Dear Ally,

Home » Uncategorized » Problem Professors Part 2: What should you do?

Problem Professors Part 2: What should you do?

Dear Ally,

I hope you don’t encounter any of the issues I discussed last week, but if you do, there are steps you can take to do something about it.

Start with the professor, no one enjoys hearing from another person, especially their boss, that someone has a problem with them. If it’s a lack of communication or need for clarification, ask the professor to give more detailed information. If you’re having trouble getting in touch with a professor, try another form of communication. Before there was a phone line in the lab outside my former office, there was a physics experiment that involved using my phone jack and one year the instructor forgot to plug it back in and I didn’t notice for two weeks that my phone was unplugged from the wall. (I didn’t make a lot of calls in those days.) I tell my students e-mail is the best way to get a hold of me. Ask your professors their preferred method of communication and test their contact information before you need to urgently reach them.

If you have a more serious issue with a course or you aren’t comfortable approaching your professor, you need to figure out the chain of command and, starting with the professor’s immediate supervisor, work your way up. Most colleges and universities have similar academic affairs hierarchies. The faculty in each program or major belong to a department with a Department Chair, departments in similar areas are then grouped into divisions or schools, each with a division head or Dean in charge. The entire academic arm of a college is run by either a Provost or Vice President of Academic Affairs, who usually works directly for the President. Never start by bringing your complaint to the President. More than likely you will be referred to a Dean and/or Department Chair anyway and most administrators “report up” student issues immediately. Your academic adviser can point you in the right direction as far as who to talk to and inform you of any specific student grievance processes your school may have. The student handbook and school website are always great sources of information too.

If the problem is unique to you and not something that is affecting the entire class, it may be better solved by approaching someone in the Student Affairs branch of your school, who will have a title such as dean of students. (Student Affairs is also where you would take any non-academic complaints.) If you believe a professor doesn’t like you or if he or she has offended you, they need to be told so animosity does not build up and also so they have a chance to apologize or explain. There should be mediation specialists at your school who can sit down with any two people who have a conflict and help them come to an understanding. Often what one person perceives was not the intention at all. If it was not a simple misunderstanding or misinterpretation, see the next paragraph.

Finally, if a professor (or anyone at your school) harasses or discriminates against you in any way, tell a school employee you trust. There are policies, and in some cases, laws that require that employee to report the incident to the proper authorities on campus who must follow-up. Your school will have a discrimination and harassment policy with details.

This is more advice that I hope you never actually need, but it’s always good to be prepared for the worst case scenario.

Hope you have a great week!

Aunt Sarah



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