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How can Students make Complaints Against Professors?

Students often complain among each other about their professors: They have unreasonable expectations, their lectures are too boring or they go off on tangents and don’t teach. However, when issues grow more serious, whether it be over a grade or offensive speech, there are ways for students to lodge complaints against professors, according to Dean of the Colleges and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies James Daichendt. 

According to Daichendt, students must begin by having a conversation with the professor to voice concerns or avoid misunderstanding, or students can bring their complaint to the department chair or dean overseeing that professor. From there, if the issue can’t be resolved, Daichendt or the provost of the school is involved. However, Daichendt said a complaint can be lodged at any level within the PLNU faculty and administration, and then “appropriate people” will be involved to help deal with the issue.

“The faculty and chairs are here to help the students and help make the experience positive. If you’re not sure what to do, they’re a good person to talk to about that,” Daichendt said. 

Daichendt said students do have the option to submit complaints anonymously, though it may limit the extent to which the university can investigate. “It doesn’t mean it’s not looked into,” Daichendt said. There are also regulations in place to ensure that a professor cannot retaliate against a student, as that would be considered harassment, Daichendt said. 

“Anonymous doesn’t mean it’s not researched and examined and looked into. The feedback loop to the student is sometimes different in that way … it does change the nature of that.” Daichendt said.

Senior literature major Amy Ely said she didn’t know how to go about filing a complaint against a professor. During her sophomore year, Ely said she was singled out and made uncomfortable by then professor John Wright, who was removed from PLNU during a Title IX investigation, according to reporting from The Point in 2018. Ely said Wright would often use her for examples in class, including having her stand on a table and jokingly telling her to jump into his arms or “crucifying” her by pushing her hands against a wall.

“It put me in an uncomfortable place of ‘oh, I don’t really want to do this, but you’re also the professor,’ and there’s that power dynamic,” Ely said. 

Before he was removed, Ely said she decided against reporting him after discussing with her classmates if what he did was inappropriate or just a different teaching style.

“Everytime I would think ‘huh, maybe this isn’t ok,’ he would come up after class and apologize for it and be like ‘oh, I just want to make sure I’m not going too far,’” Ely said. “That would make it feel like, oh, ok it’s probably fine. So I was always on the edge of ‘is this actually supposed to be uncomfortable, or am I just not interpreting the situation correctly?’” 

According to Ely, had she decided to report him then, she wouldn’t have known the avenue to do so. Ely said now, as she knows more about issues of professor-student power dynamics, she would report a similar situation and would start with reaching out to a trusted professor. 

“I don’t think I felt comfortable talking to anyone about other professors until probably this year,” Ely said. “Realizing these people are here for me, and I can tell them when things make me uncomfortable, and I’m allowed to feel uncomfortable. Not until after the whole Wright situation did I know there was anything available for that.”

While reporting a professor can be a daunting idea, students are empowered to do so when things feel wrong, according to Daichendt.

“If students are ever unsure, they can always go to a chair or dean,” Daichendt said. “Deans like myself are never going to turn down a meeting with a student over something they’re concerned about. Neither will a chair. A listening ear is here for them. And more times than not, I’d say it’s settled there, or you can find some direction to resolve it.”