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  • Office of the State Auditor

The UMass Amherst Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Did Not Always Follow Its Policy for Resolving Student Grievances.

Audit encourages the school to update policies to clarify timeframes and definitions for resolving grievances.

Table of Contents

Overview

UMass Amherst did not always ensure that it obtained written agreements from students with disabilities to extend the timeframe for resolving their grievances when the settlement process was going to exceed 30 days. As a result, grievances may have gone unresolved for extended periods without any agreement on how the settlement process should continue, which could negatively affect students’ wellbeing and/or classroom performance.

During our audit period, a total of eight grievances were filed with the UMass Amherst Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (EO&D) by students who identified themselves as having disabilities. The grievances included lack of accommodations, delayed accommodations, and/or discrimination. According to EO&D staff members and the UMass Amherst Grievance Policy and Procedures, EO&D mediates; attempts to settle grievances informally within 30 calendar days; and, if necessary, prepares a written agreement among all parties to extend the timeframe of the settlement process in order to conduct an investigation. However, seven of the eight grievances in the audit period were not resolved within 30 calendar days and did not have written agreements among the parties to extend the settlement process. For these seven grievances, the number of calendar days beyond 30 ranged from 89 to 479.

Authoritative Guidance

According to the UMass Amherst Grievance Policy and Procedures, “Informal attempts at settlement will not extend beyond thirty calendar days without the written agreement of all parties.”

Reasons for Noncompliance

Officials from EO&D stated that the 30-day requirement is used to attempt to resolve grievances through mediation. They explained that when an investigation is conducted to attempt to resolve a grievance, the process takes longer than 30 days; however, they could not provide a reason that they had not ensured that written agreements among all parties to extend the settlement timeframe were executed. In addition, the UMass Amherst Grievance Policy and Procedures have no provision for the duration of the mediation process, duration of the investigation process, or documentation of the reasons when the grievance settlement process exceeds 30 days.

Recommendations

  1. UMass Amherst management should review and update the UMass Amherst Grievance Policy and Procedures to clarify the timeframes and definitions for both mediation and investigation, as well as the required documentation, to ensure compliance with this policy.
  2. If UMass Amherst management does not want to make this policy change, it should take the measures necessary to ensure that a written agreement is entered into among all parties if any informal attempt at settlement goes unresolved for more than 30 calendar days.

Auditee’s Response

Registered students who are experiencing issues with accommodations are referred to the Equal Opportunity Office (“EO”) to assert their rights under federal and state law. Upon referral to EO, the issue is reviewed, and if there appears to be a denial or delay of accommodations, the EO office will take immediate steps to ensure that student accommodations are put into place. In many instances, especially as it relates to denial of student accommodations, EO will facilitate getting immediate accommodation relief well in advance of a 30 day deadline. Subsequent to getting an accommodation in place, EO will investigate the situation to determine whether there was a policy violation and whether any further remedies need to be provided. The current documented policy is not reflective of the University’s actual complaint procedures, which resulted in this finding. Therefore, the University agrees with the recommendation to amend the policy and procedures to conform to existing practice.

Auditor’s Reply

Based on its response, UMass Amherst is taking steps to address our concerns in this area. We again emphasize that in amending this policy, UMass Amherst management should clarify the durations and definitions for both mediation and investigation, as well as the required documentation, to ensure compliance with this policy.

Date published: October 29, 2018
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