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Complaints and petitions as a form of social control over didactic and organisational processes at a university

1. Introduction

"Science and academic life is a long process in which we adopt the results of the work of our predecessors, create knowledge and pass it on to the next generations in the spirit of cognitive and educational solemnity, but above all in the atmosphere of the highest kindness towards the successors, especially the youngest ones - students and scholars in science"1..

The fate of the academic community and its sustainable development is therefore significantly influenced by, on the one hand, active student attitudes, which often express constructive objection to the irregularities noted, and, on the other, the participation in and social control of teaching and organisational processes. The attitudes required of students need to be implemented using special means. The optimal mechanism for this seems to be one of the foundations of Polish administrative law, with a formalised constitutional basis, which is the institution of complaints, petitions and motions. Article 63 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland provides that everyone has a right to submit petitions, motions and complaints in the interest of the public, their own or another person’s, with their consent, to the public authorities or social organisations and institutions as regards their performance of public administration tasks assigned to them. This means that a university student is also entitled to submit complaints and petitions to university bodies related to the delivery of education.

2. A student’s complaint

"A university is also a higher school of justice, of practical learning to recognise, define, apply and respect its principles’2. Where to look for these rules? The answer seems to be a complex one as the rights and obligations of the academic community members are derived not only from the generally applicable law, e.g. laws and regulations, but also, in part, from the statutes and, above all, from departmental regulations (e.g. the study regulations)3. By taking up studies at an institution of higher education, a student accepts internal regulations, including the obligations arising from the study regulations4.

Irregularities may also be committed by a university employee, e.g. a lecturer or clerk from the Dean’s Office. In such a situation, a passive attitude or a failure to act not only signifies indirect acceptance of the existing state of affairs, but also encourages the perpetuation of bad practice (sui generis petrification of intra-administrative lawlessness). The way to express objection is to file a complaint.5 The law specifies that this means of social control may be used, among others, to report negligence or inadequate performance of duties by certain entities, e.g. university employees.6

The complaint itself shall be dealt with promptly, not later than within one month.7 You will be informed about it because the person who made the complaint (in this case, the student) must be notified of how the complaint has been dealt with.8 If, however, the university does not agree with the assessment made in the complaint and considers it unfounded, it must provide detailed reasons for doing so.

Unfortunately, the law does not provide for the possibility of challenging the refusal to handle a student’s complaint. The only legal remedy to challenge this is a further complaint under the same procedure, but it must include an indication of new (additional) circumstances.9

3. Students’ conclusions

‘Any community based on sound principles requires its members to respect each other, cooperate and show solidarity, and it demands from individuals and groups to respect the principles of loyalty to the entire structure’10. An important element of interaction in the academic community is therefore the active attitude of students expressed by the active presentation of their views. For this reason, it is so important to bring forward students’ proposals wherever there is room for improvement in the organisation of the university, the improvement of its work, the prevention of abuse or irregularities, as well as the quality of education11.

Students function in the university environment on a daily basis, which involves their participation in lectures, classes, seminars as well as exams and tests. Therefore, students as recipients of educational services may not so much be harsh critics as valuable sources of knowledge on the subject of postulated changes to the rules of the university functioning to facilitate its efficient and effective operation.

As in the case of a complaint, a student’s petition should be dealt with promptly, but no later than within one month12. The university will inform the petitioner, i.e. the student, how the petition was handled. It is worth emphasising that if the way the petition has been dealt with does not meet your expectations, you may additionally file a student’s complaint referred to in section 3 above13. You also have a right to complain if your petition has not been recognised by the university at all and therefore ignored, e.g. you have not received any responsea 14.

4. Formal requirements

The ‘technical’ requirements regarding a petition or complaint are regulated by law, which specifies15 that they may be submitted not only in writing, i.e. in the form of a document signed by hand, but also by e-mail and orally, as a record in a protocol16. Please, remember to include your name and address in the letter as complaints and petitions will not be processed without this information and therefore will not be examined by the university17. It is very important to state precisely the matter with regard to which you are writing to the university authorities. However, if the content of your letter is imprecise, you will be asked to provide further clarification or more information. Should you fail to do so, the university may not recognise your letter18.

5. What next?

The university authorities investigating a complaint or petition may, among others, give instructions to their staff or take other appropriate measures to remedy the deficiencies found as well as the causes of the deficiencies19, thus facilitating efficient and effective operation of the university. It should be emphasised that no one can suffer any negative consequences for having lodged a complaint or petition20. The solution adopted is aimed at protecting the applicant, i.e. the student and his/her active attitude. Obviously, however, this protection does not include situations in which the letter is submitted not to improve the functioning of the university, but to achieve harassment or cause hate, thus being defamatory, slanderous or insulting21.

6. Conclusion

In the 21st century, the institution of complaints, petitions and motions formalised and regulated in Section VIII of the Code of Administrative Procedure has acquired a new function, in particular in decentralised institutions such as the institutions of higher education. A university is a community whose proper functioning is important for the university authorities, its employees and students alike. The flow of information, in turn, is a prerequisite for achieving this goal. An adequate response to irregularities or inefficiencies in the organisation is directly proportional to the knowledge of these circumstances. The forms of participation and representation of students themselves, e.g. through the student council, do not always seem to be optimal. It is at such moments that the significance of the institution of complaints, petitions and petitions becomes apparent as it enables a student, without any legal risk, to exercise his or her legal and moral duty of taking care of the university good, including the dignity of students22 and initiate processes that will contribute, among other things, to the improvement of examination processes, administrative services, or even the elimination of irregularities, such as classes missed on a regular basis, the unavailability of materials required to be studied by students, or the discriminatory language used in class under the guise of academic freedom.

The effectiveness of a student’s petition or complaint submitted is measured by the fact that the competent authorities are legally obliged to consider it, but not to implement the suggestions it contains. The substantiation provided in the notification on the manner of resolving a complaint or petition provides information on whether and how a given matter will be resolved. Thus, the procedure in question also ensures a dialogue between the university authorities and students, which protects the good name of the university. As it seems, exhausting the means of complaints and petitions is a sine qua non condition for launching alternative forms of collective control over the functioning of public administration and may even be qualified as our duty.


1 The Code of Academic Integrity adopted at the sitting of the Jagiellonian University Senate on 25 June 2003; access:, access on 28 February 2022.

2 The Code of Academic Integrity adopted at the sitting of the Jagiellonian University Senate on 25 June 2003; access:, access on 28 February 2022.

3 More information on the subject can be found in T. Woś [in:] Postępowanie administracyjne, ed. T. Woś, Warszawa 2017, pp. 56-58.

4 Judgement of the Regional Administrative Court in Gdańsk of 22 July 2021, III SA/Gd 85/21, CBOSA.

5 See more in Article 221 § 3 of the Code of Administrative Procedure of 14 June 1960, uniform text O.J. of 2021, item 735.

6 Cf. in this spirit art. 227 of the Code of Administrative Procedure.

7 See more in Article 237 § 1 of the Code of Administrative Procedure. Should the proceedings initiated by a complaint fail to be handled within the statutory period of time, a student may first submit a reminder (Article 237 § 4 of the Code of Administrative Procedure) and then a complaint about the inactivity of the administrative court.

8 See more in Article 237 § 3 of the Code of Administrative Procedure.

9 Under Article 239 § 1 of the Code of Administrative procedure ‘If a complaint, as a result of its examination, has been rendered unfounded and its groundlessness has been substantiated in the response to the complaint, and the applicant has submitted the complaint again without indicating new circumstances – the body competent for its examination may sustain its previous position making a relevant note in the file of the case without notifying the applicant.’

1010 The Code of Academic Integrity adopted at the sitting of the Jagiellonian University Senate on 25 June 2003; access:, access on 28 February 2022.

11 See in this spirit Article 241 of the Code of Administrative Procedure.

12 See Article 237 § 1 in connection with Article 244 § 1 of the Code of Administrative Procedure.

13 See Article 246 § 1 of the Code of Administrative Procedure.

14 See Article 246 § 2 of the Code of Administrative Procedure.

15 The resolution of the Council of Ministers of 8 January 2002 on the organisation and handling of complaints and petitions, hereinafter referred to as the resolution.

16 See § 5 of the resolution.

17 See § 8, Clause 1, of the resolution.

18 See § 8, Clause 2, of the resolution.

19 See § 12 of the resolution.

20 See art. 225 § 1 of the Code of Administrative Procedure.

21 See Article 212 of the Criminal Code, Article 216 § 2, Article 226, 257 of the Criminal Code and H. Knysiak-Sudyka [in:] A. Cebera, J. G. Firlus, A. Golęba, T. Kiełkowski, K. Klonowski, M. Romańska, H. Knysiak-Sudyka, Kodeks postępowania administracyjnego. Komentarz, wyd. II, Warszawa 2019, art. 225.

22 Under Article 107, Clause 1, of the Higher Education and Science Act of 20 July 2018 ( O. J. of 2022, item 574), a student is obliged to follow the content of the oath and the regulations enforced by the university. Various student oaths include such expressions as ‘I solemnly pledge […] to take care of the good name of the university [..] (University of Science and technology in Krakow, access: Treść ślubowania AGH w Krakowie) or ‘I, a student of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, solemnly swear […] to take care of the student’s dignity […]’ (Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, access: Treść ślubowania ASP w Warszawie)

About the author

Jakub G. Firlus – assistant lecturer at the Chair of Administrative Procedure, Jagiellonian University