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Academic Appeals and Exceptions



Process flowcharts

Federal law and UWM policies mandate that programs and departments have procedures for graduate students to appeal academic decisions such as grades or scholastic standing. These procedures ensure the protection of students' rights. The purpose of this page is to serve as a reference on procedures for graduate student academic appeals, academic misconduct appeal hearings, and requests for exceptions to Graduate School policies.

Although individual programs and departments must comply with the fundamental aspects of the 3-step procedure, the composition and formality of their committees may differ. In all cases, the final authority of graduate student appeals is the Dean of the Graduate School.

Appeal procedures for undergraduate students differ from procedures for graduate students in several ways. Questions regarding appeal procedures for undergraduate students should be addressed to the Office of Student Life or to the School/College Dean's office.

Students who have concerns related to perceived unlawful discrimination should contact the Office of Equity/Diversity Services (Mitchell 359). The staff will answer student questions, explain the options that are available to students who believe they have been the target of discrimination or discriminatory behavior, and assist students in the informal or formal resolutions to their complaints.

This document was developed by the Graduate School in consultation with the Office of Student Life and the Office of Legal Affairs. It provides the university community with suggestions for handling graduate student appeals and contains samples of department procedure statements. The Graduate School staff hopes it will enable the expeditious resolution of difficult, but important, academic conflicts.

If you have any suggestions for future revisions of this information, please contact Pat Hayes, interim director of Graduate Student Services: hayes@uwm.edu

Academic Appeals

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Background Information

A standardized appeal format for graduate students to appeal adverse academic decisions was developed in 1977. During the following year, all academic programs and departments were required to revise their existing procedures or create new ones to comply with the new standardized procedures. The result was a set of appeal procedures designed to accommodate student academic concerns. Current Graduate School appeal procedures are delineated here. Specific unit procedures appear in department and program handbooks.

Students who decide to appeal an academic decision before an appeals committee may be accompanied by any person they choose, including an attorney. That person may counsel a student, but may not otherwise participate in the appeals committee's proceedings. Students are expected to speak for themselves at their appeal hearing. During a hearing, students should address all questions for the committee to the chair. The chair, after consultation with the committee members, shall determine if it is appropriate to respond to the question.

Appeal procedures should not be taken lightly nor ignored. vle@uwm.edu, 229-7177) in the Graduate School.>

Graduate School Academic Appeals Procedure

Appeals of academic decisions proceed through a three-step procedure beginning in the student's program or department and ending with the Dean of the Graduate School. A graduate student who chooses to appeal an academic decision (e.g., grades, academic dismissal, outcome of master's degree capstone requirement, outcome of doctoral preliminary exam) must observe the following sequence:

  1. The student appeals to the faculty member or faculty/staff body responsible for making the initial decision within 30 working days of the action that prompted the appeal. This appeal must be made in writing. The appeal should contain substantiating reasons for the appeal, a request for a specific remedy, and a rationale for the remedy sought. If the decision is negative and the student requests written notification, the faculty member or body must provide the student with a written statement of the reason for the adverse decision.
  2. If the Step 1 decision is not in the student's favor, the student may, within 10 working days from the date the Step 1 decision is communicated to the student, appeal to the body designated by the graduate faculty of the student's program to hear appeals. This appeal must be made in writing and should contain substantiating reasons for the appeal, a request for a specific remedy, and a rationale for the remedy sought. In the event that any of the members of the body hearing the Step 2 appeal were involved in rendering the Step 1 decision being appealed, they must be replaced for the purpose of hearing the Step 2 appeal. Substitute members will be chosen by the program using established program appeal procedures. If necessary, the dean of the school or college in which the program is located may be asked to appoint replacement members of the committee. If the Step 1 decision that is being appealed was handled by the committee for hearing appeals in the program, the Step 2 appeal should be made to the appropriate appeals committee of the school or college. If such a committee does not exist, the dean of the school or college should appoint an ad hoc committee to handle the appeal. The student will receive written notification of the outcome of the Step 2 appeal.
  3. If the Step 2 decision is negative, the student may, within 10 working days from the date of notification of that decision, appeal to the Dean of the Graduate School. The student must provide information on the reason for the appeal, and substantial evidence in support of the appeal. The appeal should be sent to the appropriate Graduate School Associate Dean.

The Associate Dean contacts the appropriate department or program and requests all pertinent documentation regarding the appeal. For this reason, departments and programs are urged to inform students that all appeals be in writing; to notify students in writing about department or program appeal procedures and the scheduled meeting of the appeal body; to maintain complete and legal minutes of the Step 2 appeal meeting (see Section II); and to inform the student in writing of the outcome of the appeal. To ensure that students receive correspondence regarding appeals, and to avoid claims of non-receipt, it is recommended that all materials be sent to the student by certified mail, return receipt requested.

The associate dean reviews the documentation and forwards the appeal with a recommendation to the Dean of the Graduate School.

The responsibility of the Dean of the Graduate School is to review an academic appeal for procedural fairness and to maintain and protect the rights of the graduate faculty. Within the limits set by faculty and administrative policy, members of the graduate faculty are presumed to be competent to make academic judgments when they act in good faith within the area of their academic expertise, provided their decisions are consistent with general policies established by the Graduate Faculty Committee or its representative bodies. Subject to these limitations, the Dean will assume that actions taken by the graduate faculty of the program or department concerning course requirements, graduation requirements, and similar matters are final and binding on all parties concerned. Only if the Dean finds that the program or department did not follow proper procedures, or that the student did not have a fair hearing, or that there is evidence of unprofessional conduct on the part of the faculty which materially affected the academic decision, will the decision of the graduate faculty of the program or department be subject to reversal.

Following the Graduate School investigation, the result of the Step 3 appeal will be conveyed in writing to both the student and the unit.

Graduate Faculty Committee Subcommittee on Appeals

In some cases, the Dean of the Graduate School may seek advice from the Graduate Faculty Committee Subcommittee on Appeals.

The functions of the Subcommittee on Appeals are:

  1. To advise the Dean of the Graduate School on matters related to student claims of unfair treatment and student requests for exceptions to Graduate School policies.
  2. To make recommendations, where appropriate, to the Graduate Faculty Committee, for policy changes that may affect appeals.

Under no circumstances may the Subcommittee on Appeals substitute its judgment for that of the faculty when the merits of a student's work are involved. If the Subcommittee on Appeals and the Dean agree that an appeal involves an assessment of the merits of a student's work rather than the procedure by which a decision was made, an independent review panel composed of persons with expertise in the subject at hand should be convened.


The membership of the Graduate Faculty Committee Subcommittee on Appeals shall consist of the Chair of the Graduate Faculty Committee, who will chair the Subcommittee; the current Chair of the Graduate School's Graduate Curriculum Committee; and one additional individual appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School from the current pool of graduate program representatives. If any member of the Subcommittee participated in earlier stages of an appeal or request for exception or is a faculty member in the program or department of the student making the appeal or request, the Dean will appoint a replacement from the current pool of Graduate Faculty Committee members or graduate program representatives. In any case, at all times and for all Subcommittee actions, there must be at least two current Graduate Faculty Committee members and one graduate program representative on the Subcommittee.


The Subcommittee will meet on an "as needed" basis and may only be convened by the Dean of the Graduate School or his/her designated representative.

Other Appeal Bodies

UWM requires that each program, department, and school or college have a duly constituted body to hear student academic appeals. Each academic unit may decide the composition of its body. For example, some departments or programs might choose to have their executive committee serve as the appeals body. Others might choose to use an existing graduate program committee. Still others might create a special administrative committee. The critical point is that each academic unit must have an appeals body and describe its functions and composition in its written departmental appeals procedures. Copies of all academic appeal procedures for graduate students and any revisions must be filed with the Provost's Office, the Graduate School, the Office of the Dean of Students, and the Office of Legal Affairs.

A link to a sample departmental appeal procedure appears below. The complexity of the procedures across departments may differ considerably. However, academic appeal procedures must conform to the 3-step procedure delineated above. Department chairs and graduate program representatives are urged to contact the appropriate Associate Dean in the Graduate School or the Office of Legal Affairs about any specific questions or problems concerning their appeal procedures.

Links to other sample documents are included below to assist departments in documenting appeals:

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Since the University is a State agency, the Wisconsin Statutes and the Administrative Code govern its operations. The Wisconsin Open Meetings Law covers meetings of governmental bodies and their sub-units. Programs that are wholly or partly funded by the Federal Government are subject to specific federal statutes and administrative regulations. Some State and Federal laws have due process requirements that call for an avenue of appeal for students on academic matters and specify mandatory steps in appeal procedures. The outline that follows is not an exhaustive listing of Wisconsin and Federal laws governing the operations of the University, but rather a summary of the two laws that most directly affect student appeal procedures.

In matters of academic judgment, if the academic organization can document its good faith compliance with procedural requirements, courts will usually accept the organization's judgment. Therefore, it cannot be over-emphasized that all individuals and committees involved in graduate student appeals of academic decisions must know and strictly follow all prescribed procedures to assure that there are no violations of due process or other statutory or administrative law requirements.

Following are summaries of Wisconsin Statutes governing open and closed meetings and public records. The open meetings and public records laws must be followed in all appeals. Wisconsin Statutes are available at: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/rsb/stats.html

Open Meetings: Chapter 19 Wisconsin Statutes, Subchapter IV

Meetings of all Wisconsin state and local government bodies must be open to the public unless a closed meeting is expressly provided by law (Wis. Stat. sec. 19.81(2)). The term "governmental body" in the statute includes any formally constituted subunit of a governmental body (Wis. Stat. sec. 19.82(1)). Appeal committees, therefore, are subject to the following procedural requirements specified in the Open Meetings Law, Ch. 19:


Public notice of a proposed meeting must be given within a reasonable time before the meeting (Wis. Stat. sec. 19.84(5)).

*Note* Meeting Notice forms may be obtained from University Communications and Media Relations. When completed, the form should be forwarded to University Communications at least six days before the meeting. If it is anticipated that the meeting will be closed, this fact must be stated on the form. Notices also may be filed via e-mail to this area. Call x4452 for the e-mail address and a list of the required elements for the notice.

Closed Sessions

A meeting may be closed if one of the exemptions listed in Wis. Stat. sec. 19.85(1) applies. Other points to note:

  1. A motion must be made for a closed meeting. The motion must include the specific statutory exemption for closing the meeting. A roll call vote must be taken on the motion and the vote must be recorded in the minutes.
  2. Wis. Stat. sec. 19.85(1)(f) would be the most likely exemption in a student appeal hearing if the following elements applied to the case at hand:
    • The committee is considering social or personal history (including records and information covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) or disciplinary information about a specific student which, if discussed in public, would be likely to have a substantial adverse effect on the reputation of the student or any individual referred to in such data.
    • The maker of the motion has some knowledge of the records or information and a reasonable belief that there is a likelihood of a substantial adverse effect on the reputation of the individual making the appeal if the records or information are discussed in an open session.
  3. The exemption contained in Wis. Stat. sec. 19.85(1)(a) may be used to go into closed session for the purpose of deliberations concerning the decision even if the hearing portion of the meeting is open.
Other Requirements of the Open Meetings Law
  1. A secret ballot may not be used in open or closed sessions (Wis. Stat. sec. 19.88). For votes expressed by voice or a show of hands, only the count, not the individual names, must be recorded in the minutes. If a unit uses a written ballot, the ballots must be signed and retained as part of the record.
  2. Anyone present at an open meeting may take notes or tape record the meeting provided the meeting is not physically disrupted.
  3. Minutes of the meeting must be prepared and distributed according to procedures established by the committee (see Appendix B for a sample format). Wisconsin law requires that all motions and votes be recorded.
  4. A committee may not go in and out of closed session during the same meeting unless the original public notice states that the committee will (or may) reconvene in open session after the closed session (Wis. Stat. sec. 19.85(2)).
19.85 Exemptions to Open Meetings of Governmental Bodies, Wisconsin Statues.

The text printed here was derived from the State of Wisconsin's Web site on Wisconsin Statutes, http://www.legis.state.wi.us/rsb/stats.html, which was last visited on September 7, 2001.

  1. Any meeting of a governmental body, upon motion duly made and carried, may be convened in closed session under one or more of the exemptions provided in this section. The motion shall be carried by a majority vote in such manner that the vote of each member is ascertained and recorded in the minutes. No motion to convene in closed session may be adopted unless the chief presiding officer announces to those present at the meeting at which such motion is made, the nature of the business to be considered at such closed session, and the specific exemption or exemptions under this subsection by which such closed session is claimed to be authorized. Such announcement shall become part of the record of the meeting. No business may be taken up at any closed session except that which relates to matters contained in the chief presiding officer's announcement of the closed session. A closed session may be held for any of the following purposes:
    • 19.85(1)(a) Deliberating concerning a case which was the subject of any judicial or quasi-judicial trial or hearing before that governmental body.
    • 19.85(1)(b) Considering dismissal, demotion, licensing or discipline of any public employee or person licensed by a board or commission or the investigation of charges against such person, or considering the grant or denial of tenure for a university faculty member, and the taking of formal action on any such matter; provided that the faculty member or other public employee or person licensed is given actual notice of any evidentiary hearing which may be held prior to final action being taken and of any meeting at which final action may be taken. The notice shall contain a statement that the person has the right to demand that the evidentiary hearing or meeting be held in open session. This paragraph and par. (f) do not apply to any such evidentiary hearing or meeting where the employee or person licensed requests that an open session be held.
    • 19.85(1)(c) Considering employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility.
    • 19.85(1)(d) Except as provided in s. 304.06 (1) (eg) and by rule promulgated under s. 304.06 (1) (em), considering specific applications of probation, extended supervision or parole, or considering strategy for crime detection or prevention.
    • 19.85(1)(e) Deliberating or negotiating the purchasing of public properties, the investing of public funds, or conducting other specified public business, whenever competitive or bargaining reasons require a closed session.
    • 19.85(1)(ee) Deliberating by the council on unemployment insurance in a meeting at which all employer members of the council or all employee members of the council are excluded.
    • 19.85(1)(eg) Deliberating by the council on worker's compensation in a meeting at which all employer members of the council or all employee members of the council are excluded.
    • 19.85(1)(em) Deliberating under s. 157.70 if the location of a burial site, as defined in s. 157.70 (1) (b), is a subject of the deliberation and if discussing the location in public would be likely to result in disturbance of the burial site.
    • 19.85(1)(f) Considering financial, medical, social or personal histories or disciplinary data of specific persons, preliminary consideration of specific personnel problems or the investigation of charges against specific persons except where par. (b) applies which, if discussed in public, would be likely to have a substantial adverse effect upon the reputation of any person referred to in such histories or data, or involved in such problems or investigations.
    • 19.85(1)(g) Conferring with legal counsel for the governmental body who is rendering oral or written advice concerning strategy to be adopted by the body with respect to litigation in which it is or is likely to become involved.
    • 19.85(1)(h) Consideration of requests for confidential written advice from the ethics board under s. 19.46 (2), or from any county or municipal ethics board under s. 19.59 (5).
    • 19.85(1)(i) Considering any and all matters related to acts by businesses under s.560.15 which, if discussed in public, could adversely affect the business, its employees or former employees.
    • 19.85(1)(j) Considering financial information relating to the support by a person, other than an authority, of a nonprofit corporation operating the Olympic Ice Training Center under s. 42.11 (3), if the information is exempt from disclosure under s. 42.115 or would be so exempt were the information to be contained in a record. In this paragraph, "authority" and "record" have the meanings given under s. 19.32.
  2. 19.85(2) No governmental body may commence a meeting, subsequently convene in closed session and thereafter reconvene again in open session within 12 hours after completion of the closed session, unless public notice of such subsequent open session was given at the same time and in the same manner as the public notice of the meeting convened prior to the closed session.
  3. 19.85(3) Nothing in this subchapter shall be construed to authorize a governmental body to consider at a meeting in closed session the final ratification or approval of a collective bargaining agreement under subch. I, IV or V of ch. 111 which has been negotiated by such body or on its behalf.
Public Records: Chapter 19 Wisconsin Statutes, Subchapter II

It is a policy of the State of Wisconsin that state employees are to provide persons with the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government (Wis. Stat. sec. 19.31). Except as provided by law, any requester has a right to inspect and receive a copy of any record (Wis. Stat. sec. 19.35).

The same exemptions in the Open Meetings Law that allow a governmental body to meet in closed session may be used to deny access to a public record. At the time a request is made to inspect a public record, the campus records custodian must demonstrate that there is a need to restrict access in order to deny a request (Wis. Stat. sec. 19.35(1)). A document may not be withheld merely because it is a product of a closed session.

If there is any question about whether a particular document should be disclosed, the requesting party should be referred to the records custodian for the campus, who has been delegated by the Chancellor to make decisions on whether to disclose records. If there is any doubt about procedures or the application of the public records law, the Office of Legal Affairs should be contacted before taking any action.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA or the "Buckley Amendment")

This is a Federal law which permits students to inspect their own educational records and restricts others from access to those records. This Federal law is an exception from the Wisconsin public records law. If a student's appeal is heard at an open meeting, the student's request for an open meeting is deemed a waiver of the FERPA confidentiality provisions concerning materials discussed at the meeting and any records made from that meeting (such as minutes). These circumstances must be made clear to the student, preferably in writing.

Academic and Non-Academic Misconduct

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Academic Misconduct

Student academic misconduct procedures are specified in UWS Chapter 14 and the UWM implementation provisions (Faculty Document 1686). These documents, which include specific procedures for initiating disciplinary action, are outlined in a publication of the Office of the Vice Chancellor. Copies are available in the offices of the deans of the various schools and colleges or in the Graduate School.

The Graduate School Scholastic Appeals Committee serves as the academic misconduct appeals hearing committee for all graduate students. It is composed of ten faculty members (one representative from each School or College with the exception of the Graduate School and University Outreach), five graduate students, and the Associate Dean for Academic Program and Student Services as a non-voting member.

Non-Academic Misconduct

The Board of Regents has published rules governing student conduct on all University of Wisconsin campuses (UWS Chapter 17), which have been augmented in UWM Faculty Document 1265(A). These documents provide specific procedures for initiating disciplinary action when a student is alleged to have violated non-academic rules. The Dean of Students (Office of Student Life, MEL 118) can provide information concerning matters of non-academic misconduct.

Exceptions to Graduate School Rules and Regulations

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Exceptions to the rules and regulations of the Graduate School are granted only if the student and his or her graduate program representative are able to demonstrate that extenuating circumstances—those beyond the student's control, such as illness or a family emergency—impaired the student's ability to conform to the policies established by the UWM graduate faculty.

These rules and regulations appear on the Graduate School Web site. Students and faculty members are responsible for knowing the policies described there and in the more detailed materials produced by individual graduate programs. Ignorance of the rules is not an acceptable reason for requesting an exception.

Requests for exceptions must be submitted on a Graduate School Request for Exception Form prior to the semester in which the rule or requirement applies, if at all possible.

It should be noted that denial of admission to the UWM Graduate School is not an appealable action. Students who are denied admission may wish to contact individual program representatives to discuss the reasons for the denial. Students who receive adverse admission decisions have the option to reapply for admission for a later term.

Listed below are common types of exception requests, and the required elements and supporting signature for each type.

Credit Overload

The maximum credit load for graduate students is 12 credits. Audited courses, Sport and Recreation courses, and zero-credit colloquium/seminar courses are excluded from the total credit count.

Requests to carry an overload will be considered if the student has a strong academic record and no outstanding incompletes. The request must be supported by the graduate program representative and the student's advisor.

Dean's OK Required to Continue

A graduate student will receive a Graduate Dean's OK Required to Continue action if any of the following conditions exist:

  • The student's cumulative grade point average falls below 3.0
  • The student is not removed from probation status within three enrolled semesters
  • The student does not satisfy course deficiencies within three enrolled semesters.

This action precludes registration for a subsequent semester.

To receive permission to register following this action, students must demonstrate academic improvement and must show that factors that led to the placement of the Graduate Dean's OK have been negated. The request must include a program of study for the following semester and must be supported by the graduate program representative and the student's advisor.

Extension of Time Limit

The master's degree must be completed in five years for programs requiring 30 or fewer credits. For master's programs requiring more than 30 credits, the time limit is seven years. This includes capstone requirements such as a successful thesis defense or passing a comprehensive exam.

The doctoral degree must be completed within ten years of initial enrollment in a doctoral program at UWM. This includes successful completion of all coursework, internships, examinations, the dissertation and the dissertation defense.

For students entering doctoral program in the fall of 2000 and later, doctoral preliminary examinations must be passed within five years of initial enrollment.

Requests for extending time limits must include all of the following:

  1. An explanation for the delay
  2. An explanation of how the factors that caused the delay have been resolved, or what steps are being taken to prevent further delays
  3. A schedule for completion of the degree, including anticipated semester of graduation. Master's students writing a thesis and all doctoral students requesting time limit extensions should address the following as appropriate:
    • Is literature review complete?
    • Is data collection complete?
    • Is data analysis complete?
    • Number of chapters written
    • Number of chapters read by Major Professor
    • Tentative defense date
  4. A supporting statement from the Major Professor verifying progress-to-date

The request also must be supported by the graduate program representative.

Late Add/Registration

Student should state whether he or she has been attending class(es). Instructors should verify attendance or confirm that the student may successfully join the class at this time. A completed Change of Registration form, signed by the course instructor(s), should accompany the Graduate School Request for Exception Form. If the exception is approved, the student is responsible for all late fees in addition to the tuition payment.

Late drop/withdrawal (past the deadline)

This type of request will be considered only for reasons unrelated to academic performance. A completed Change of Registration form, signed by the course instructor (for drops), or a completed withdrawal form should accompany the Request for Exception form. In either case, the course instructor(s) should verify successful completion of course requirements to date. The request also must be supported by the graduate program representative.

Re-entry after five-year absence

Students who want to re-enter a graduate degree program following a 5 year (or greater) absence must be able to demonstrate retention of knowledge from previous coursework taken for the degree. Additionally, instructors must verify that the course content has not changed significantly since the student completed the coursework. Students should list remaining course and degree requirements (e.g., thesis) to be completed for the degree and a timetable for completion. The request must be supported by the student's advisor, who must verify that the timetable is reasonable, and the graduate program representative.

Other policy exceptions

For guidance on required elements to support other types of exceptions, contact the Director of Graduate Education at 229-6569.

Page last updated on: 01/30/2015