Professor protesting removal from thesis committee

A professor in the faculty of education is protesting his removal from a master’s thesis committee last summer, alleging his removal violated the “appropriateness of past practices”.

Rodney Clifton, a professor in the department of educational administration, foundations and psychology, had served on the master’s of education examining committee since 2006, and first saw the draft of the student’s thesis during the summer of 2010.

Clifton says he was removed from the committee two days before the student’s oral defence was scheduled at the end of July 2010.

In a memo sent to other committee members, Clifton explained the problems he had with the thesis, which included typographical, spelling, referencing and grammatical errors. He also said he did not see a clear theoretical reason for doing the study in the student’s introduction.

According to internal emails obtained by the Manitoban, the student’s supervisor Robert Renaud agreed with most of the errors but did not believe they were serious enough to delay the student’s oral defence.

Colleen Metge, another committee member, stated in a memo that she had concerns with the clarity of the thesis premise as well as some content and methodological issues.

Alan Katz, an external committee member, said in a memo he thought Clifton’s specific criticisms were valid but that “none of these are however ‘fatal’ flaws that in my view would disqualify a defence at this stage.”

Clifton requested to postpone the scheduled oral exam and have the student do another draft of the thesis in order to correct the original errors.

He recommended having a meeting to figure out how to improve the thesis before the oral exam, but Renaud indicated there wasn’t time and that the student’s oral defence should not be delayed further.

In an email to the thesis committee members, John Doering, the dean of graduate studies, stated he did not want the oral defence delayed because of the committee members’ disagreement over what corrections were required.

“At the master’s level [ . . . ] the thesis is distributed, it is read, the defence is held, and opinions are expressed. I would not be in favour of a master’s thesis being held back from proceeding to defence because the committee defers on the corrections required,” he wrote.

“This is NOT how the process is supposed to unfold at the U of M”
Soon after, Clifton was removed from the thesis committee by Zana Lutfiyya, associate dean of educational administration, foundations and psychology.
In an email obtained by the Manitoban, Lutfiyya noted that “it is an unusual step to remove a faculty member from a graduate committee,” but said she was comfortable with the change because it was her understanding most of the committee members were prepared to let the student proceed with their oral defence.

Lutfiyya was unavailable for comment by press time. Requests for interviews with Robert MacMillan, dean of education, and Doering were redirected to John Danakas, director of Marketing Communications for the U of M.

Clifton also said he did not think the student should have passed with the thesis in question. He alleged that the analysis was done incorrectly in addition to many typographical, grammatical and referencing errors in the work.

“This one was certainly the worst I’ve ever seen get though in 38 years of working on theses.”

Clifton said in this case he thought his removal reflected negatively on the university’s academic standards.

When asked to comment of Clifton’s removal and his on its potential effect on the university’s academic standards, Danakas said the U of M has “the highest standards in academic excellence” in undergraduate and graduate programs.
Danakas explained that while at a doctorate level the examining committee decides if the thesis is ready for an oral defense, but at a master’s level a student can choose when to defend their thesis.

“Committee members are expected not to prejudice the final outcome [of a master’s thesis],” he said.

Danakas said it was also “important to note that the process leading to a master’s thesis defence is not identical to that leading to a PhD defence.”

Danakas acknowledged that occasionally there are disagreements among committee members and explained there are various processes to follow when committees have criticisms of student’s work.

“In situations where the advisor or advisory committee feels a student’s progress is not satisfactory the student will be required to withdraw.”