Policy on Student Complaints
This policy explains how a student may file a formal complaint against an action taken by the institution or any of it's schools or colleges.
Student Complaint Procedures
Any person who believes he/she has been aggrieved by SUNY Downstate or any of its schools or colleges may file a formal complaint with the Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students within 90 days of the alleged occurrence or event giving rise to the grievance. Although complaints may be made in person, by telephone, or in writing, the individual must file a formal complaint in writing. You will be asked to discuss your problem with a responsible college representative, one who may best be able to resolve your concerns. You should also review the section below on “Other Complaint Procedures” to determine if another procedure specific to your type of complaint exists.
In response to a written complaint, SUNY Downstate will investigate the allegations and respond to the grievant in a timely manner. Should the need arise, Downstate may contact the grievant for further information or clarification of the complaint. The complaint may be referred to a different responsible campus official for resolution (if appropriate or necessary); any final determination of a formal complaint will be made by an individual not directly involved in the alleged problem.
No adverse action will be taken by Downstate, or it’s official representatives or employees, against the student or other complainant based on the individual having filed a complaint. (See “Retaliation”, below.)
The College will maintain a written record of the complaint and its resolution or disposition, including appropriate documentation, for a period of six years. Such file will be retained in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs and will not be part of the student’s file.
If a grievant wishes, he/she may also file a formal written complaint with the New York State Education Department in accordance with their guidelines (see below). The State Education Department recommends that the complainant try to resolve the complaint with the institution prior to filing a complaint with the Department. An official complaint form and guidelines are available on their web site.
Students who are attending SUNY Downstate via distance learning where they are physically located in a state other than the State of New York can also file a complaint with the appropriate educational authority. For information on how to do so, see: Policy on Distance Learning — Registration and Filing of Complaints or Grievances or for more information about how to file complaints as student who is distance learning and located outside of New York State, visit the NC-SARA web site.
Anyone who participates in this procedure has the right to do so without fear of or actual retaliation. It will be made clear to all parties that retaliation against an employee or a student, or third parties participating in a University sponsored program or affiliated activity, who has filed a complaint, or against any witness or other participant in this process, will result in appropriate sanctions or disciplinary action as covered by SUNY Downstate policies or applicable collective bargaining agreements. These sanctions will be invoked for retaliation regardless of the merits of the original complaint.
Retaliation is an adverse action taken against an individual as a result of the filing of a complaint, exercising a legal right, and/or participating in a complaint investigation as a third party witness. Participants who experience retaliation should contact the Vice President for Student Affairs, the Assistant Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and/or Title IX Coordinator.
Other Complaint Procedures: Academic Matters, Discrimination, & Sexual Violence
Prior to filing a complaint, please note that each individual college or school has specific procedures for resolving academic complaints regarding assignment of grades (including individual exam/assignment or course grades), academic dismissal, or other academic matters. The established procedure, which is in the Student Handbook under the section for each individual school/college, should be utilized before filing a formal complaint.
Specific procedures for filing of complaints of Discrimination, which are handled by the SUNY Downstate Office of Diversity & Inclusion, and complaints regarding sex discrimination and sexual violence, which are handled by the SUNY Downstate Title IX Coordinator, are located in the Student Handbook and here.
Please note: Complaints regarding medical or patient care, violations of HIPAA, or other complaints relating to University Hospital at Downstate (except as it relates to a student’s clinical educational experience) should follow the procedures of the SUNY Downstate Office of Compliance and Audit Services. Instructions to file a complaint in this regard are found on their web site.
Regularly, but no less often than once each year, the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs shall provide the President and the Council of Deans which meets regularly with him/her, a report of the complaints received for that year and their resolution. The report shall address if there are any trends in complaints, as well as making recommendations for improvements to or new policies or procedures which would be designed to prevent valid complaints from repeating.
How to File a Complaint with the NYS Education Department
Section 494C(j) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, provides that a student, faculty member or any other person who believes he or she has been aggrieved by an institution of higher education has the right to file a written complaint.
In New York State, a complaint may be filed by any person with reason to believe that an institution has acted contrary to its published standards or that conditions at the institution appear to jeopardize the quality of the institution's instructional programs or the general welfare of its students. Any person who believes he or she has been aggrieved by an institution on or after May 4, 1994, may file a written complaint with the Department within three years of the alleged incident.
How to File a Complaint with the Department of Education
- The person should first try to resolve the complaint directly with the institution by following the internal complaint procedures provided by the institution (as described above). An institution of higher education is required to publish its internal complaint procedure in a primary information document such as the catalog or student handbook. (The Department suggests that the complainant keep copies of all correspondence with the institution.)
- If a person is unable to resolve the complaint with the institution or believes that
the institution has not properly addressed the concerns, he or she may send a letter
to the Postsecondary Complaint Registry to request a complaint form:
New York State Education Department
Office of College & University Evaluation
Mezzanine 5 North
Albany, New York 12230
You can also locate information about how to file a complaint in New York State by visiting the NYS Deparment of Education Web Site.
- The Postsecondary Complaint Registry Form should be completed, signed, and sent to the above address. The completed form should indicate the resolution being sought and any efforts that have been made to resolve the complaint through the institution's internal complaint processes. Copies of all relevant documents should be included.
- After receiving the completed form, the Department will notify the complainant of its receipt and make any necessary request for further information. When appropriate, the Department will also advise the institution that a complaint has been made and, when appropriate, the nature of the complaint. The complainant will also be notified of the name of the evaluator assigned to address the specific complaint. The evaluator may contact the complainant for additional information.
- The Department will make every effort to address and resolve complaints within ninety days from the receipt of the complaint form.
Students residing outside New York State seeking information about how to file a complaint should reference this link: Policy on Distance Learning - Registration and Filing of Complaints or Grievances
Some complaints may fall within the jurisdiction of an agency or organization other than the State Education Department. These complaints will be referred to the entity with appropriate jurisdiction. When a complaint concerns a matter that falls solely within the jurisdiction of the institution of higher education, the complainant will be notified and the Department will refer the complaint to the institution in question and request that the matter receive a review and response.
Upon conclusion of the Department's complaint review or upon a disposition of the complaint by referral to another agency or organization, or to the institution of higher education, the Department will issue a written notice to the complainant describing the resolution of the complaint. The complainant may contact the Department evaluator directly for follow-up information or for additional assistance.
Last Updated: September 30, 2020 (to include updated information on distance learning complaints)