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WCGS Positive Learning Environment & Student Mistreatment Policy

Weill Cornell Graduate School (WCGS) (referred to subsequently as “the Graduate School”) has a Positive Learning Environment and Student Mistreatment Policy, the purpose of which is to ensure an educational environment conducive for learning, define mistreatment of students, and describe the process of reporting, monitoring, and responding in the event mistreatment should occur.

TRAINING and LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

The Graduate School is committed to providing an environment that fosters mutual respect and the values of professionalism, ethics, and humanism in the practice of biomedical research and its application to medicine. The Graduate School has a policy of zero tolerance for mistreatment of its students, faculty, staff and guests. An environment conducive to learning requires that faculty, students and all administrative and support staff treat each other with civility, respecting each individual’s views and background. Faculty, other trainees, administrators and staff must treat students fairly and respectfully in all settings where students are educated and are expected to create and maintain an academic environment conducive to the pursuit of free inquiry, academic integrity, and the respectful interchange of diverse ideas and differing viewpoints. The standards of conduct set forth below are intended to prohibit teaching and training behaviors and other practices that are discriminatory or that may undermine professionalism. The body charged with monitoring, reviewing, investigating and aiding in the resolution of mistreatment issues is the Trainer-Learner Committee (TLC), whose purview, composition and functions are described below.

The Dean of WCGS, as the designee of the Dean of the Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM) & Provost of Medical Affairs, Cornell University, working with the Director of the Sloan Kettering Institute (SKI), Graduate School Associate and Assistant Deans, Department and Program Chairs and other appropriate WCM and SKI officials, has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring a safe and respectful learning environment.

By the implementation of this policy, students and other persons reporting mistreatment to the Trainer-Learner Committee are entitled to understand 1) their role in the investigation and resolution process, 2) the extent to which their anonymity may or may not be assured, 3) the timing of the investigative and adjudication processes and, 4) information about how the incident was resolved to the extent permitted by the Graduate School’s Code of Legislation and by local, state, and federal laws.

The Trainer-Learner Committee is available for graduate students in PhD and Master’s Programs, as well as visiting students undertaking PhD and Master’s training.

However, Master’s students in the Physician Assistant Program will direct concerns to the Weill Cornell Medical College Teacher-Learner Committee, which serves a comparable function for students who have significant clinical roles.

TYPE of MISTREATMENT

The Graduate School takes all allegations of mistreatment seriously and encourages students to report any instances or perceived instances of mistreatment. The range of possible mistreatment is wide; persons reporting mistreatment should seek the advice of the TLC members about whether an incident may be considered an instance of mistreatment.

The incidents described below are examples of mistreatment, categorized by type. These examples are not exhaustive, but are intended to provide guidance regarding the types of unacceptable conduct. They are not intended to restrict the Graduate School’s ability to respond to complaints of mistreatment.

LEVEL 1

Level 1

  • Verbally abusing a student, including belittling and/or humiliating a student;
  • Speaking, writing, engaging in conduct, or using curricular materials that disparage a student’s economic or cultural background, gender, sexual orientation or preference, race or religion;
  • Violation of a student’s right to privacy under FERPA, HIPAA or other applicable laws, regulations or WCM/SKI policy.

LEVEL 2

Level 2

  • Exploiting a student in any manner; for example, requesting that a student perform personal errands or directing a student to perform a large number of tasks, particularly where the requested activity interferes with a student’s attendance in the laboratory or at educational activities such as classes;
  • Denying opportunities for training or denying rewards based on factors other than a student’s performance and/or professionalism;
  • Violating a student’s ownership of data or a project, and/or disputes related to publication authorship;
  • Assigning a grade to a student based on factors other than a student’s performance and/or professionalism (e.g., based on race, ethnic origin, religion, gender, gender orientation, political views, etc.) - (See special circumstances regarding reporting mistreatment concerns about grades below);
  • Pressuring a student to perform procedures or research activities for which the student is insufficiently trained;
  • Interfering with a student’s need to properly attend to a potentially serious health problem, including not permitting a student to leave the research laboratory to seek attention for an injury occurring in the laboratory;

LEVEL 3

Level 3

  • Making sexual advances, harassing a student (for conduct that is considered to interfere with the learning environment based on sex, such as sexual assault or harassment, see University Policy 6.4 as it applies to WCM);
  • Committing or threatening an act of physical violence of any kind.

The TLC is charged with hearing reports of alleged mistreatment and determining if the incident can be classified as a case of mistreatment or perceived mistreatment, and if so, its level. Once a report has been made, for purposes of investigation and adjudication, the TLC will categorize the incident as Level 1, 2, or 3. Level 1 incidents are effectively considered Level 2 if the same individual is reported three times for the same types of behavior despite counseling for each of the two prior incidents.

REPORTING MISTREATMENT

Multiple Avenues for Reporting Mistreatment

Students have multiple ways of reporting mistreatment, including anonymous reporting options.

TRAINER-LEARNER COMMITTEE

Students and others are strongly encouraged to report incidents of perceived or actual mistreatment to the Trainer-Learner Committee as soon as the incident occurs. Reporting to the TLC allows the Graduate School to actively monitor the learning environment and to ensure that each incident is investigated fairly with due process for all involved. The goal of the TLC is to work toward a suitable resolution, and if indicated, to recommend appropriate sanctions or required adjustments to the learning environment. The TLC records all reported incidents and the result of each review, allowing for the identification of persons who repeatedly violate the mistreatment policy. The overarching goal of this effort is to provide appropriate counseling and/or sanctions to violators in order to prevent future instances of mistreatment or harm within the learning environment.

COURSE EVALUATIONS

Students may also report incidents of mistreatment through the Course Evaluation system in an anonymous manner. Reports that contain named individuals and descriptions of the incident will be reviewed by the TLC in a timely manner, and if warranted, will be investigated and adjudicated.

TITLE IX COORDINATOR

Students may report incidents of sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual conduct, or stalking directly to the Title IX coordinator (https://medicaleducation.weill.cornell.edu/student-resources/sexual- misconduct-campus-security) and/or to Campus Security: (212) 746-0911 or the Title IX Coordinator Answering Service: (212) 746-9915.

FACULTY, LEADERSHIP and STAFF

Students may choose to discuss an incident of actual or perceived mistreatment with course directors, faculty advisors, deans, other faculty, administrative staff, or others; however, such individuals are NOT responsible for keeping records of student reports, reviewing or investigating alleged incidents, or working through resolution.

Faculty and staff should make this clear to the student who discusses the incident with them and may suggest that the student report the incident to the TLC. Likewise, students may discuss their concerns about the learning environment or seek advice about mistreatment with the Graduate School’s ombudsman with the assurance of anonymity to the extent allowed by the Ombudsman policy; as stipulated in that policy, the ombudsman is not authorized to review, investigate or adjudicate instances of mistreatment (https://studentservices.weill.cornell.edu/student-life/student-ombudsperson). The ombudsman will provide information to the student concerning additional ways the student can report on mistreatment.

GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE

Students may wish to follow the Grievance Procedure to investigate issues involving graduate student education, training, and support. It is expected that most grievances will take the form of alleged violations of terms of written agreements and guidelines. However, these procedures continue to recognize as "grievances" a broader range of more subtle and sensitive matters having to do with such issues as remuneration, joint publication, etc. The WCGS Grievance Procedure can be found on the Graduate School Student Support Services webpage.

Who May Report Mistreatment

The TLC is empowered to hear reports of student mistreatment from the individual student himself or herself, or from other students, faculty, post-doctoral fellows, other trainees, or staff. Students, faculty, staff or others who witness mistreatment of students may seek the advice of and/or file a report with the TLC.

TLC chart

How to Report to the Trainer-Learner Committee

Students or others who wish to discuss and/or report mistreatment to the TLC may contact the TLC at the designated email: WCGSTLC@med.cornell.edu to initiate a dialogue with the committee or to specify that they prefer to speak with a specific TLC member. Alternatively, students may contact a member of the committee directly by email or phone.

Because mistreatment issues can be complex and the TLC seeks to provide the student with advice and information, in-person meetings or phone calls are preferred versus reporting incident details in the initial contact e-mail. All members of the TLC will work to contact the student swiftly in order to arrange a convenient time for a meeting or phone discussion.

Reporting Mistreatment Concerns Regarding Grading and Evaluations

Students who believe that a faculty member may evaluate or grade them unfairly in the course assessment process and rotation and committee reports, based on statements or behaviors made by the faculty member, are strongly advised to report their concerns to the TLC before the course ends. The TLC may opt to discuss the matter with the course director/program director immediately or to retain the report on file in the event the matter ultimately becomes part of a grade/evaluation appeal process. Students are permitted to contest their grades/evaluations through the appeal mechanism (see Grade Appeal Process). Challenges to overturn grades/evaluations based solely on allegations of mistreatment may be compromised if mistreatment is reported after the final grade has been established and is known to the student.

Role of the Student or Other Persons Reporting Mistreatment and Anonymity

To the extent possible, the TLC will make every effort to preserve the anonymity of the student or person filing a report of mistreatment. In cases of Level 2 and in cases of Level 3 mistreatment that may involve violation of other WCM, SKI policies, or local, state, or federal laws (e.g., harassment, physical or sexual assault etc.), the investigation may require involvement of other bodies in addition to the TLC and could require interviews of the student or person filing the report. Before taking further action to investigate an incident of alleged mistreatment, the TLC shall inform the student or other complainant of his or her role in the process and the extent to which anonymity may be preserved or may need to be forfeited.

THE TRAINER-LEARNER COMMITTEE: CHARGE, PURVIEW and COMPOSITION

CHARGE and PURVIEW

Charge and Purview

The Trainer-Learner Committee is charged with fostering a learning environment of respect across the academic medical center and educating members of the Graduate School community about best practice behaviors and attributes that contribute to a healthy climate for learning and the free exchange of ideas. The TLC is also charged with accepting and monitoring reports of perceived or actual mistreatment from all sources including direct reports or through the Course Evaluation System. The TLC will determine whether each report qualifies as an instance of mistreatment, and if so, will 1) provide advice and guidance to the student or person filing a report about possible courses of action; 2) inform the student of the nature of the investigation, the limitations of anonymity, and the student’s role in the investigation, if any; and 3) describe the approximate timeline needed to achieve full resolution.

Upon deciding that a report qualifies as mistreatment, the TLC is charged with ensuring a timely investigation and resolution. Depending on the nature of the mistreatment and the persons involved, the TLC may conduct the investigative and resolution process itself or refer the matter to other administrators, departmental leaders, and/or committees for resolution.

In addition, the TLC shall document and archive each report of mistreatment that is filed with a description of:

1) the nature of the mistreatment and its level,

2) the investigative process and the persons involved,

3) adjudication results either by direct resolution or referral to other entities for adjudication and

4) follow-up with the student or person filing the report (and as permitted below, with the leadership of courses that involved adjudicated cases of mistreatment).

The documentation allows the TLC to track repeated instances of mistreatment by the same individual and to identify patterns or trends by individuals, groups of individuals or specific settings involved in recurrent episodes. The TLC archive will be securely managed by the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs. It will be reviewed on a regular basis with the Dean of the Graduate School.

The TLC reports to the Dean of the Graduate School and shall render to the Dean reports about the trainer-learner environment on a regular basis or as requested by the Dean. In addition, the TLC shall render reports on mistreatment trends to the Executive Committee of the Graduate School, as requested.

The purview of the TLC pertains to the mistreatment of Weill Cornell graduate students, visiting students enrolled in the Graduate School and extends to all locations of the learning environment including the classroom, the laboratory, the clinical practices (if relevant) and or/offices of the faculty, the Graduate School’s campus and housing, and includes all of the same venues at affiliate sites.

The TLC as a Graduate School committee will execute its functions directly as the charge pertains to Weill Cornell graduate students and visiting students as well as through close coordination with others across the academic medical center and Sloan Kettering Institute who are charged with creating a respectful workplace including human resources or other employee committees at WCM, SKI, and its affiliates.

Matters pertaining to a faculty member’s pedagogic approach or teaching abilities are not considered mistreatment unless viewed as derogatory, discriminatory or if they severely compromise the educational environment. “Teaching style” issues are best handled by reporting them through the course evaluation system.

The TLC is also charged with coordinating all necessary training and education on the prevention and recognition of mistreatment. Efforts will be made to designate key educators across the academic medical community to help disseminate the training components.

COMPOSITION

Composition

The Trainer-Learner Committee is comprised of 1 faculty member from each graduate school program who is appointed by the Chairs of that program, with the advice of the Dean of WCGS. Additionally, two senior PhD students and one Masters student who has completed his/her first year should be appointed. The Dean shall appoint one of the TLC faculty members to be the TLC chair. In addition, the Dean may adjust the number or composition of the TLC, as needed. None of the members should have direct involvement in the assessment of the involved student(s) or within the administration of the graduate education program.

Members must recuse themselves from the review and investigative process for any conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest because of their personal, professional, academic or administrative relationship with the student or any of the involved parties named in an incident. Faculty members serve for a two-year, renewable term; students serve for a one-year non-renewable term. Members of the TLC will undergo training about the mistreatment policy, the review process, all relevant policies regarding professional standards, relevant legal policies, methods of adjudication, techniques for counseling and other methods of resolution, and all requirements of reporting, documentation and recordkeeping. The full TLC is convened by its chairperson on a quarterly schedule to review the learning environment and a summary of reported incidents. It can meet more frequently depending on the volume of incidents that require review. Whereas it is charged with conducting a prompt investigation and/or resolution process, the TLC, in consultation with the individual reporting the incident, may decide to wait until the student has completed the learning unit or course in which the mistreatment occurred. Additionally, other incidents, particularly those at Level 2 or 3 that may require involvement of other committees or administrators, may take longer to act on and ultimately to resolve.

Current Membership

Carl Blobelblobelc@hss.edu

Juan Cubillos-Ruiz - jur2016@med.cornell.edu

Melissa Davis - mbd4001@med.cornell.edu

Atish De (student) - atd4002@med.cornell.edu

Li Gan - lig2033@med.cornell.edu

Linda Gerber (Chair) - lig2002@med.cornell.edu

Jan Grimm - grimmj@mskcc.org

Kelsey Hopland (student) - keh4001@med.cornell.edu

Andrew Intlekofer - intlekoa@mskcc.org

Matthew Laghezza - mrl9002@med.cornell.edu

Colleen Lawrenz (student) - col4003@med.cornell.edu

Virginia Pickel - vpickel@med.cornell.edu

Mary Teruel - mnt4002@med.cornell.edu

Andrea Ventura - venturaa@mskcc.org

Mark Weiner - mgw4001@med.cornell.edu

Heather Yeo - hey9002@med.cornell.edu

THE TRAINER-LEARNER COMMITTEE: REVIEW, INVESTIGATION, RESOLUTION and FOLLOW-UP

REVIEW

Review

A Subcommittee of the TLC members will review in an on-going timely manner each reported incident to determine if the incident meets criteria for potential mistreatment, either actual or perceived. Once a determination is made that the reported incident is covered under the policy, the TLC will interview with the complainant. If the TLC determines the incident does not qualify as potential mistreatment, the individual reporting the incident will be educated about the definitions of mistreatment and encouraged to review this policy.

INVESTIGATION and RESOLUTION

Investigation and Resolution

After the complainant is interviewed, a written record of the complaint will be generated, and this complaint will be furnished to the accused individual (respondent). The next step in the process is that the respondent will be afforded an opportunity to be interviewed by TLC members and to respond in writing to the written complaint. After the accused has had the opportunity to respond, the TLC will decide whether the complaint has merit, or should be dismissed. Complaints with merit must next be designated as level 1, 2, or 3.

All Level 1 complaints will be investigated and adjudicated by the TLC, regardless of whether the respondent is a faculty member, a trainee, a staff member*, or another student. In cases of Level 1 mistreatment, counseling, advice and warning by the TLC will primarily constitute a resolution. The TLC will also remind the accused individual with concerning behavior that repeated incidents of a similar nature, each after TLC counseling/warning, (i.e., 3 or more) will involve notification of the WCM Senior Associate Dean of Research or Director of SKI for faculty respondents and/or the Senior Director of Human Resources (HR) official for staff members and can lead to corrective action up to and including termination of employment.

When it is found that the respondent did not commit mistreatment, TLC may decide that the incident was ‘perceived mistreatment,’ and will educate the complainant about the definitions of mistreatment and encourage a review of this policy. The respondent will receive a written copy of the TLC’s report of its counseling and warning.

In the case of Level 2 or Level 3 mistreatment, and when the respondent is a faculty member, the allegation of mistreatment shall be considered an allegation of faculty misconduct. In that case, the allegation shall be referred to the WCM Senior Associate Dean of Research or Director of SKI for disposition according to policy and procedures of the WMC Faculty Misconduct Policy (Section 12 of the Academic Handbook), and corresponding SKI policy. In cases in which the Senior Associate Dean of Research/Director of SKI believes that an investigation is warranted, TLC faculty members may be called upon to constitute the investigating panel or to provide consultation to an investigative panel. In the case of Level 2 or Level 3 mistreatment, and when the respondent is a post-doctoral trainee the allegation shall be considered an allegation of misconduct to be handled by the Faculty Director of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. The Senior Associate Dean of Research/Director of SKI will be informed of the allegation. In cases in which the Director of SKI believes an investigation is warranted, TLC faculty members may be called upon to constitute the investigating panel or to provide consultation to an investigative panel. The Director must consult the Senior Associate Dean of Research prior to the final disposition.

In the case of Level 2 or Level 3 mistreatment by a WCM or SKI employee, the TLC will notify a WCM or SKI Human Resources official to coordinate conducting of an investigation and rendering of a report, which report will also be maintained by the Human Resources official of the respondent’s institution. The official may choose to investigate the matter further, provide additional counseling and/or enact sanctions in accordance with the institution’s HR policies for employee misconduct.

Some allegations of Level 2 mistreatment and all involving Level 3 must be investigated by the appropriate administrative entity as outlined by other policies of the Graduate School or its affiliated institutions. Sanctions may include, but are not limited to, verbal or written warnings by a department chair or supervisor, notations in an individual’s official employment or faculty affairs file, suspension from contact with students or residents or other teaching roles, suspension from work, legal action, and/or dismissal. All sanctions must follow the Graduate School’s or respondent’s institution’s policies for handling misconduct, infractions of professionalism maintenance of confidentiality of respondent and complainant, and due process and appeal as stipulated by those policies.

* When a staff member is the accused, the TLC will notify and coordinate with Human Resources regarding the investigation.

FOLLOW-UP

Follow-up

The Senior Associate Dean of Research, Director and/or appropriate WCM/SKI administrator shall inform the TLC of the resolution of the allegation of all repetitive Level 1 (i.e., more than 2), or any Level 2 and 3 cases of mistreatment according to the extent allowed by the college or institutes’s bylaws, human resource policies or local, state or federal laws. The TLC shall inform the Program Director of the name of the respondent and the general nature of the incident of all cases in which repetitive Level 1 or any Level 2 or Level 3 mistreatment was adjudicated to have occurred, as allowed by the college or institutes’ bylaws and policies.

The TLC shall inform the student or other complainant of the general nature of the resolution in a timely manner after the investigation has been completed to the extent allowed by the college or institutes’ by-laws, policies or local, state or federal laws. Every effort will be made to close each incident as soon as possible.

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