What Should You Do if You Have a Complaint About Your Program?
Graduate students occasionally contact APAGS to ask for our advice and advocacy on their behalf to resolve complaints and conflicts they have with their programs. It is important for students to understand that APAGS does not adjudicate programs and APAGS has no oversight over the policies and practices of programs. On the other hand, you should also know that APAGS advocates broadly for fair and respectful treatment of all graduates students. APAGS is unable to offer individual advice and counsel to students about how to resolve complaints. However, we can offer the following progressive and overarching suggestions for you to consider if you are having difficulties with your program:
Meet with your professor, advisor, the program director, president or university ombudsman to discuss your concerns, in that order and as it is relevant to your concern. You should usually first try to meet with the individual with whom you have a conflict in an attempt to resolve any misunderstandings and to clarify your concerns. Document attempts to schedule meetings as well as the circumstances related to any meeting cancellations. Be sure to take good notes during the meeting(s) so that you can follow up with any recommendations and so that you will have a record of the conversation and any action plans that you develop with these individuals.
When meeting with your advisor, program director, president or university ombudsman be sure that you are able to cite specific behavioral examples that clearly illustrate your concerns. Try to avoid vague generalizations, which are difficult to systematically address. For example, avoid making statements like, "I feel that the program discriminates against me because I have red hair." Rather, you should provide a specific example to illustrate your point, such as, "Professor X gave everyone in the class a one-week extension on their research papers. Professor X told me that I could not have an extension and did not offer me any explanation as to why I was singled out."
If discussions with the relevant parties and your program directors are not successful, consider accessing your program / university grievance policies and file a grievance with the school in accordance with procedures outlined in the policies.
If the program is accredited, you always have the option to contact the appropriate accreditation entities, which may be a regional accrediting body and/or the APA accreditation office to file a complaint. Most accreditation entities have specific criteria that outlines appropriate faculty/program interactions with students in ways that respect, support and empower students. (Visit APA's accreditation web page for more information about APA Accreditation.
If you believe that an ethical violation has occurred, you have the right to file a complaint with the APA ethics office about an APA members or you may contact the relevant state licensing boards about psychologist's they license. Having documentation about specific behaviors, as well as attempts to address the perceived problems may be requested and useful.
Students can always seek independent legal counsel.
The ideas presented above are only suggestions. Students sometimes express concerns over accessing outside assistance to resolve their complaints because they fear that they will be discriminated against in their program. These are complex issues and it is ultimately your decision about what steps you are willing to take in order to have your concerns addressed. APAGS cannot guarantee that individuals or programs will not discriminate against you if you lodge a complaint. Most programs have policies in place to address grievances in ways that attempt to protect all of the members involved in a dispute. It may be best to educate yourself about the range of policies and options that you can access before making a final decision about how to proceed.