Student doing graduate reserach
(Photo by Robert Hubner, WSU Photo Services)

PULLMAN – The university community has collaborated over the past year to update Graduate School policies and procedures, and Howard Grimes, dean of the Graduate School, will answer questions about the changes at the Feb. 19 Faculty Senate meeting.

Existing policies and procedures reflected the WSU of 20 years ago, Grimes said, before the university earned Research 1 status from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and before the regional campuses became an integral part of WSU.
“Our policies reflected a university that no longer existed,” Grimes said. “WSU is more mature and we needed to bring our policies and procedures into the modern world.”
To do that, the Graduate School examined policies and procedures from WSU’s peer universities and, especially, from universities that belong to the Associate of American Universities — the top research universities in the United States and Canada.
“If we are aspiring to become an AAU university, as the president and regents say we are, then we must study what those institutions are doing,” said Grimes.
If refined policies and procedures improve the quality of WSU’s graduate programs and research, that can only benefit faculty, students and the university’s reputation, Grimes said.
 

Major changes
Throughout fall semester, the Graduate School conducted forums and received feedback. To more easily share information and feedback, a website was established ONLINE
@
www.gradsch.wsu.edu/2008_updatedpolicies.
Major policy changes include:
 
* Reducing the number of minimum graded credit hours for a Ph.D. degree from 34 to 15. This is to give program faculty more flexibility and to increase the number of hours spent on research, rather than in class, Grimes said.
While more class hours might be appropriate for master’s degree coursework, research time typically is more important for doctoral experience and scholarly endeavors and careers, he said. Many scholars believe doctoral degrees should include more breadth of preparation, more flexibility and integrated scholarly work, and more purposefulness in connecting academic work with the larger social context.

Faculty have the power to shape the quality of the graduate student experience, Grimes said, and they need to consider whether their program requirements provide students with enough experiences outside the classroom to prepare them for their scholarly roles in the academy and in the workplace.

Responsibility for determining the minimum requirement for each program will rest with the program’s graduate faculty. They may choose to set a higher graded credit requirement as appropriate for the discipline.
“This policy change better aligns the university with the practices of our most competitive peers,” Grimes said.
 
* Requiring students to maintain continuous enrollment by registering for at least two graduate credits each semester (except summer) until they complete the degree.
 
Without this requirement, WSU has lost track of grad students who stop enrolling and then show up months or years later expecting to resume their work. Continuous enrollment will ensure a more productive “time to degree,” enhancing teamwork and scholarship quality, Grimes said.
Peer and regional universities – such as Colorado State, North Carolina State, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, University of Arizona, University of Florida, University of Oregon and University of Washington – all require their graduate students to maintain continuous enrollment or be in an approved leave status.
The Graduate School is in the process of obtaining approval for a 2-credit continuous enrollment course that will have a lesser tuition cost than other graduate course credits so that continuous enrollment will not cause an undue financial burden on students.
 
* Providing for each program to establish and administer bylaws. This is to give programs flexibility in defining their own governance, decision-making and faculty roles, rather than relying on a single set of guidelines from the Graduate School, Grimes said.
Bylaws allow program faculty, who are in the best position to determine the criteria for faculty participation in a graduate program, the authority to identify the criteria for and roles of graduate faculty associated with their particular graduate program, he said.
“By working to establish bylaws, programs will have the opportunity to think about enhancing the quality of their offerings and their faculty,” Grimes said.
The bylaws process will define how qualified faculty from any unit may apply to participate as graduate faculty within any program. The aim is to enhance interdisciplinary programs and advance collaborative opportunities for faculty and students.
Deans are being asked for a schedule of bylaws submissions from their college, with programs divided equally among quarterly due dates: July 2009; October 2009; January 2010 and April 2010. Program bylaws will be reviewed by the Graduate School and graduate studies committee prior to approval by the Faculty Senate.
 
* Establishing “critical mass” in order to offer a doctoral program. This would require a minimum of seven faculty and five doctoral students in a program in order to offer that program at a WSU campus.
 
This requirement has been recommended in internal and external reviews in order to approach national standards for program quality, Grimes said.
 

Opportunity to improve

Grimes said he hopes WSU graduate programs will look at these policy changes as an opportunity for improvement.
“If I were a chair, I would look at how new strategies could benefit my faculty,” he said. “I would be driven to develop the best academically rigorous program that I can for students. I would seek to improve the quality of my program and, consequently, WSU’s reputation as a whole.”
Grimes will report on and answer questions about changes to graduate program policies and procedures at the Faculty Senate meeting, which begins at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, in FSHN T-101 on the Pullman campus and via videostream on the regional campuses.