Fac Senate talks grad study, ResEd

Oct. 28, 2011, 2:20 a.m.

The Faculty Senate passed several changes to dissertation requirements proposed by the Committee on Graduate Studies and discussed residential education at its second meeting of the year Thursday.

Committee on Graduate Studies

The Committee on Graduate Studies (C-GS) recommended new language concerning the composition of Ph.D. oral and dissertation committees. Following the changes, dissertation reading committees will consist of at least three but no more than five members, all of whom will be required to sign off on the dissertation.

Emeritus faculty will now be considered in the same standing as current Academic Council faculty. If the principal dissertation adviser is an emeritus member of the Academic Council, a co-advisor will not be required until two years have passed since the emeritus member’s retirement.

Candidates in all departments, as well as in interdisciplinary programs, will have the option of including Ph.D.-holding, non-Academic Council members on their reading committees if Academic Council faculty hold the majority.

Richard Roberts, history professor and chair of the C-GS, described this change as an opportunity to include individuals with expertise in the dissertation field, such as industry representatives, as students continue to show increased interest in applied sciences and other applications of their dissertation work.

Stephen Stedman, political science professor, raised a concern that requiring non-Academic Council members to hold a Ph.D. would contradict the goal of seeking out expertise from industry leaders.

“So rank is more important than expertise?” Stedman asked.

“Would you keep Bill Gates off?” asked biology professor Lucille Shapiro.

Roberts responded that yes, while students could petition for exceptions, Gates, a college dropout, would be excluded from serving on a dissertation committee.

“I think it’s part of our process to have people of the higher rank evaluating you for that rank,” he said.

Caroline Hoxby, professor of economics, raised a cautionary point that some students may seek outside advisors who would lower the overall standards for their work.

Following the changes, emeritus members serving on oral exam committees will not be considered non-Academic Council members and one or two non-Academic Council members will be permitted.

The Senate passed the Committee’s recommendations with one abstention and no opposition.

Residential Education

The Senate also heard a report by Deborah Golder, associate vice provost and dean of the Office of Residential Education.

There is “no better way outside the classroom to capture the entirety of the student body,” Golder said of Stanford’s residential education program, noting that almost all Stanford students live on campus for all four years of their undergraduate careers.

Golder reiterated ResEd’s goal “to make a major research university feel like a small liberal arts college,” and updated the Senate on a three-year campaign to revamp the program.

Golder included statistics about Stanford’s unique program. The University has 78 houses on campus, compared to the usual 10 or 12 at sister universities, she said.

As part of the restructuring process, Golder noted that 50 percent of Residential Education professional staff members are new to their roles.

Golder outlined the Residential Fellow program for the Senate, but also stressed that all faculty, even those who cannot live in an undergraduate dorm as a Resident Fellow, should consider how they can participate in the effort to bridge the academic and residential experiences of undergraduates.

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