NEWSLETTER, GRIEVANCES

When a Student Files a Complaint Against You with the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion

March 12, 2019 / Jennifer Ruth

Perhaps the most important thing I can tell you is: you are not alone. If this has happened to you
or if this happens to you in the future, you should know that it has happened, or will happen, to
many of your peers. It is becoming increasingly commonplace. It is stressful but perhaps
knowing that it is also very common will help you put the situation in perspective.

I have been in this role (VP of Academic Freedom and Grievances) a little over a year and the
majority of my time has been spent accompanying our members to investigatory interviews on
the 8th floor of what was the Market Building and is now the Richard and Maurine Neuberger
Center -- the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion (OGDI). OGDI receives complaints from
students, staff, and faculty, who believe they have been targets of discrimination and is
obligated to investigate them. When I began this work, I expected what I think most of us
imagine: uncomfortable cases in which I’d be representing a faculty member who had done
something egregious. I’d be reminding myself that we all deserve a second chance. These
cases occur but I haven’t seen one.


What I see often are people of color whose classes grapple with sensitive subjects being
accused of having political agendas. I see non-tenure-track faculty—often women, people of
color, and/or members of the LGBTQ+ communities—teaching large, online classes being
blamed for students with disabilities doing poorly in their classes. Sometimes I wonder if the
complaint and investigation process has backfired.? Can something be done so it does not
inadvertently cause damage to the very groups of people it hopes to help?


I don’t have enough experience to answer these questions yet. Also, I should emphasize that I
support the missions of OGDI and DRC. I’m glad they’re here. The PSU professionals who work
in these offices do important work, work hard, and mean well.


Still, something is not working right. Furthermore and importantly, I am seeing what should be
the purview of faculty authority and judgment shrink: we are responsible for making academic
judgments but these become very hard when outside bodies not only have the right but the
obligation to second-guess these judgments once complaints are made. In fairness, the people
who work in OGDI do not want to infringe on our academic authority and try to separate one
issue from another but the fact of the matter is that sometimes this is not possible.


I’m not sure how to address this systemically in order to provide relief for our members but it’s
something I’m working on. If you have experience with an OGDI investigation and/or have
thoughts on this subject, I want to hear from you. Please write me at jenniferhruth@gmail.com.

In the meantime, also please know that we have formed a committee of volunteer-members
who can accompany you to an investigation. If I can’t do it, Amanda Byron, Ted Donlan or
Andres Guzman can. We take notes so you don’t have to, provide moral support, and ensure
due process. Many thanks to these PSU-AAUP members for stepping up to help with this work!

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