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Dealing with Student-Faculty Conflicts

The Graduate School (TGS) recognizes that conflicts between graduate students and faculty sometimes arise during graduate study. Outlined below are steps graduate students can take to attempt to resolve such conflicts.

TGS provides guidance for how conflict can be avoided. This guidance includes two key documents:

Resolution of conflicts with advisers is also guided by principles outlined in the Guidance for Positive Graduate Student and Faculty Adviser Relationships. The University policies on non-retaliation apply to all University relationships and will be enforced by TGS.

In response to faculty concerns, as well as the GLAC Annual Survey, which has repeatedly found that a number of students experience conflicts with faculty, TGS has created a formal process to provide students and faculty with a means of documenting and resolving such conflicts. This procedure outlines the attempts that should be made to resolve conflict with the understanding that not all conflicts will have a mutually agreeable resolution. This process does not apply to matters of student-to-student conflicts; academic misconduct, such as breaches of academic integrity in research and publication; discrimination; or sexual misconduct. Specific policies on academic integrity, discrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct are available on TGS’s website.

Conflict resolution procedure

Students and graduate faculty are expected to conform to all Northwestern University policies, including those outlined in the student handbook and on the Northwestern University policy index page; TGS policies; and graduate program and/or departmental policies that are published in each graduate program handbook. Students and advisers are encouraged to use the Guidance for Positive Graduate Student and Faculty Adviser Relationships to prevent conflicts that may arise from miscommunication or differences regarding expectations.

In the event conflict does arise, resolution should be attempted as follows:

If the matter is brought to TGS’s Associate Dean for Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Programs, all written materials must be provided, including documentation of all prior attempts at conflict resolution. These documents must be submitted by email to the Associate Dean.

Potential courses of action

The Associate Dean may seek further information from the student, faculty member, or program. The Associate Dean will take action only in cases where prior local resolution was attempted and the issue is not governed by an already-existing policy/procedure. The situations that might warrant TGS involvement include but are not limited to:

Examples of situations in which TGS will not participate in the conflict resolution process include, but are not limited to, challenges to decisions of TGS petitions; challenges to decisions regarding transfer, admission, or readmission; or standard evaluations of student academic performance/progress. The Graduate School’s Associate Dean will have the final authority in determining whether there are steps to be taken to promote the resolution of the conflict.

Additional resources