Policy on the use of Formal Warnings, Letters of Reprimand, and Formal Apologies by Deans and Department Heads
The approaches outlined in this policy may be imposed by a Dean or Department Head depending upon the University's judgment of the necessary action to address employee conduct in violation of appropriate standards. Deans and Department Heads should view two of the actions as progressive, that is, one would precede the next. This policy is intended to provide general guidelines for how Deans and Department Heads are to handle allegations of minor unprofessional faculty conduct and the imposition of minor sanctions. For the purposes of this document, these will be limited to three disciplinary actions: (1) Formal Warning; (2) Letter of Reprimand and (3) Required Formal Apology.
As outlined in the handbook for Department Heads, it is an expectation that Academic Administrators take the necessary steps to address problems involving faculty in a fair and timely manner to promote a positive and productive work environment and conditions for a successful academic college or department. As an initial step in a progressive disciplinary process, a verbal or written warning is one option to clearly communicate documented problems with the actions or lack of actions of a faculty. Warnings should only be given when the Dean or Head has information which has been substantiated and not based on hearsay. The warning should be administered after the faculty has some opportunity to provide information detailing their side of an issue. After weighing all information, the Dean or Head may issue a formal warning.
A warning brings the problem to the attention of the faculty, emphasizes the seriousness of the situation, and presents suggestions or instructions to resolve or correct the problem. A warning may be either written or verbal. If written, the Dean or Department Head must specify if the warning will be placed in the faculty's personnel file. If a written warning is to be placed in a personnel file, it should be reviewed by the Associate Provost for Faculty Relations and approved prior to being sent to the faculty. In any case, the Dean and/or Department Head should maintain their own working files in order to respond in the future if the concern persists.
Letter of Reprimand
A written letter of reprimand is the next step in the progression of disciplinary actions. A written reprimand documents the occurrence and the severity, and usually warns that further violations may result in imposing additional sanctions or re-assignment, and may include the initiation of the Professional Practices Review Process (PPRP) as outlined in Section 13.1.2 of the Faculty Handbook, which could ultimately lead to termination of employment. The letter of reprimand may be a final opportunity to improve the conduct or targeted behavior(s) of concern. Written reprimands are placed in a personnel file, and thus must be stated in the letter and approved by the Associate Provost for Faculty Relations prior to sending to the faculty. Faculty are always permitted the opportunity to respond and their response should be organized with the letter of reprimand in the personnel file.
Formal apology is one of the minor sanctions described in the Faculty Handbook as an adverse employment action that does not deprive the faculty member of Constitutional or statutory property rights. Requiring the faculty member, administrator or other party to make a formal or written apology to the wronged individuals may represent a stand alone approach to a concern, or could be included as a required measure as part of the Formal Warning or Letter of Reprimand. Before a required apology is mandated, Deans and Department Heads must review all available information, and will likely require separate meetings with the individuals involved to gain a clear understanding of the concerns. A formal written apology must be copied to the appropriate faculty and/or administrators. As with Formal Warnings or letters of reprimand, if placed in the faculty personnel file, they must be reviewed by the Associate Provost for Faculty Relations. Deans and Department Heads are encouraged to access the Center for Dispute Resolution for guidance on how to structure the requirement for a formal apology and to determine if any follow-up support from the center is warranted.
The Role of Deans, Department Heads, and Institutional Equity and Compliance
The Office for Institutional Equity and Compliance policy entitled "Prohibition of Discrimination and Harassment" is available on the web and outlines examples of conduct that may constitute or support a finding of discrimination or harassment. Behaviors listed in this policy include physical conduct, nonverbal conduct, verbal conduct, and conduct that is not or probably not in violation of the policy. In any situation, the Academic Administrator is expected to investigate and take appropriate actions to insure that the climate is not negatively impacted by the behaviors in question. These actions are taken independent of the requirement to report to Institutional Equity and Compliance any and all evidence or suspicion of violations of the policy. Academic Administrators are encouraged to work with the Office for Institutional Equity and Compliance and the Associate Provost for Faculty Relations if there are questions as to whether the event(s) of concern or behaviors are either matters of employee relations or discriminatory in nature.
In this policy, a process for how to implement Formal Warnings, Letter of Reprimands, and Formal apologies has been delineated. It is expected that all Academic Leaders take the appropriate steps immediately to address any faculty concern in a professional manner after consideration of all available information. The policy makes clear that insuring that university policies on discrimination and harassment are not violated and promoting a climate conducive to a community of scholars is a shared responsibility of both Academic Administrators and the Office for Institutional Equity and Compliance.
Christopher J. Craig
April 25th, 2008