Being dismissed from graduate school and other issues - advice?
December 1, 2011 10:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm in big trouble. Being dismissed from graduate school, have no idea what to do next. Any advice would be appreciated.

Apologies in advance for the long, winding version. I would appreciate it if no criticisms were thrown my way - not to sound defensive, but I've been through a lot already, and right now what I need is advice and support. Thanks :)

To try and sum it up, I've been through a tough time lately. I've been going to therapy for this, but I thought I'd gain the insights of AskMeFi as well.

a) I graduated last year with a BA in Communication Studies. Interned as a temporary intern after graduation in the federal government.

a) I begun graduate school majoring in Deaf Education this fall. Due to not being in school for a year, and not expecting the intense workload/expectations of graduate school (which, in hindsight, I should've expected and have been more prepared for), I withdrew a required linguistics class I was failing. As I was on conditional approval (having to get all B's and above), and the withdraw impacted my GPA (withdrew while failing), I am now told by the Dean that I am dismissed from the program. Period. I was not prepared for this, because I was told I could either withdraw in good standing, or withdraw and fail. I felt this was unfair because it was a lose-lose situation - my original plan was to withdraw, then start from scratch next fall (the next time the course is offered). I was failing that class, because I was lost with the material, so I wanted to start over. That is not possible now, and despite me explaining the situation (in addition to explaining I had some emotional issues which I got counseling for), the Dean of my program recommended my dismissal, which the head Dean of the graduate program granted.

c) I now have the choice to appeal, which I will definitely do. I'm not sure of the best way to argue against the decision, other than having some emotional issues, because I was given the letter of conditions before beginning this semester, and it clearly outlined the requirements of the condition (getting all B's and over). However, I was somewhat misled to believe that withdrawing wouldn't impact my GPA, and only would impact the time of my graduation (which I was prepared for). Any advice on how to argue against the decision would be helpful. I was advised by the assistant Dean that roughly 1 out of 9 students get their appeals granted, so that's not putting much confidence in me. In fact, the entire meeting with her was quite unproductive, and I felt like she didn't truly understand where I was coming from.

I am also doing well in ALL my other classes - it was only that one linguistics class that I failed.

d) I am now in panic mode because: a. it's hard to find a job due to this economy - I've tried applying to many places with no success; b. I'm Deaf, which makes it even harder (not an excuse; it's reality because many people do not want to hire a Deaf person, except the federal government, which is running dry with open jobs these days); c. I have no idea what to do. I joined the Deaf Education program because it was initially a way to kill time, but I realized I want to learn more. This semester moved so fast, and I feel I wasn't given a fair shake. I also don't want to repeat doing nothing all spring like I did this past spring (after my internship) - that was a truly awful feeling having nothing to do all day; and d. I was told by the assistant Dean that the Dean probably would turn down my appeal.

I have a few other options, but none seem to really go anywhere at this point.

a. Return as a special student and take some classes next semester; this will give me more of an idea what to do. Problem: no financial aid whatosever - not even student loans.
b. Find a job (which I'm trying to do). Hard to do on short notice.
c. Try and fight the appeal, but right now, my confidence is shaken.

e) I'm having some issues with my family, so I don't think staying with them is an option, and not really something I want to do. Plus, they're 3,000 miles away on the west coast.

f) What about where I'll be staying? Winter break begins in a bit more than two weeks, so I have to figure out my living situation, because currently I live at the dorm. If I can't continue next semester, and being a special student isn't possible, I have to find a place to live pronto. I'm swamped with finals.

As you can see, there are many factors and questions and so many uncertainties. Quite frankly, I have no idea what I'm going to do, what I have to do. I'm 25, and I'm utterly lost at this moment, and overwhelmed. Everything happened so fast. I feel like I have failed myself, and I found it somewhat nerve-whacking that I was dismissed out of the program as fast as you could say "ciao" just for withdrawing a class I felt was the right decision. Now I feel screwed over, despite this being university policy, and any advice/insights/suggestions could be useful.

I have made a video of myself on YouTube a while ago to share with my friends (click on the link provided) and right now I don't know if I can live up to my own words. I'm not suicidal or anything, I promise, but things really are that much of a mess, and I have a lot to deal with. Therapy helps, but can only go so far.

Apologies in advance if I come across as whiny and/or demanding in any way. I'm just really in over my head, to be frank.

Thanks, and any questions will be welcomed. :)
posted by dubious_dude to Education (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If your university has an Office of the Ombuds or similar, you should go talk to them about this.
posted by grouse at 10:48 PM on December 1, 2011

Wow, sorry to hear about your situation and how much you have on your plate. I'd try to reach out to different organizations/advocates that have specific experience with this and who may be able to help you.

Are you in California? If so there are organizations like this: Disability Rights Advocates and Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. They may be able to get you in contact with the right people if they aren't able to help. I would pursue all these leads while working with your university...rooting for you and hoping that this situation works out.
posted by carpediem at 10:54 PM on December 1, 2011

I'm in DC, not CA unfortunately.. and while I got the letter from the Dean dismissing me from the program, I still have a chance to appeal, so I will try that route before escalating... however, talking to the Ombuds would be a good idea too. Any suggestions on how to draft a well-worded letter with valid points that a Dean would consider and be more likely to reconsider her decision? I'm just not sure at this point, especially as the assistant Dean essentially said there was no hope.
posted by dubious_dude at 10:58 PM on December 1, 2011

Well, I'd still contact those California offices (or search on the internet for ones in your area) they probably have good advice as to who to talk to in the DC area. Also, I wouldn't try to appeal it all by probably only get one shot at this (am I right?) and even if you don't, why waste your time?

If this was happening to me, I would try to do it "right" the first time around. It never hurts to see what other's say, so you know your options. If you don't like what they say you can always do it yourself, but closing doors without doing your research on this process and how to most effectively argue your case may hurt you in the long-run. People with expertise on this can help you more than us on the internet who don't know the specifics of your case.
posted by carpediem at 11:05 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

You definitely need to get in touch with your university's ombudsperson. It's their whole job to help you resolve conflicts with the university over stuff like policies/decisions.

Do you happen to have any documentation that you were told what is apparently incorrect in that withdrawing would not impact your grades or standing in the program? It might help your case when you appeal.

And while therapy can't help you settle the matter with the university, it absolutely can help you calm down from this panic so you can focus on the next steps. Do you have an appointment coming up, and if not, can you schedule one on an urgency basis?
posted by asciident at 11:14 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have access to graduate advising? If you have/had a particular mentor you were working with, not only can they help you by writing a letter for your appeal, they can also potentially help soften your landing if you choose to go to another school. Applying elsewhere should definately be on the table, but you'll need to get some things sorted first. Moving can be bloody damned expensive, but going somewhere else with 1: funding and 2:full understanding of what you're getting into, could be a very good option at this point. Some schools will offer graduate students a pittance to help them move, though this could require some grovelling (one of the many soul crushing costs of being a grad student).

Though you were dismissed in bad standing, that designation can be changed without the lengthy process of reinstatement (depending on your school). The only way for you to really know your options is for you to get a network of academic support ASAP. Sometimes people in administrative positions can be overly dismissive because they don't know you personally and have less of a vested interest in you as a person (and more in you as an economic investment).

I wish you the best of luck. This may be very scary, and you may end up having to make decisions you would really prefer not to, but don't get a McJob just yet.
posted by zinful at 11:30 PM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

People who managed to force their way back into a graduate program through an appeals process are usually retaliated against and treated poorly in other ways. If they don't want you there and you find a way to stay, they will make you suffer. I have heard this from numerous people I knew in grad school who had seen it firsthand. You are probably better off leaving. I know that sucks, but it is the truth. If you want to continue in graduate school, you should go to another university.

And honestly, they are probably right to be kicking you out. Emotional and personal problems don't count as a valid excuse at work or at graduate school. Your happiness/mental state is your own problem, and you can't let it get in the way of fulfilling your responsibilities. Grad school isn't like high school or undergrad where they hold your hand and make sure you get through. If you don't meet the requirements, there is no good excuse you can offer, and no reason for them to believe that you can do any better if you try again. You said yourself that you weren't prepared for it.
posted by twblalock at 11:44 PM on December 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

As others have mentioned you should prepare yourself to have the proper support and advice necessary to attempt the appeal process (if you choose to).

I'm going to be a little strict though as well...

Frankly, even if you were not deaf and did what you did as a sort of conditional acceptance student, I doubt things would work out well. Failing a class, so I withdraw to try again next academic year? This isn't studying for a BA with thousands of other students paying up tuition and dropping classes because they got too hard and they don't want bad marks on their records. Graduate programs are selective because they don't have the space nor the money for students who can't cut it.
Suppose this: What is the value of a Chicago Booth MBA program (for example) at 90k~ a year if I have cruddy grades and never was able to or be considered to get the internships during the summers that would have been my employment at post-graduation? The only thing I would leave the graduation stage is a piece of paper, 180k in debt, and zero job.

Your emotional preparedness for graduate level work needed to be at in place before you went back to school. You and your therapist need to continue to strive to draw the you that can succeed.

I don't know your history, but you don't need to start tapping on the history typewriter yet. Your 25, you can do it. Another school is definitely possible... programs for Deaf education are certainly out there that are not graduate programs and probably not as destructively costly. This is far away from the end of your life, keep running!
posted by Bodrik at 11:53 PM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your plan to aim at a do-over next year rather than simply fail the class this year and endure these same consequences was very understandable. It was risky, and it seems unlikely to work out. But you did what you could to salvage the situation, and likewise, you should follow through with the appeal and the discussion with the ombuds office.

Assuming that isn't going to work out, I promise it won't be long before your semester in grad school is just a tiny, tiny footnote to your past. Pretty much no one except loan collectors will care. Everyone I know who did something like this laughs about it now.

But the people I've known who spent time on the street do not really laugh about that. Before that happens, I would recommend giving in on whatever squabble you're having with your family, if that even makes sense in your case. I mean, if you can, find a friend with an apartment who might let you float there for one month while you get a job to pay them back. But maybe start laying the groundwork emotionally to either agree or feign agreement with your family to get some temporary relief.

Incidentally, if my worst enemy came to me and said, "I've really screwed up. I need your help." I'd have a hard time not contributing something. It's the humility and the recognition of fault that I'd sympathize with most, though. If they came to me and said, "The dean screwed me over. I need your help." I'd be a lot more likely to show them the door.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:19 AM on December 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

Can you get letters of support from your other professors since you're doing well in their classes? If your therapist is affiliated with the school, could s/he put in a word on your behalf? Part of the point in rallying these people is to demonstrate that you're ready willing and able to fight for your status. Beyond testimonials from others, it's important to come across as organized and level-headed: share your plan for future success, pointing to the present classes as evidence. For example, is there an undergraduate course you could take or audit next semester or next summer that would give you the grounding you need for the linguistics course ( just like some social science folks do a catch-up statistics class)? Explain the failed class without making excuses or dwelling on it; be forward-looking. If the effort fails, perhaps you can stay in the dorms through winter break. Good luck!
posted by carmicha at 2:10 AM on December 2, 2011

Incidentally, if my worst enemy came to me and said, "I've really screwed up. I need your help." I'd have a hard time not contributing something. It's the humility and the recognition of fault that I'd sympathize with most, though. If they came to me and said, "The dean screwed me over. I need your help." I'd be a lot more likely to show them the door.

Yes, yes, yes. Do not play the "I didn't know" card. DO NOT PLAY the "Nobody told me" card. This makes the people who write academic catalogs and student handbooks absolutely batshit and they will shut you down in a hot second.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:53 AM on December 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

People who managed to force their way back into a graduate program through an appeals process are usually retaliated against and treated poorly in other ways.

I'm sorry, but this is true. You need to try a different program somewhere else, maybe. Even if the appeal is successful, you're sort of "blacklisted" in that department.

I don't quite understand this:

I was not prepared for this, because I was told I could either withdraw in good standing, or withdraw and fail.

And you chose to withdraw when you were not in good standing. Maybe I'm missing something, but if you're choosing to withdraw when you're failing the class, many universities have a policy that you get an F. (This is different from dropping a course, which has a deadline much, much earlier in the semester. Maybe that's where the confusion was?)
posted by King Bee at 4:14 AM on December 2, 2011

I teach in a graduate department and I have to counter the perception that the student would be blacklisted. Where I work, professors don't exchange notes on students, especially not in grad school. Also, there isn't so much communication between the Dean's office and the faculty. Apart from the linguistics professor and the chair of the department, no other faculty would likely be informed of the situation. The dean's office was likely mechanically reinforcing a rule, without much awareness from the department. In my department, there are even explicit rules about not discussing appeal processes between colleagues.
posted by Milau at 5:12 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

People who managed to force their way back into a graduate program through an appeals process are usually retaliated against and treated poorly in other ways.

This is not always true, or maybe even all that common. I had a friend in grad school who due to bad advising, her own issues, and some genuine fucking up managed to semi-fail her qualifying exams and was told to pack her bags and get out of town. She appealed, found a couple of supportive faculty members to back her up, and reached out to some university offices (maybe Ombudsman, definitely counseling center, maybe the disabilities office; I don't know the details of this part). She was reinstated, retook the exams under the guidance of a new (and much better) advisor, and not only now has her phd and a tenure track job at a good place, but has been brought back a couple of times to give talks in the very department that tried to kick her out.

The point being, it's almost never a bad idea to make sure that your rights are being protected and that process is being followed, and that there is absolutely no guarantee that asserting your rights to appeal will cause retaliation. That was not my experience when I appealed a much more minor situation, and not the experience of the person who I described above in a much more serious case. You will want to be able to demonstrate two things, though: a non-emotional case for your reinstatement, and a clear path to success. It's in no one's interest to keep you in the program if you aren't going to do well, so you need to address that concern in this process. And definitely reach out to supportive faculty members and any relevant university office, including the counseling center.
posted by Forktine at 5:40 AM on December 2, 2011

On the job front, have you considered signing up at all the school districts in your area as a Special Education substitute teacher? In Texas (and so maybe in your area) you can be a substitute teacher without a teaching certificate. You only need a bachelor's degree. If you decide you really like it, you can work on getting your teaching certificate while substitute teaching.

A lot of teachers lost their jobs last summer due to cutbacks, but schools are still hiring, teachers still get sick or need time off, and so on.
posted by Houstonian at 5:43 AM on December 2, 2011

I know someone who has successfully appealed against a recommendation of dismissal, though this is in the UK and my institution always has a review/appeal before going through with the dismissal.

He sought advice from the Student Union academic officer on how best to approach the situation.

- He admitted fault, and even though it was largely due to a misunderstanding he rightly framed it as his own bad interpretation of the rules, rather than a miscommunication from his superiors.

- He knew exactly what was wrong in his actions, and demonstrated clearly how he would rectify them. In his case, he prepared an 8,000 word contribution to his thesis, because he had not produced enough work for his supervisors. You need to show exactly how you will ensure against failing this class before they allow you to retake it.

- You're right in that a clearly worded letter is needed. In short, you need to say that you understand the problem with your performance, that it was a misunderstanding on your part, and that you would do A, B and C differently next time. Draft this with the help of your academic representative/ombudsman.

- Confide in someone (do you have a pastoral supervisor?) who can prepare a statement of support.

Best of luck. Sorry I can't comment on the American system.
posted by dumdidumdum at 5:47 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Assuming that you're stuck and they're not going to let you back into this department to try again you should consider that taking some positive action towards your goals will be good for your health. For example, if you really want the graduate degree and are determined to apply somewhere else, maybe you can take a few classes where you're at now as a non-degree seeking student to both help you further prepare academically and to show prospective departments that you've overcome the original problem.

Just to add something, graduate school, especially at the PhD level, can be an awful experience. Students in even relatively non-abusive departments often suffer like dogs and commonly have problems with depression. There is no shame in deciding that now is not the right time for you to conduct that sort of trench warfare as you fight for a degree. That does not make you any less smart or less successful. We've all got limited time and resources in this life, so pick your battles carefully. I'm in a position where I can very much relate to what you're going through and I wish you the best success going forward regardless of what happens.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:27 AM on December 2, 2011

It cost them a lot of money to admit you in the first place. I'm going to agree with those above that if you go back and admit guilt without blaming others or blaming the system — and find a way to show that you have a strategy for success, moving forward — you'll have a better shot at getting re-admitted.
posted by wenat at 10:13 AM on December 3, 2011

Thanks, everyone. I'll go ahead and appeal, and keep you all posted. Sorry my reply is so brief, but I'm wiped out at the moment from spending all weekend working on a major assignment. :)
posted by dubious_dude at 4:09 PM on December 4, 2011

A quick update: unfortunately, my appeal did not go through, and I am exploring other endeavors. It was a tough battle fought, and a learning experience. Thanks, all.
posted by dubious_dude at 2:21 AM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

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