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How Do I Write An Appeal Letter?

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Why might I need one?

There are many kinds of appeals students may pursue at SFU. The list below includes all kinds of situations.

What information should I include in my letter?

You will want to include your side of the story. Write the letter assuming that your readers do not know what happened, are not experts in the subject matter of your coursework, and that they genuinely want to find out the truth of the situation. You want to include explanations and evidence, but avoid making excuses.

Some good things to include are:

  • If an instructor imposes a penalty for academic dishonesty, they are required to create an AIR. They send the student a copy, the Department Chair a copy, and they send a copy to the Registrar’s Office.
  • The Registrar’s Office maintains a database of AIRs. The purpose of this database is to track violations. If a student receives more than one AIR, then a more severe penalty will be considered for that subsequent violation.
  • Other than for tracking purposes, the database is not widely accessible (i.e., your instructors cannot generally access it, if you apply for a job at SFU your application is not connected to this database, etc.)
  • The best thing to do if you have an AIR on your file? Take precautions to ensure that you do not receive another one.  

Appeal letters for student academic discipline are the most common appeals a student might go through requiring the assistance of the Advocacy Office, and most of the information that follows is related to this process, though the more general advice is applicable to all kinds of appeals.

Academic Discipline Appeals

This is a formal way to respond when you have been accused of violating SFU’s policies on Academic Integrity and Honesty and you do not agree with those accusations and/or your penalty. You, your Instructor, Department Chair or the Registrar may initiate a hearing before the University Board of Student Conduct. The appeal letter is your biggest opportunity to respond in this formal process.

When should I NOT file an appeal?

If you committed the violation AND the penalty is in line with other penalties in similar cases, take this as an opportunity to learn from your mistake and don’t do it again. Lying, creating fake evidence or otherwise manipulating the process will never end positively. If you are caught manipulating the truth, the penalties will be far more severe.

The most common penalty for an academic violation is a zero for the assignment/test/quiz in question (about 60-70% of the time in fact!) and this is a penalty appeal you are unlikely to win.

I acknowledge I violated the Student Academic Integrity Policy, but is there a way to remove the Academic Integrity Report (AIR) from my file? I’m worried about how this will impact my future.

  • A topic sentence as your opening that explains what the whole letter is about.
  • A summary of the each accusation made and why you are innocent. This often works well in bullet point format tackling one accusation or piece of evidence against you at a time and including specific documentation that supports your side of the story.
  • Use headings so your reader can navigate the letter, follow your train of thought, and refer back to information easily and quickly during the hearing.
  • Include relevant and clearly labeled photos of your work and/or feedback, screenshots or direct quotations from your emails with your Instructor, the Departmental Chair or the Registrar and anything else you consider supporting evidence.
  • Include any mitigating circumstances
  • Be concise! It is harder, but much more effective, to write a tight letter than a sprawling manifesto.
  • State your feelings as facts and avoid overstating their role.
  • Be honest! Include the truth, do not over-dramatize, and stick to the point. Honesty is definitely the best policy here. Manufactured evidence will only lead to more trouble.
  • Submit on time! This is not the time to miss a deadline. In the case, apply the old adage “early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.”

What can the Advocacy Office do to help?

Set an appointment with the Advocacy Office as soon as you receive notice of a suspected violation of the Academic Integrity policies. We can walk you through the process, go over the facts of your case, discuss how to best organize and present your side of the story and once you have written a draft, we can go over that with you and offer feedback and suggestions. Should you wish to have the Advocacy Coordinator present at your hearing, that is also a possibility as long as her schedule allows.

Where can I find more information on appeals?