The Petition Process

Students have the right to submit a petition (or appeal a petition decision) if they feel they have experienced such exceptional circumstances – whether personal or medical – that they need an exception from the usual rules and regulations of the Faculty.

The Faculty has two Standing Committees that focus solely on petitions and appeals: the Committee on Standing and the Academic Appeals Board. In addition, there is a petitions team made up of staff members trained to assess petitions, and they are granted the authority of Committee on Standing to review and make decisions on petitions – the first requests. An appeal of a petition decision would normally go to the Committee on Standing directly, and if a student wishes to appeal a decision by the Committee on Standing, that goes to the Academic Appeals Board.

Finally, if a student wishes to appeal a decision of the Academic Appeals Board, they may submit such an appeal to the Academic Appeals Committee of the University of Toronto.


1. Petitions: First Request

You submit your petition in writing through your college registrar’s office.

Petitions are considered by a team of staff dedicated to assessing such requests, and who are granted by Committee on Standing the authority to make decisions on petitions. The petitions team assesses petitions using broad principles as outlined by the Committee on Standing. You can expect a written response by email, either Granting the petition or Refusing it. Such a decision may come with some details on why, but because it is difficult to be succinct, it is always advisable to meet with your College Registrar’s Office if you have questions about any decision.

In rare cases, a petition – a first request – may be sent directly to the Committee on Standing for review, especially if the situation is very complicated, or raises important questions about Faculty rules.

If the petition is granted, the decision may still come with extra information. The information may involve directions on how to take the next steps – for example, it may include details on paying for a deferred examination, or it may tell you where to hand in late term work. A granted petition may also come with some restrictions, or some requirements for any future petition.

If the petition is refused, and you think either that there has been an error in the process, or if you have further information you feel could make a difference, you have the right to appeal. (See Appeal to Committee on Standing below.)

Most petitions, especially the straight-forward ones, are dealt with promptly. Some take over a month from the time you submit all the materials, depending on how complicated your case is, and whether departments or instructors need to be consulted for further information. The response will be quicker if your petition articulates your situation clearly, completely, and concisely, and all relevant documentation is attached. The Faculty makes a firm endeavor to render a decision on a petition within 3 to 6 weeks, provided the student submits the necessary materials in a timely fashion. All responses are sent only to your U of T email address, and you are responsible for checking this email for the response.

Deadlines & Late Petitions

The deadlines for the most common petitions are as follows:

  • For Term Work and Deferred Exams: five (5) working days after the end of the Final Exam Period. (After the winter break, you count five business days starting when the University reopens – not when classes resume.)
  • For Late Withdrawal: 6 months after the end of the academic session (so roughly six months either after the end of April or after the end of August, respectively).

If you miss the posted deadline for a certain petition type, you can still petition – but you have to explain the delay. When we say “miss the posted deadline” we mean either that:

  •  The petition itself was not submitted to the college by the deadline; or
  • The petition was initiated before the deadline – meaning the student began to plan for the petition with their college Registrar’s Office before the deadline – but the delay in getting all the needed information to the college was more than three weeks after the petition deadline.

You should either submit a separate statement indicating why there was a delay in the petition or talk about the lateness as the first point in your petition statement. Usually, late petitions are accepted because the difficult or unusual circumstances the student has been experiencing have also impacted their ability to submit a petition in good time. Normally, being late because of being unaware of the deadline (or even being unaware the option to petition exists!) is not acceptable by itself.

Confidentiality

All student records are confidential, including your petition and its documentation. The University has a strict policy on this. To quote from the policy, only those staff members who need to may “have access to relevant portions of an official student academic record for purposes related to the performance of their duties.” Petition information is not available to all staff who have access to other parts of the student record such as marks.

The petitions team may need to consult with instructors, staff in departmental offices, or staff in College Registrar's Offices to clarify some aspect of a petition before reaching a decision. However, the Committee on Standing does not need to know a student's identity to hear a request, so petitions are assigned case numbers and reviewed anonymously in the committee meeting. The identity of a student is not revealed. With a decision, only the essential decision becomes part of the available student record; decisions such as WDR or "Academic penalty not imposed; permitted by petition to re-register on Academic Probation," etc., may appear, but the details of the petition will not.

If your petition involves something extremely personal that would be troubling to put on paper, you should discuss your confidentiality concerns with your College Registrar. Generally, you are strongly urged to fully disclose all the facts relevant to your petition when you make it in the first instance, however potentially embarrassing or revealing you may think them. It can be very difficult to share personal or private details, but it may make the difference to allow a speedier and fairer result. On the other hand, some personal details may not need to be shared, which is why it can help getting advice if you are uncertain.

Documentation

For most petitions, you will need documentation that confirms you were unable to do what you were supposed to do on the dates you were supposed to do it. In other words, documentation must indicate the impact on you, and the dates or period in question.

Generally speaking, the stronger your documentation – the more it speaks directly to the impact on your studies, and when – the stronger your petition will be.

Proper documentation is both a formal requirement for a petition and a necessary tool so all the facts are clear. Sometimes, documenting your situation may feel uncomfortable, and so please do reach out to discuss with your College Registrar’s Office if you are having trouble figuring out the best documentation to use. For example, if a close family member has passed away, a Death Certificate may be difficult and painful to provide, but sometimes a newspaper notice or a special program from a religious service may work just as well.

If your documentation is for medical circumstances, the best and most recommended form is the U of T Verification of Student Illness and Injury Form. This form can be filled out only by physicians, surgeons, nurse/nurse practitioners, registered psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, or dentists.

This is not the only form you can use, but it is the best because it focuses on three things: the timeline, the impact, and the doctor’s/medical professional’s information. If you need to provide medical documentation but do not have this form (or if your doctor does not want to use the form) we will accept a letter or a note, but make sure it includes the same basic information as the Verification of Student Illness and Injury form: timeline, impact, and doctor’s information.

If your documentation is for non-medical circumstances, you are advised to provide your documenter with the guidelines listed below and the Non-Medical Supplemental Documentation Form if that is relevant. The nature of the documentation that is relevant depends on what is being documented: if you have to work, a note from your employer; if you’ve had a traffic accident, a copy of the police accident report; if your request involves required travel, a copy of your ticket or itinerary. Again, original documentation is required. Letters from family members can be included, but the best documentation comes from independent sources.

Note that providing documentation does not necessarily guarantee your request will be granted. Your documentation is taken into account in a full review of your request, but other factors may weigh more heavily in the decision.

The University of Toronto prefers to accept medical documentation on its official Verification of Illness or Injury Form (VOI) which may be completed by physicians, surgeons, nurses, nurse practitioners, dentists, social workers, psychotherapists, psychologists, or clinical psychologists. Medical documentation from a practitioner not listed should be provided in a letter instead, and aim to provide the same information as requested on the VOI.

Students may have circumstances where they feel that strong supporting documentation can be supplied regarding non-medical matters. The Faculty of Arts & Science may take such documentation into account. If a student is requesting such non-medical documentation from a third party, the following guidelines should be followed. The documentation:

  • Should be on the writer’s official letterhead, and provide contact information for the writer, and official stamp if relevant.
  • Should identify the student by full name.
  • Should indicate the writer’s relationship with the student (e.g. pastor).
  • Should describe the non-medical circumstances or events that would be relevant to the student’s request for exceptional treatment, and be relevant to the current episode.
  • Should indicate the severity of the circumstances or events, i.e. how they have interfered with the student’s capacity attend to academic work (e.g. moderately, seriously, severely).
  • Should indicate that the writer has direct first-hand knowledge of these, rather than second hand knowledge reported by the student.
  • Should indicate the relevant dates, i.e. when the writer has had contact with the student.
  • Should show the student’s signature indicating the student gives permission to share the information in the document with the Faculty, and permission to have the Faculty verify this information with the writer.

If a student has any question about documentation and how best to obtain it – and what it should include – they should reach out to their College Registrar’s Office. Choosing the right petition, making a petition strong, and planning for the outcome are all goals that an advisor at a College can help with. Students can also always reach out to ask.artsci@utoronto.ca for help with a quick question on the petition process too.
 

Petitions: Personal Statement

All petitions are submitted with a student statement which plays a vital role to ensure the strongest petition possible – and the fairest outcome. With a statement, you describe in your own words what happened, which means it paints the picture of your experience in a way that the documentation almost always cannot.

In a statement, some elements should always be there. One is a timeline: what happened, and when. Don’t forget to be precise in dates as this can help the reader understand how different events and circumstances played a role. You should also try to describe the impact of your circumstances: how it prevented you from being able to meet your deadlines or how it affected your ability to do school work. A third element you should always consider including, if it in any way is relevant, is how you made decisions in terms of the options you sought when difficulties began. That may not be very relevant to waking up with the flu and missing an exam; but will be very important when thinking about late withdrawal, when you have to explain why you did not drop the course yourself.

U of T Email Changes & Follow-up

Note that petition decisions are sent only to your U of T email address that you put on your petition form (other email addresses are not acceptable). If you petition, you should be checking your U of T email account for a response.

Note that a change on ROSI will not automatically update the email address on your petition. If you should change that address, you must contact your College Registrar's Office to have the information on your petition changed as well, or the Examinations Office if you are waiting to receive instructions for viewing your personal deferred examination schedule.

If you have not had a response to your petition for 90 days, or for any reason you wish to convey special urgency for a response not yet received, you should follow up with your College Registrar's Office.

2. Appeals to the Committee on Standing

If your petition is refused, and if you think you have further information or further arguments to make in support of your request, you may appeal the decision through your College Registrar’s Office. An appeal must be submitted within 90 days of receiving the decision on the original petition.

The process is basically identical to making a petition, except that the request will be marked “appeal” and so will be processed to be reviewed by the Committee on Standing in one of their monthly meetings. Before doing so, you should discuss your case with the staff at that office to assess whether there is more you can add, and to get some feedback on how strong a case you may have.

With an Appeal to Committee on Standing, you are essentially asking the Committee on Standing to review your case, again using written materials. Your initial request was given careful consideration, but did not meet the Committee’s normal criteria for an exception to the rules. Petitions successful at the second stage are often ones that provide more detailed information, further explanations or new documentation that might give a different perspective on the initial request. They often also succeed if they identify an error in the processing of the original petition.

If your new information makes the Appeal to Committee on Standing something we would have granted in the first place, it will be granted immediately. Otherwise it will be reviewed at a meeting of the Committee on Standing. The Committee is made up of professors, college registrars and students, and is chaired by a Vice-Dean or Associate Dean. Petitions are heard by number only – no names are used – and so the petitioning student is not identified to the members of the Committee. You will hear in writing, by email, whether your request is Granted or Refused.

The Committee on Standing meets once a month throughout the year. It may be necessary to collect additional information before the Committee can hear the request, but you will receive a decision as soon as possible, and almost never beyond 90 days.

3. Appeals to the Academic Appeals Board

If your appeal is denied by the Committee on Standing, you may appeal it to the next level of authority. This is the Faculty’s Academic Appeals Board, and this represents the last level of appeal at the Faculty of Arts & Science. To make such an appeal, you do not use a form, but you write a statement and add both previous and updated documentation (as needed) in support of the appeal, and submit this in writing to your College Registrar’s Office, who will forward it to the Faculty of Arts & Science. Here too, you should seek advice from your College Registrar’s Office to help you make the best appeal possible. An appeal to the Academic Appeals Board must be submitted within 90 days of receiving the decision from Committee on Standing.

This appeal is considered entirely afresh by a different group of people. You may submit a fresh statement, but you need not do so.

The Academic Appeals Board operates according to its own Rules of Procedure.

The Board is made up of professors and student representatives different from those on the Committee on Standing. The Chair of the Committee on Standing appears before the Academic Appeals Board to represent the Committee on Standing and explain its decision regarding both the appeal decision and the original petition decision. At this appeal level, the student has the right to appear in person to present and explain the case to the Board.

Because a student may be nervous about appearing in person, a student is welcome to indicate they wish to bring someone along for support – like a friend or advisor. Some students who may be especially concerned about speaking to their case may decide to bring in a lawyer. The meeting with the Academic Appeals Board is not a legal process, however; it is a chance for the members to be able to talk to a student directly and benefit from that opportunity to understand the student’s position better, and have a better chance to clear up questions. So whomever a student may bring, the most important outcome is that the members of the Board come to understand the student’s story, circumstances, and reasons for the appeal. 

Normally, the Appeals Board will meet within 45 days of receiving your request for a hearing. Within 10 business days after the meeting, you will receive a formal, written response accepting or denying your appeal, and giving reasons for the decision.

4. Appeals to the Academic Appeals Committee, Governing Council

If your appeal is denied by the Faculty’s Academic Appeals Board, the final level of appeal is the University’s Academic Appeals Committee, a committee of the Academic Board, which is the academic arm of Governing Council. This meets infrequently and is a much more formal panel chaired by someone with legal expertise. If you wish to pursue this level of appeal, your best resource is the Office of Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances website

When you initiate this process, you will receive detailed and careful information and guidance formally from the staff of the Office of Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances. Students sometimes seek legal assistance at this level, although it is not mandatory. You should make whatever decision will help you feel the most confident going into the process, and if you do seek legal help, you may wish to consider Downtown Legal Services as a good first option.

You must file your appeal from the Appeals Board refusal within 90 days of the date on that decision. The appeal must be submitted in writing to the Office of the Governing Council, Simcoe Hall. 

As the Appeals Committee hears appeals from across the whole University and draws its membership widely, the normal time for a hearing and response may extend from months to almost a year.