Back in November, the Faculty of Graduate Studies released a consultation document regarding proposed adjustments to faculty regulations. The document outlined a number of potentially significant changes, including changes to the number and types of members required on dissertation examining committees. Read our letter below. Attached are editorial comments on the FGS document.
January 31, 2011
Members of the Working Group on FGS Regulations,
We are writing in response to the request to provide feedback to the substantive and editorial changes being proposed to the Faculty of Graduate Studies Calendar. As one of the primary documents that govern the expectations regarding graduate education at York University, the Executive members of the Graduate Students’ Association took great pains to carefully explore and provide feedback on the working document provided. Though we appreciate the opportunity to give such feedback, and recognize the further potential for input that has been granted to the broader community through other faculty and departmental consultations, we do regret that the Faculty of Graduate Studies did not endeavor to involve a member of the graduate student community on the working group itself.
That said, regardless of the process by which graduate student input has been solicited, we have a variety of suggestions, commendations, and concerns regarding the document itself:
1. Clarity and precision in language.
While we fully understand that the document that has been circulated for comment remains a working draft, we feel it important to note that it requires considerable editorial work. Issues with punctuation, grammar, and overall sentence clarity were noted throughout the document. Given that this document is both depended upon for clear direction by York's graduate community, and may also represent one of the first documents prospective students examine, we feel that this document must be held to the highest standards, both stylistic and technical. As such, we have included a series of proposed editorial changes (captured through the comment system) to the working document. [this document will be emailed along with this response.]
2. Committee Composition (thesis or dissertation)
For the most part, we feel the changes to these sections make sense. Added accommodation for multiple members of an examining committee to participate via video conferencing seems an appropriate change reflecting the increasing proliferation and efficacy of such technologies. That said, the Graduate Students’ Association would like to voice two important concerns. First, in order for this accommodation to make any real sense, it must be followed up with substantive material support. If graduate students might be expected to defend their work to committee members via distance technologies, the Faculty of Graduate Studies must commit to providing the resources for such scenarios to be pursued efficiently and effectively. Students should not be expected to provide technical support for their own defenses. Secondly, while video conferencing offers a degree of flexibility to students and faculty in arranging defenses, it should not been seen as a standard procedure, or be used as incentive not to facilitate face-to-face interactions with both internal and external committee members. It is our recommendation that both of these caveats should be reflected in the Calendar.
3. Grading System
We would like to commend the working group on the changes made to this section of the Calendar. The Graduate Students' Association has recently received several disturbing complaints regarding alternative grading schemes being used by different faculty across the university, without suitable notice to students. Though the GSA strongly supports the rights of all faculty to determine the criteria for success or failure in the work they evaluate, it is absolutely essential that a basic grading schema (like that presented in proposed revisions to the Calendar) be standardized across the university. The subjective dimension of evaluation remains protected in the manner in which one assigns a numeric grade to a given piece of work; graduate students must be able to count on a standardized translation of numeric grades to letter grades.
4. Withdrawal in Good Standing
Though many of the changes to this section provide much needed clarity to this process, the addition of the caveat that “the program concerned may attach conditions to the reinstatement or offer of admission to ensure that the [sic] student's preparation is brought up to the appropriate level” is cause for considerable concern. The original section of the Calendar expressed only basic instructions for a graduate student wishing to withdraw from a program in good standing. The assertion of a program’s ability to establish precise criteria (presumably in addition to any standardized criteria) for readmission is both vague and ominous. If any language to this effect is to be inserted into the calendar, then such language must clearly delineate the types of criteria that can be established, the process by which those criteria are communicated to, and agreed to, by the student, and the manner in which such negotiations should be conducted.
5. Program Length and Minimum Period of Registration
The Graduate Students' Association strongly objects to both the proposed changes to this section of the Calendar, as well as to the interpretation of the meaning of the original language from the existing Calendar. Furthermore, the assertion that this substantive change is in fact only editorial and reflects long-standing practices of the University is made without any supporting evidence. The practice (which the GSA contends has been historically intermittent and improper) of forcing Masters students to pay for a minimum number of terms equivalent to the total identified length of a program (as generally captured through the OCGS), regardless of the length of time actually taken to complete the degree, is both odious and illogical. This practice concurrently i) discourages students from completing longer programs more quickly, ii) unduly penalizes students enrolling in Masters programs designated as longer than 3 terms, iii) discourages – on the basis of economic pressure on its students – Masters programs to identify themselves as two year degree programs (a decision that should always be chiefly made for academic/pedagogic reasons), and iv) may potentially open York University to undue risk of litigation for circumventing existing provincial legislation/regulation regarding maximum tuition rates, and annual increases.
6. Full Time Status
Though the attempts to clarify the original language in this section are well directed, the suggested changes offer little additional clarity, and create certain new dilemmas. Most notably, the suggested changes to this section change the substantive effect of these rules from establishing criteria (though admittedly vague) by which students are designated full-time by the University, to a definition of full-time student status which, as one of several criteria, includes designation by the University. This is absolutely unacceptable. This section needs to retain its original emphasis – the criteria by which the University may justly designate a student as able to register for full time study.
We look forward to continued dialogue about these proposed changes to the FGS regulations; do not hesitate to contact us with questions or for further information regarding our submission.
Phil Steiner, President