Special Appeals Committee

Special Appeals

The Special Appeals Committee is an impartial adjudicative appeal body of last resort for students on academic matters. The role of the committee is to judge whether the application of university regulations, policies or practices has caused undue hardship on any student who appeals. Where undue hardship is found to have occurred, the committee has the authority to prescribe appropriate relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below is some important information about Special Appeals. It is highly recommended that students carefully read through this information before filing an appeal.

Additional Information for Respondents

What is the Special Appeals Committee (SAC)?

SAC, a committee of the Senate of the university, is an impartial adjudicative appeal body of last resort for students on academic matters. Its role is to judge whether the application of university regulations, policies or practices has worked undue hardship on any student who appeals. The committee has the authority to prescribe appropriate relief to a successful appellant.

When can I file a Special Appeal?

Students may appeal to the committee on academic matters once they have exhausted all other appeal processes. The most common routes to Special Appeals are following negative decisions by the Committee on Undergraduate Petitions (CUP) on a petition, from the Registrar’s Office on a formal grade appeal, or from the Dean of Arts & Science, Education or Nursing on a charge of academic dishonesty.

Is there a time limit?

Yes, appeals are to be filed with the Associate University Secretary (Senate) within four weeks of receipt* of the previous ruling. Extensions need to be sought from the Associate University Secretary (Senate) in advance of the deadline. The four week limit will otherwise generally be treated strictly. If a situation is time-sensitive, it is in the student’s interest to file an appeal much sooner than the deadline date.
*Notice by email is considered received the same day and notice by surface mail within three days. The first notice sent starts the time period running.

Is it always a good idea to file a Special Appeal?

If a student has exhausted all other levels of appeal on an academic matter, they have a right to appeal to Special Appeals. However, in some situations (particularly grade appeals) filing a Special Appeal may not be the best option to pursue.

An appeal usually takes 5-8 weeks from the time the paperwork is filed to the hearing date. The student may want to consider what that timing means in their situation and whether there are any different or better alternatives. The student should consider that the best chance of resolving an issue is usually close to the source of the problem.

A student should also assess honestly whether they have a good argument that a university regulation, policy or practice has caused them undue hardship. If there is no good argument, the student is probably wasting their time (not to mention the committee’s time) in filing an appeal and going through the hearing process.

Students are encouraged to discuss their situation with their Academic Advisor before deciding whether or not to file a Special Appeal.

Example where alternative route was preferable: 

"Jeff’s final grade in English 100 was 58%. He had a rough year with some medical problems but does not dispute that the grade was calculated properly. Jeff needed 60% in order to take another course which is required for his program. He informally asked his professor and the department chair if they would consider increasing his grade and he was denied. He filed a formal grade appeal and was denied in early August. Jeff decided not to pursue a Special Appeal because of the timing to September and the likelihood of success being low (he could not point to a practice by the professor or university that caused him to get the 58%). Instead, Jeff focussed on speaking to his professors to see if he could obtain permission to re-take English 100 at the same time as the course that required it as a pre-requisite (concurrently). Jeff also considered filing a retroactive withdrawal petition with the CUP committee on the basis of medical grounds. If successful, the petition would remove the grade from his transcript."

Is my case confidential?

The Special Appeals process is governed in as confidential a manner as possible. Information is shared only with those who are involved with the case or who need to be informed to implement a decision. Hearings are held in camera (privately). Students are encouraged to ask the Secretary any questions they may have about confidentiality.

How do I file?

Special appeals are filed by submitting the completed application form with attached copies of supplementary documentation in person or by mail (no fax or email) to the Associate University Secretary (Senate), Otonabee College, Room 123. Appeals may be filed in person during regular business hours, with appointments only. The application form is found on this web site. If the space provided on the form is insufficient, you may attach extra pages.

Note that an incomplete application will not be considered filed but will be returned for completion.

What do I need to consider as I prepare my paperwork?

The written submission is the most important part of the appeal. All relevant details and supporting material should be included. The grounds on which the appeal is based should be clearly set out with reference to the supporting evidence and the remedy sought should be clearly stated. Here are some additional tips:

  • Spend time preparing your appeal. Even if you are hurrying to meet the deadline, you should take as much time as possible to prepare your paperwork. Write clearly and check for grammatical and spelling errors. A typed application is preferable over hand-written.
  • Present your case in a straight-forward manner. Chronologically often works well. Remember that the panel members have no prior knowledge of your situation. Consider having a friend read over and critique your submission.
  • Stick to the point. Focus on your main point(s), not irrelevant detail. Keep your submission concise. The typical appeal is generally less than 25 pages.
  • Be Accurate. Make sure all dates, course numbers, etc. are correct. Give precise details about how the circumstances affected your studies and be as specific as possible.
  • Reference attached documentation. Explain why the documentation is relevant. Examples of relevant documentation are medical notes, letters from counselors, copies of correspondence with the instructor or others, copies of academic work.
  • Be factual. Avoid using dramatic language.
  • Be clear on what you are asking for. Consider what remedy you are seeking. It may make sense to come up alternative remedies in addition to what you would like to happen ideally.
  • Keep copies. Until a matter is settled, keep copies of all letters sent or received, as well as relevant documents and forms. You should organize your paperwork in preparation for your hearing.

Please note that the provision of documentation to support your case is solely the student’s responsibility. The only document normally obtained by the Secretary is the student’s academic record.

What will I need to demonstrate to be successful in my appeal?

Each case is unique and is assessed on its own merits. Undue hardship is not strictly defined but often involves medical or compassionate grounds, or circumstances beyond the student’s control. Note that in situations involving extenuating circumstances, decision makers are usually more sympathetic when the student demonstrates that they took steps to deal with the problem situation.

On a petition, the student must demonstrate that the application of a university regulation or policy has more likely than not* caused them undue hardship. Submitting supporting documentation is very important.

On a grade appeal, the student must demonstrate that the policy or practice of an instructor or of the university has more likely than not* caused them undue hardship. Examples of grade appeals that have been successful in the past involved practices such as: the refusal to grade late work, errors in the computation of a grade, the method of grading differing from what was set out in the syllabus, term work not given back until after the exam. Please note that the Special Appeals Committee will normally not interfere in matters of academic judgment.

On an academic dishonesty charge, the academic department/program/school must demonstrate more likely than not* that the student committed an act of academic dishonesty under the university’s Academic Integrity Policies. Note that the student may appeal the finding of academic dishonesty, the penalty, or both.
*known in law as the standard of “a balance of probabilities”

Who is involved in a Special Appeal?

The Special Appeals Committee is composed of both faculty of the university and students. Individual appeals are heard by a panel of the committee (usually between 3-5 people) which includes student representation where possible. Each panel has a Chair who is a faculty member on the committee. The role of the panel is to decide cases.

The student who appeals is called the Appellant, and the Respondent is a university administrator or faculty member.

The Secretary of the committee (the Secretary of Senate at the university) administers the appeals process and provides general information about procedure and legal principles. The Secretary is not a decision maker, nor is it the function of the secretary to assist the parties in formulating their case.

The student has a right to a representative if s/he so chooses. The student may also bring a support person to the hearing. A supportperson does not actively participate in the hearing. Finally the parties may call witnesses to give evidence.

What happens after I file my appeal?

When an Appeal is filed the Secretary does a preliminary review to ensure that the paperwork is in order. A copy of the appeal documentation is then forwarded to the Respondent for the official Reply to the appeal. The Respondent is allowed three weeks to file the Reply. When the Reply is filed, the Secretary contacts the student and forwards a copy of the Reply. The student has one additional week to file Responding Comments to the Reply (though it may be in the student’s interest to file comments sooner).

The Secretary then sets down the hearing date and time and notifies the parties.

What if I know one of the committee members?

The names of the members of the Special Appeals Committee are listed on this web site and should be reviewed. If a student knows one of the committee members and thinks they may have a bias or conflict of interest the Secretary should be notified as soon as possible. The student is additionally given the opportunity at the hearing to state whether they have an objection to the composition of the panel hearing the case. Reasons for an objection must be provided.

Is there a hearing?

The student who appeals has the option of selecting whether they want a hearing in person. If the student does not select a hearing, a panel meets to decide the case based on the paperwork alone. A hearing allows the student to make their case in person to the panel.

The student is given notice by the Secretary of when and where the hearing will take place. If the there is any problem with the hearing time the student must notify the Secretary immediately.
The student is responsible for notifying their witness(es), representatives, or support person (if any) about the hearing.

It is the student’s responsibility to provide the Secretary with their current contact information. If a student fails to appear at the hearing, the panel may proceed in the student’s absence.

What if I change my mind about the appeal?

If the student decides not to pursue a Special Appeal, they may give notice that they are withdrawing their appeal by notifying the Secretary in writing.

What will happen at the hearing?

The Chair opens the hearing and explains the mandate of the Special Appeals Committee. They ask the panel members to introduce themselves and ask the student whether they have any objection to the composition of the panel. The Chair then outlines the procedure for the hearing.

In most cases, the student (Appellant) presents their case first which includes the student’s own submission / evidence and the evidence of any witnesses the student has called. The Respondent (if present) and the panel have the opportunity to ask the student and/or witnesses relevant questions. The Respondent’s case usually follows with evidence from the Respondent and/or witnesses. The student may ask relevant questions of the Respondent and/or witnesses, as may the panel.

The appellant is are given an opportunity to make closing comments which should be kept brief. The hearing then closes and the parties are excused while the panel enters into deliberations and comes to a decision.

Please note that at the time of the hearing the panel will have already read the written material. Therefore, submissions / evidence should be kept as brief as possible and presented in summary form.

How long is the hearing?

The length of hearings varies depending on the complexity of the case and the amount of evidence. Typically hearings last less than one hour. Remember, the main submission should be the written submission. If the written submission is prepared well the hearing should be fairly brief.

What else should I know about the hearing?

The hearing is a formal proceeding that is held in private (in camera).

It is important to know that the hearing is not a time for debate. The student is given an opportunity to present their case and give closing comments. Parties are not permitted to speak out of turn.

All comments by the parties and their witnesses are addressed to the panel, and not to the other party or witness.

The Appellant's witnesses shall be called by the Chair one at a time and shall be present only while they are providing evidence. The witnesses shall be questioned first by the Appellant (or Representative), then by respondent (and/or Representative); and finally by the Panel. The Appellant (and/or Representative) may then re-questions the witness but only on matters that have arisen in the course of the previous questioning.

The Respondent's witnesses shall be called by the Chair one at a time and shall be present only while they are providing evidence. The witnesses shall be questioned first by the Respondent (or Representative), then by the Appellant (and/or Representative); and finally by the Panel. The Respondent (and/or Representative) may then re-questions the witness but only on matters that have arisen in the course of the previous questioning.

Witnesses may respond to direct questions but will not otherwise engage in discussion with those present.

The Secretary can answer any further questions about the hearing procedure.

How will I know the outcome of the case?

Students receive a decision letter, normally within three weeks of the hearing date. A copy of the letter is also sent to the Respondent. If administrative action is required as a result of the decision, the appropriate individuals will be notified by the Secretary.

The decision of the Special Appeals Committee is final within the university.

What if I am not satisfied with the outcome?

In the event that either the appellant or respondent is still unsatisfied following the outcome of a special appeal process, they have the option of filing a complaint with the Ontario Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is an independent officer of the Ontario Legislature who investigates complaints from the public about Ontario government services (including universities), recommending improvements for governance, and resolving individual issues.

Information about the Ontario Ombudsman and the complaint procedures can be found here.

Where can I get more information?

The committee’s procedures are available on this web site. Any questions about the Special Appeals procedures or the information provided here may be directed to the Secretary:

Tara Harrington

Associate University Secretary (Senate)
University Secretariat
(705)748-1011 x 6163

Additional Information for Respondents

Who is the Respondent?

The Respondent to a grade appeal is normally the Chair/Director of the applicable program/department/school. This is because the decision coming to Special Appeals is the decision of the program/department/ school, not the decision of an individual instructor. The Respondent to an allegation of academic dishonesty is normally the Dean of Arts & Science, Education or Nursing on undergraduate appeals, and the Graduate Studies Appeal Committee or Dean of Graduate Studies on graduate appeals. The Respondent to undergraduate petitions is the Chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Petitions.

What is my role as Respondent?

The role of the Respondent is to respond to the case first by filing the official Reply to the Appeal (within a three week timeline) and through an oral submission at the hearing if the student has elected to have one. The written submission is the most important information in the appeal.*

*In cases where a decision (either a finding or a penalty) related to academic integrity is being appealed, please attach copies of the instructor's and chair's reports.

Do I have to appear at the hearing?

The Respondent is not required to appear, though their presence is usually quite helpful to the panel and advantageous to the Respondent’s case. Otherwise, the panel must depend wholly on the written Reply. The Respondent is therefore encouraged to appear.

What if the instructor has the most knowledge about the case?

If the instructor or another individual has primary knowledge about the situation the Respondent should consider having that person assist in preparing the Reply and attend the hearing as the Respondent’s witness. The Secretary must be informed in advance if the Respondent is bringing witnesses to the hearing. The Respondent is responsible to notify their witnesses of the hearing and make arrangements for them to attend. Another possible option is to designate the instructor to act for the Respondent in the case.

Last updated June 6, 2019