I got a surprising email from the department chair today, saying that one student has made a complaint against me. It seems that he felt that my tone in an office hour was mocking, and felt uncomfortable because of it.
I have not yet heard the details of the incident. So I have no idea who this student is (I'm teaching several hundred students this semester), or what it was that I actually said. I'll arrange a meeting with the chair soon to figure out the details. As far as I remember, I have never been angry or annoyed with a student, and I can't even begin to guess at the particular incident.
Nonetheless, I can't help but feel hurt and defensive at this allegation. I have received a prestigious teaching award just a couple of years ago, and my teaching evaluations have always been stellar. In fact, I have never received a negative feedback from students until now. Furthermore, the one common thing that all students have said is the fact that I'm very friendly and approachable.
I can feel it in my current classes that I'm teaching well, because multiple students who are enrolled in other sections show up to my 8am classes (I regularly have my classroom overflowing, and students often have to stand or sit in the floor to listen to my lectures), and I've gotten the students to a point where they feel comfortable asking even trivial questions in class (I feel that the majority of students are unafraid to speak up when they're confused about something, etc.)
So I feel that this student must have some sort of a personal grudge against me (midterms were just handed back last week), and decided to elevate this to a never-experienced-before level.
And even more hurtful is that my colleagues might start viewing me as a cruel person who mocks the weaker students.
I'd like to fight this allegation to the end to prove my innocence, and I'm not sure what the right way to do this is. Obviously, I realize that despite all this, I'm still in the position of power, and that I need to be very careful not to make this student feel retaliated or singled out (that is not my intention at all; I just want to prove beyond any doubt that I am a competent professor and a good person). So I am thinking of offering to do the following:
disclose all of my teaching evaluations that I have received from the beginning of my teaching career
offer to have representatives from the department visit my classes/office hours to see the kind of environment I have created for my students
offer to make recordings of all of my classes/office hours and other interactions with students
offer to conduct a mid-year teaching review/survey from my students, collecting anonymous comments to see if I am indeed unconsciously being thoughtless towards the weaker students
I did have a couple of students be very rude to me over emails; although I was courteous towards them in my responses, I wonder if the complaint came from one of them. Thus, gather all offensive emails that came from the students and give this information to the chair, to see if he can check if the complaint came from one of them
My question to you is, what else can I do to get myself completely acquitted from these allegations, while staying professional? I think that maybe I'm overreacting a bit, but I also don't want to let the students walk all over me in such a fashion, especially if the allegation turns out to be unwarranted or false. I am quite young (younger than some of the TA's that work for me, actually...) and sometimes do have these authority issues in the classroom, where students see me as their equal.
Edit: just to keep the discussion relevant to my case, let's assume that it's clear from the chair's email that the student is very weak (my paraphrasing attempt didn't work as well as I had hoped).
Update: I met with the chair to figure out exactly what the complaint was about. It seems that the student (who I remember to be completely lost) did not like that I was not giving out answers (I conduct my office hours by posing small step-by-step questions for my students, and never give out direct answers, instead guiding them to the answer), and that I smiled while he felt lost in my office hour(!!). I expressed my regrets at the misunderstanding, and the rest of the chat consisted of the chair saying encouraging things to me, and that I should continue what I am doing with my students. Needless to say, I do not plan on changing anything.
It is still upsetting to me that students can just fling off these wild allegations, though. From past experiences (with cheating) I know that students almost always win, since the onus is on the professor to prove that the student indeed cheated. In a situation like this, I feel that there should be a reasonable measure put in place, which requires the students to prove that the professor indeed acted in a problematic way, instead of making a complaint and asking the professor to prove that he did not do any of these things.
Anyway, thank you for your overwhelming support. Reading through your arguments, advice, and anecdotes really helped. I guess this was especially upsetting as it was my first time receiving a complaint like this, but as this won't be my last time (you can't please everyone!) I think I will be able to handle things much better next time.