offered is to provide teaching, nothing more. Actual learning is your responsibility. Any formal complaint must regard a formal mishap, such as provably unfair (= different from other students) treatment or formal/technical mistakes in the exam (grading). "I should have passed" is not a reasonable claim to make (as the examiner attests the opposite). – Raphael Nov 25 '14 at 15:11

The reason that the grievance process sounds like "a legal process for solving problems" is that it is indeed a pseudo-legal process for solving problems. In particular, it is used when the instructor has done something that violates university policy - unfair grading is a frequent complaint.

These grievances typically follow a detailed policy to try to ensure that student complaints are treated fairly. The first step is often to formally notify the instructor in writing, and that seems to be the purpose of the letter.

In the letter, you should lay out the facts as you see them, and you should include the resolution you would like to see. Try to write the letter in a businesslike way - you want to advocate for yourself, but keep to the facts and try not to say things that you cannot justify later.

If the instructor and department chair cannot or do not resolve the issue, it will move up to the next level, which is typically review by a dean. If the dean cannot resolve it, it goes to the next level, which may involve a hearing of some sort. In my experience many complaints are resolved by the department chair or dean, particularly when the situation is clear cut (e.g. a professor didn't follow the grading policy from the course syllabus).

I cannot say what remedies will be available at your school - this will vary by school. There are certainly colleges where the higher-level administration could allow you to take the course again, or drop the first course from your transcript. The instructor will not be able to do those things, but you have to work through the process one layer at a time in any case.

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