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Some background: Our falling out occurred when I wrote a letter to the department chair, complaining that her communications triggered an anxiety episode on a few occasions. This letter was prompted by her failing to respond to one of my emails within 24 hrs. (as she usually did). Since this post would be too long if I retyped the whole story, I'm sharing my original post where I describe the situation in more detail: https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/149568/how-would-you-react-if-a-student-complained-to-the-dept-chair-about-you-but-lat

Although I mentioned suffering from anxiety episodes in my letter, I did not specifically mention having generalized anxiety disorder. Thus, at the time, it seemed like I was accusing her of inflicting these episodes. (I later explained to admin. that I had generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.)

Prior to my letter to the chair, I thought we (the prof. and I) had a good rapport. I only had her for two courses (one a short summer session), but I received an A in both of them, one being at the graduate level. However, due to personal circumstances I experienced during my last undergrad. semester (and the news of her upcoming retirement), my work was not as good as it could have been, and I worried that it changed her opinion of me and/or caused her to doubt my ability to handle grad. school.

Here's what I've tried so far to rectify the situation/apologize:

  1. I've gone to every level of administration to explain that I wanted the grievance dismissed, and I wanted her to know that I made the request. Everyone (dean, provost, etc.), however, said that there never was a grievance, and that "the case was closed." Yet this contradicts the email from the chair, who told me in writing that he was bringing a formal grievance against her, meeting with the dean, reporting her to Student Affairs, and that "considerable time" was being taken to "formally record my specific grievances." He even forwarded this message to the Associate Dean. Thus, I had difficulty believing admin. when they told me that there never was a grievance.

  2. I wrote her one apology letter (prior to the cease and desist letter), however, it must have come across as insincere since I included a letter of recommendation request. (The dean led me to believe that everything was okay and that the professor seemed inclined to write one.) Additionally, I denied the nature of my complaint and connected my anxiety disorder more to the quality of my work than the complaint. So I sometimes think about writing another letter sincerely apologizing/explaining and not asking anything in return this time.

  3. I've asked three other faculty and staff members to reach out to her on my behalf, but two outright declined, and one didn't respond. However, when I wrote to that person again (for a different reason), I apologized for putting them in the middle, and they said that the prof. was a "good person" and "would be happy to know I'm well."

  4. I have a complaint in with a state agency for how the school handled the situation and again requested to retract the grievance (if it exists) and have any consequences to the professor reversed (and for her to be made aware of my request). However, because of the Covid situation, it's taking them longer than normal to respond to complaints, and meanwhile the professor is retiring soon. So even if they're successful in reversing the grievance, they may not be able to contact her once she officially retires.

Here's what I've considered so far in terms of apologizing:

  1. Another apology email, this time not asking for anything in return and better explaining how my anxiety disorder (and OCD) affected me in this situation. My goal is only for her to understand that my behavior was affected by disabilities (mostly GAD but maybe to a lesser agree OCD) and that I've done everything I could to rectify it. Normally, I wouldn't care so much, but I genuinely admired her and hate that all this happened.

If I do write this letter, should I keep it short and professional or include how much I admire her and how her work positively impacted me? I worry that if I'm too honest, I might feel embarrassed afterward. Realistically, however, she may forward the letter to the General Counsel's office, so that's something to consider as well when deciding how much to include.

  1. I've thought about making a donation to her grad. school alma mater (specifically to her department). From what I understand, she's close to some people there, so maybe I could explain that we had a falling-out and ask them to convey my apology. However, I can only afford a small donation. I genuinely support the cause/area of research I'd be donating to, and, to clarify, the donation would not be contingent on them reaching out to her. (I may have done this anyway [donating to them in her honor], but I wanted to be able to give more.)

I've also considered buying her a gift once the pandemic dies down, which I wanted to do even before all this happened. However, I'm not sure how I'd get it to her. (This would have been a challenge anyway given that we're in different states.) Additionally, I cannot currently afford the price range I was aiming for.

The first option may be best since it's the simplest, yet she may not even read the letter. Additionally, it probably isn't enough to make up for the grievance. (I don't have the resources for anything that is, nor am I sure than anything can.) There's also the risk that the email would be forward to the General Counsel's office.

If I wait until after she retires (and try something outside the university), the university can no longer get involved. (I don't think.) However, anything that involves third parties (especially beyond the university)may be seen as excessive and/or intrusive and could make everything worse. And even a small donation might be perceived as a bribe/coercion, but I could always donate in her honor without asking for them to convey any message or mentioning the falling-out etc.

Again, given the risks, I may not apologize. However, if I do, I want to maximize the (infinitesimally small) chance of achieving my desired outcome (which is just for her to be understanding and not resent me). I also would have liked for us to stay in touch once in a while, though she may not have wanted that anyway. (I only had her for two semesters.

Edit/Update: I think I've decided against reaching out to a third party. This would probably feel intrusive, and she may interpret it as a form of pressure, coercion, or harassment. (For instance, she may think I still want the LOR or that I'm trying to pursue a personal relationship with her.)

Maybe less is more, but I'd still like to apologize. So I was thinking about sending this simple and professional apology :

Dear Dr. __

I’m sorry for my letter to Dr. __ last year and everything that happened. I was stressed out from personal circumstances (combined with an anxiety disorder) and reacted poorly. You don't have to respond to this email, nor will I contact you again if you don't want me to, but I wanted to apologize.

Best wishes,

Gemini

I'd appreciate feedback on the content. Is the situation unforgivable or too serious for an apology at all? I know she probably has to forward the letter to the gen. counsel's office, but I'm not sure if they can legally enforce the cease and desist letter. Anyway, I don't know if I'm even going to send it, but I'd like feedback on the content just in case.

*Edited letter to specify that I'm not expecting a response and will not contact her again if she doesn't want me to. I also added my anxiety disorder since I mentioned it in my initial apology (with the LOR request). I don't want it to look like I was lying about it or changing my story etc.

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    Can you clarify why the answers you received on Academia Stackexchange explaining why you really shouldn't contact the professor again are unsatisfactory? – Johanna Jun 7 at 8:35
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    @Gemini there are lots of other possible reasons, the most likely being she's been instructed not to respond or she's decided not to respond to prevent escalating the situation further. – Kat Jun 10 at 10:43
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    @Gemini please, try to understand it from the professor's point of view. From what I read, this sounds like stalking her. Although that is not your intention, that is how it will appear to other people, including the professor. If your goal is purely for the professor's benefit, then it is clear that she does not want you to contact her. If your goal is for your own purposes to make her not resent you, I think it is too late for that and any further contact will only make things worse. If your goal is to reduce your own anxiety, I agree with the second paragraph of Johanna's answer. – Rayna Grayson Jun 16 at 18:01
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    Re: "I'm just trying to get a variety of opinions/perspectives." Everyone consistently telling you the same thing does not mean you didn't ask enough people. Instead, it means you already have a large sample, and the general consensus is very clear that it's a bad idea. – Rayna Grayson Jun 16 at 18:08
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    Re: "If she didn't resent me, I don't know why she didn't respond or why admin. has been so evasive." Those two are not contradictory. There are people I know, who I ignore any communication from them because in the past they caused trouble for me. However, I don't resent them and sincerely wish them the best, because I am aware they had good intentions and that the troubles they caused me stemmed from their own problems that they are dealing with. – Rayna Grayson Jun 16 at 18:08
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Don't contact her. A cease and deist letter is the clearest possible signal anyone can give, short of an actual restraining order, that they don't want to hear from you again. If you contact her again, you risk getting an actual restraining order next. Nothing good will come from contacting her again. She has likely heard the entire story, including your apologies, from the Chair and made the decision to not interact with you again. Respect that decision.

It sounds like your anxiety is acting up, convincing you that if only this one thing happened (the professor accepting your apology) then you would stop feeling anxious about the whole incident. I empathise, because I also have anxiety disorder. However, one of the most important lessons I've had to learn is that no external action by someone else will fix my anxiety. It's internal, and the only thing that will make me feel better in the long run is therapy and anti-anxiety medication.

In response to your edit: The point of apologies is to make the person you apologise to feel better, and to show that you have learned and will not do it again. In this case, the person you want to apologise to has made it very clear that she doesn't want to hear from you again. Contacting her will not make her feel better and it will show that you have learned nothing. You want to apologise to make yourself feel better, including offering money in the form of a donation or an expensive gift. You cannot buy forgiveness. This will not repair your relationship with the professor. It will very likely earn you a restraining order (yes, even if you wait until she's officially retired). The best way to apologise is to show you have learned your lesson about overstepping boundaries and leaving her alone.

Edit 2: I still advise against contacting her, for reasons I have already outlined. The general counsel, or the professor personally, can certainly escalate the cease and deist to a restraining order if you persist in contacting her after receiving a formal notice to stop. If you still, against the advice of literally everyone you've asked about this, decide to send the apology you should add a few things. Specifically, you should add a sentence saying that you don't expect any kind of response and that you will not contact her on your own volition again. Since this whole problem comes from you insisting on getting a specific response from the professor and escalating when you didn't get it, a good apology should specify that you don't expect a response and will not continue harassing her for a response. And, of course, you should then follow up on that by not reaching out to anyone involved in this ever again unless they contact you first.

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  • At the very least, the uni. should have told me that they gave her my message. I'm not sure that they have, however, because that would be admitting that they mishandled the situation from the beginning. One lawyer told me that she's the one who could sue the school if they erroneously filed a grievance against her. – Gemini Jun 7 at 9:21
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    @Gemini They have no obligation to tell you how they communicate with their employees. And they didn't erroneously file a grievance against her, they responded to a student complaint (which they are obliged to do). For all you know, they never went beyond a conversation with the Chair where she showed the Chair her communication with you. You are catastrophising. You need to speak to a psychologist about this, not the professor. – Johanna Jun 7 at 9:43
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    @Gemini you should be talking to a therapist, not a lawyer. You need to let this go. She was already about to retire, there's no chance your complaint had any negative consequences to her except for the hassle in dealing with it. She's probably not even allowed to respond to you. If you're really sorry and concerned for her wellbeing then leave her alone. You made a mistake, but you can't undo it, regardless of how much you might like to. You can't make it better, but you can stop making it worse. – Kat Jun 7 at 20:19
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    @Tinkeringbell I added a paragraph addressing the edit. – Johanna Jun 8 at 6:36
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    @Gemini Of course they tracked your correspondence. That's what all large organisations do. According to your own story, you repeatedly contacted administration and other professors to try to get a response from her. I would not be the least bit surprised if a judge would grant her a restraining order just based on your actions this far. You need to drop this. Right now. Filing complaints and trying to contact her is just dragging out what originally was a pretty unremarkable incident and making it worse. Drop it. – Johanna Jun 8 at 8:50

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