Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
Colleges can be tricky places to navigate. They are especially tricky when a student encounters a professor who acts in inappropriate ways toward them. Students often won’t take action as they believe they may face retaliation or a failing grade if they complain, and unfortunately, they might. But, if students don’t do something, the college professor may continue with their harassing or wrongful conduct and even push the student out. It is a tough spot.
Some examples I have seen, many during college clinical or internship placements, which seem almost ridiculous when reviewed, but are true:
〰A nursing student raises their hand and points out a difference between what the professor is saying and the textbook explanation. The professor thereafter targets the student and starts lowering their grades on papers and other assignments, which means the student is in danger of failing.
〰A student contradicts a professor’s assertion about them and the professor thereafter investigates them by interviewing multiple individuals to justify getting them kicked out of their major/school.
〰A professor does not like a student’s political statements in class and later falsely accuses the student of recording and posting him on line, and subjecting the professor to ridicule. The student never recorded anything but is then referred for discipline.
〰A professor does not like an older student who will not just take everything the professor says as gospel, and the student is thereafter monitored and written up on every possible occasion.
〰A professor fails to implement a disabled student’s accommodations, which leads to a bad grade and termination from the program.
I usually find out about such student abuse when the student fails their course, finds out they are placed on remediation, is kicked out, or can just smell that something bad is about to happen.
Here are some potential out-of-court actions which could potentially help or protect the student:
1) Start a good and detailed timeline with actual dates, details and any proof.
2) File a grade appeal (if relevant) with the college.
3) File a grievance/complaint against the professor with the college or university for wrongful conduct if there is enough proof.
4) File a claim with the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for discrimination/retaliation OR
4a) A claim could also be filed with the University for discrimination/retaliation, but students generally only get one shot to allege discrimination via administrative processes (depending)- and have to decide who they think would address the matter more fairly- their college, or the Office for Civil Rights.
5) Elicit help from the college’s student disability office (if relevant).
6) Bring witnesses if possible when speaking with the professor or university staff about the professor so they cannot allege inappropriate conduct by the student.
7) Document everything.
8) Appeal any college discipline or other negative outcome and bring up the improper conduct by the professor.
9) Encourage others to file complaints on the professor, as if no one files them, the college is not on notice of issues.
10) Try not to do anything to exacerbate the situation!
Some college professors are very used to being the most important person in the room and I think this can go to their heads. They may not be used to being challenged or even questioned, and can react negatively afterward. They also tend to be hard to challenge as grading in many areas is so subjective and they can often defend their sly lowering of grades by saying that was their opinion. As such, students need to start protecting themselves when they even slightly smell a rat as that rat can bite and negatively impact their future graduation and career.
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.