LINGUIST List 7.221

Sat Feb 10 1996

Sum: Ph.D. Committees

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Lynn Alan Eubank, Survey of 'external member' requirements

Message 1: Survey of 'external member' requirements

Date: Tue, 06 Feb 1996 18:00:12 CST
From: Lynn Alan Eubank <>
Subject: Survey of 'external member' requirements
This internet survey was carried out by several personal requests
and by a more general request distributed over three discussion lists
(LINGUIST, E-GRAD, SLART). The general request read as

 Here at the Univ of North Texas, the administration
 has dropped the requirement that PhD committees
 include an outside' member (i.e., a faculty member
 from some other department); individual
 departments may elect to retain the outside'
 requirement. As one might expect, the whole affair
 has generated a good deal of heated debate. I would
 like to hear from folks at other PhD-granting
 institutions on what their policy is. Specifically,

 1. What institution are you affiliated with?
 2. Does your institution require an outside' member
 on PhD committees?
 3. Is the outside' requirement a departmental option

I have received responses from 89 individuals at 68 institutions.
Most responses were complete; some were less complete. (The off-the-
cuff nature of the questionnaire itself probably didn't help much
here.) Incomplete or ambiguous information is indicated either with
ND (no data) or with an asterisk. Many respondents included
interesting and potentially valuable commentary. Any notes that
directly relate to the interpretation of data are included below the
response. Commentary of an evaluative nature is included at the
end of the survey.
 To those of you who sent information, I thank you. If you would
like to receive a hard copy of this survey, please let me know.
Lynn Eubank
North America:
Institution Required Option

Univ of Alberta Yes* No
 "... our graduate school policy requires not only a member on
 each PhD committee from outside the department, but also an
 external examiner' (from another institution) as well. This is the
 policy for most, if not all, Canadian universities. the member
 from another institution submits a written report on the thesis
 prior to defense, especially if that person is unable to attend the
 defense in person.

 "In the past,we have paid for external members to attend the
 defences, but with budgetary constraints, this is no longer
 possible. Yet the input from an external member is still a
 requirement of the university."

Boston Univ Yes* No
 "The outside member' requirement is not a departmental option
 -- it applies to all doctoral students in the School of Education.

 "PS These requirements may not be the same for the Graduate
 School, so I hope somebody from there also answers your

Bowling Green State Univ Yes No

Univ of Calgary ND* ND*
 "Our dept. doesn't have a PhD program, but I know the
 institution can bring in outside members for PhD defenses."

Univ of California, Berkeley Yes No
 applies to both comprehensive examination committee and the
 dissertation committee

Univ of California, Davis No Yes
 "...whether or not someone from outside the dept. can be on
 either the exam or diss committee has to be approved by the

Univ of California, Los Angeles Yes No

Carleton Univ (Canada) Yes No
 "At Carleton University there is the requirement that there be a
 member from outside the department. If there is no one qualified
 enough from a neighbouring discipline, a member is sought from
 outside the university."

Univ of Cincinnati No ND

Univ of Colorado, Boulder Yes No

Univ of Delaware No* Yes*
 "I don't know about other department[s] for sure, but I think
 they require them as well."

 "This is a college level requirement for [Arts and Sciences] and
 a departmental level requirement in Educational Studies."

Univ of Denver Yes ND

East Texas State University Yes* No
 "Our policy here at ET requires that one member of the doctoral
 thesis committee be from a department other than the home
 department of the student. Additionally, the Grad School
 requires that each proposal and final defense include an
 observer' chosen by the Grad Dean's office from among all
 grad faculty members."

Florida State Univ Yes No
 "...attendance is mandatory for Comprehensive Orals and
 Dissertation Defense--any of the others may be absent, including
 the Major Professor, as long as a quorum is in attendance."

Georgetown Univ No ND

Harvard No* Yes*
 "Harvard requires two readers, no formal defense. The primary
 reader must be full faculty in the ... department, the second
 reader can be junior faculty in the department or full faculty in
 another department (at Harvard or not). The formal requirements
 are minimal; the idea is that in adequate work is caught much
 earlier in the game."

Univ of Hawai'i Yes* No
 "...the outside member cannot be from another university, i.e., it
 must be an outside member from within the University of
 Hawai'i graduate faculty."

Univ of Idaho Yes No

Univ of Illinois, Champaign No Yes

Indiana Univ No Yes*
 "I'm not sure whether any departments impose this requirement
 or not. The [area] department ... do not impose such a
 requirement. Outside' committee members for either PhD
 exams or the dissertation generally correspond to outside'
 minors that PhD students can elect to take."

Indiana University of Pennsylvania No ND*
 "...the only situation which I know of when an outside person is
 brought in is when there aren't enough faculty here who are
 scholars of a particular area."

Univ of Iowa No* Yes*
 (These represent my extrapolation from two, apparently
 conflicting responses.)

Iowa State Univ Yes No

Univ of Kansas Yes No

Louisiana State Univ Yes No

Univ of Massachusetts, Amherst Yes No

McGill Univ Yes No
 "At McGill ..., every PhD or MA thesis must be sent to an
 outside examiner - meaning not only outside the university. This
 is a University requirement. In our department, we usually
 choose someone well-known in the field.

 "In addition, on the PhD defense committee, there must be
 someone from outside the department (and since we often cannot
 find someone within the university who will understand a [area]
 thesis, we often find someone from another [area] dept. in
 Montreal). Finally, there is also a pro-dean at the defense who
 chairs the defense and represents the university. These, again,
 are university requirements."

Univ of Michigan Yes No*
 "The outside member I believe was required by the Graduate School ..."

Michigan State Univ No* Yes*
 " at least the Colleges of Arts and Letters, and Social
 Science, the dean will appoint somebody from outside the
 department to sit in on the dissertation defense."

Univ of Montana Yes No

Univ of New Mexico Yes No
 "... we have an option (kind of)--the outside reader can be
 someone from another department on campus or from another
 [X] dept on another campus."

City Univ of New York No Yes

State Univ of New York, Albany No Yes*
 "If it is considered appropriate, a department may request
 someone from another department, or even from another
 institution ..."

State Univ of New York, Binghamton University
 Yes* Yes*
 [Does your institution require an 'outside' member on PhD
 committees?] "Not exactly. It does require an outside examiner'
 at the time of the final oral examination (= defense) of the
 dissertation, which must receive the unanimous approval of the
 department committee prior to scheduling the defense. To be
 sure, the candidate might still fail the oral exam -- by failing to
 present its contents coherently -- but in this event the oral is
 simply rescheduled. Also, the committee may require
 substantial revisions of the text, but these revisions cannot go
 beyond issues of rephrasing or relatively minor additional
 analysis without contradicting the letter and spirit of the
 committee's prior approval of the dissertation. Furthermore, the
 outside examiner's approval of the dissertation is NOT required
 for receipt of the degree; the O.E. role therefore becomes one of
 keeping everyone honest and providing an educated outsider's
 commentary on the dissertation."
 [Is the 'outside' requirement a departmental option only?] " This
 sounds like the same question as the second 1 above, unless you
 mean to refer to outside members of the committee proper,
 which are not required but are allowed as long as at least two
 members of the Binghamton faculty serve on the committee.
 Most departments also require that the chair of every dissertation
 committee be a regular member of the department faculty (no
 adjuncts, no faculty from other departments or institutions) and
 some require that at least two members be from the awarding
 department, but these stipulations are subject to department
 judgment, if memory serves (this note is being done without
 benefit of the university documents in my office).

State Univ of New York, Buffalo Yes* ND
 "Generally, it's someone outside of the dept., not the university,
 although some students do use readers from other institutions."

State Univ of New York, Stony Brook
 Yes No

Univ of North Dakota Yes* ND
 "... the [X] dept. requires an outside member (I think all depts
 do) ..."

Univ of North Texas No Yes

Ontario Institute of Education/University of Toronto
 Yes* No
 "Along with the core members (three) from the Institute, the
 candidate must have an internal-external and an external-external. The ext
ernal-external most be someone entirely outside
 the OISE-University of Toronto community. The internal-external must be so
meone who is a part of the University of
 Toronto, but NOT CROSS-APPOINTED with the Institute."

Univ of Oregon Yes No

Univ of Pennsylvania No* ND*
 1. Any member of a "graduate group" may serve on the
 committee. "... graduate groups are those entities that grant
 graduate degrees and therefore decide admissions, requirements,
 exams. The also teach grad courses and are the ones that may
 serve on dissertation committees." Departments are distinct:
 "[departments] are budgetary units -- you get paid thru them and
 everyone has to belong to some dept. they are what hires and
 fires". "Having some university faculty NOT a member of [the
 student's] grad group on one's committee would be VERY
 unlikely -- the student would have to give a long story about why
 this person was (a) fit and (b) relevant. Having someone
 OUTSIDE the university altogether, e.g. at another university, is
 far more doable and not uncommon. In computer science ...
 every committee MUST include one member who is NOT at
 Penn. (Computer science brings them to Penn for the proposal
 defense and the final defense plus usually pays for the student to
 go see them once or twice.)"
 2. "Each school within the university sets its own requirements.
 In the School of Arts and Sciences and in the Graduate School of
 Education, the answer is no [outside member required]."

Univ of Pittsburgh Yes* No
 "The exact wording in the Regulations' is, The proposal
 committee should include at least one representative from
 another Dept. in the University of Pittsburgh or from an
 appropriate graduate program at another academic institution, to
 serve as [sic] the doctoral committee.' So SHOULD I guess is
 not MUST. But in practice, I think it is interpreted as requiring
 an outside member."

Purdue Univ No Yes

Univ du Quebec a Montreal Yes* No
 "Here in Canada the PhD committee is composed of members of
 the department delivering the degree, an external examiner who
 is from a different university (I say a different university, not
 department or school or faculty), and a representative of the
 Dean of Graduate Studies. And in the evaluation process, the
 position of the external examine is predominant, for one
 presumes that he or she should have a more objective look at the
 work, given the fact that he does not have any nattachment
 neither to the candidate, nor to the department."

Rutgers Univ Yes No

San Diego State Univ Yes* ND*
 "We have required outside members for the MA thesis ..."

Univ of South Alabama No* ND*
 "There is no institutional policy. In the College of Education the
 committee is all powerful. Most of the committees indeed do
 have a member from another specialty" (not necessarily from
 another department). For example, the PhD is in Instructional
 Design and Development which is administered by the
 Behavioral Sciences and Educational Technology. Some
 candidates have selected a committee member from Curriculum
 Design, others from the College of Business or the College of
 Medicine, or even from the Dept. of Foreign Languages!"

Univ of South Carolina, Columbia Yes* No
 "... possible to have an outside committee member from another
 institution, but special permission has to be granted."

Univ of Southern California Yes No
 appears to apply to both examinations and dissertation

Univ of South Florida Yes Yes*
 "... apparently here it may well be an OPTION..."

Southern Illinois Univ Yes* No*
 "The committee should include an external member -- but this
 person need only be someone outside the student's department --
 there is no requirement that this person should be from another

Univ of Texas, Arlington No* Yes*
 "We ... currently have a PhD [in] Humanities ... option. It always
 requires three areas. One of these is from Humanities. So, for
 that reason all committees have members from outside' the
 department. ... We are applying for a PhD in [area]. It will not
 require an side member."

Univ of Texas, Austin Yes No

Texas A&M Univ Yes ND

Univ of Utah No Yes

Univ of Washington Yes No

Univ of Wisconsin, Madison Yes No
 "This ... is a relatively recent change ..."

 "This person is not required to be a reader of the dissertation,
 but must be present for the conference. Obviously, such a person
 serves a watchdog' function."

Outside North America:
Institution Required Option

Australia, Northern Territory Univ Yes No

Finland (and Scandinavia) Yes No
 "In Scandinavia, not just Finland, the PhD thesis is submitted to
 public debate under very strict rules. One of the rules is that you
 must have an opponent' who is not just outside the department,
 but outside the country! However, said opponent must be a
 recognized expert in the field (often very narrow) of the thesis.
 Similarly, all PhD theses must be submitted in draft form to at
 least two readers, one of whom should be from another
 university but also an expert in the field in question. The third
 reader is your thesis supervisor. The draft must be accepted and
 revised AND PRINTED, i.e., published', usually in a university
 series') BEFORE the PhD public debate. Anyone can attend the
 public debate and a couple I've seen have been downright

France (with a comment on Spain) Yes No
 "In France, where 95% of the universities are state universities,
 there is a LAW requiring that at least two members of the jury at
 the viva be from an outside university. The same law requires
 there to be at least 3 members but the general rule is that 4
 people sit on the committee, which means that outsiders are
 between two thirds and one half. In Spain, there is a nice rule
 which just forbids the supervisor to belong to the board of
 examiners. S/he usually sits among the public, and, being a
 doctor, s/he's entitled to say a few words after the committee
 have their own bit."

Germany, Univ Hamburg Yes No

Germany, Univ Potsdam Yes* No*
 "I've now re-read the actual Ordnung, and it doesn't actually
 specify where the Gutachter has to come from. The committees
 that I have been on so far have all involved people from outside
 the university. Since the regulations don't specify, I assume that
 the thesis director and the dandidate decide who the second
 Gutachter should be on the basis of the contents of the thesis.
 Normally (given the way things work around here) that would
 invariably require someone from outside the same university, but
 presumably not always. Since the externals never show up for
 the defense, it makes no difference from the university's
 perspective, i.e., no one is being flown from anywhere for the

Germany, Univ Stuttgart No Yes

Holland, Leiden Univ Yes No
 "PhD dissertations in Leiden (Holland generally) are publically
 defended. There is a committee of minimally 5 people, the
 majority of which has to be from outside the department, the
 majority of which has to consist of full professors. Of course, this
 committee has a different role from the committee supervising
 the students' work."

Ireland, Univ College Dublin Yes No
 "All PhDs in the Arts Faculty ... MUST be passed by an external
 examiner in addition to the college examiner(s)."

Israel Yes* No
 "Here's the Israeli procedure (same for all universities, I guess):
 There are 3 evaluators of PhD theses, one internal, two external.
 The external can be from another univ. in Israel, or abroad,
 depending on the decision of the dept PhD committee and the
 univ Graduate Office. The selection of evaluators depends on the
 topic. All evaluators must hve the rank of Senior Lecturer at
 least. All universities in Israel are associated with one another
 for that purpose. Each evaluator may require rewrites, wehther
 recommended or conditional. In the latter case, s/he gets the
 thesis again after the correction. All evaluations are received by
 the PhD committee, and in case of discrepancies, yet another
 external evaluator may be suggested."

Norway Yes No
 "At the University of Bergen, as at other Norwegian universities,
 regulations require that at least one of the members of a doctoral
 committee must come from an institution outside the university
 in question. The regulations also state that one member, if
 possible, should be from an institution outside Norway."

United Kingdom Yes No
 " Britain ... the requirement was that there be at least one
 external examiner from outside the awarding university, to
 ensure comparability of standards across universities."

 "As far as I know, all of Europe includes an academic from
 another institution on final PhD examination committees. Here
 in the UK, the external examiner is the head of the examining
 committee: if your PhD dissertation isn't good enough for the
 standards of another University, it isn't good enough: it may
 have to be revised or it can be awarded a lesser degree or it can
 fail outright. The exam, which can be rough, is private: the
 candidate, one or two internal examiners (one of whom may be
 from another department) and the external examiner are the only
 people present. In northern Europe, the exam is a public defense
 and the external examiner is an opponent', though the degree of
 peril the student is actually under seems to be a good deal less
 than in the UK.

General Commentary:

"I think it's an awfully good idea to [have external members],
particularly in departments ... in which faction generally
outpaces community. Should an unsupervised group of three ...
faculty be allowed to confer the highest academic degree on a
candidate? The idea makes me nervous, to say the least!"

"... should keep that requirement - otherwise there might be too much
'in-house' b.s."

"The idea, of course, is to maintain university level standards.
In the (dark, distant) past we had instances of programs where
one individual essentially determined who would get a degree,
what the degree requirements where (flexible--and based,
apparently, on how much the professor liked the student), whether
the dissertation was adequate."

"Supposedly, [the requirement] is to prevent your department from
screwing you over at any stage of your independent work' (i.e.,
beginning at quals and continuing through the defense). Some of
them are even knowledgeable about the subject and can actually
help you along the way."

"I DO believe in the concept of AT LEAST having the option of an
OUTSIDE reviewer-committee person to offer questions at the
defense. My reason(s) is(are) as follows: We now live in an
INTERDISCIPLINARY AGE where multiple abilities can often make one
more marketable. A dissertation which is coherent in multiple
applications can be perhaps a better -springboard- to a career."

"I do know that I'm having a hard time trying to find someone who
can read [foreign language] and would be interested in [topic]
who is not in my dept."

"I can't speak for others, but I've found the experience [of
having an outside member] entirely positive."

"Let me add as my personal opinion that I think that this kind of
requirement is extremely important. It is needed in order to
retain a high and comparatively uniform standard for doctoral
degrees across universities and countries. Dropping the
requirement will easily cast suspicion on doctoral degrees from
the university in question."

"...most people think of them as an advantage."

"When I came to the US, I must confess I was surprised at the
looser requirement of an outside member from another department
of the same university. If the requirements get any weaker, I
wonder how the outside world will judge such PhDs!"

"We view this procedure as a protection for the candidate, to
ascertain that s/he is being treated professionally by the
committee, and also for the graduate college, to make certain
that the degree that is awarded was duly earned. ... I think it
adds a lot of credibility to the degree process."

"I think what typically happens is that departments have a short
list of faculty who may know little about the area but are deemed
to be sympathetic, and these guys get recycled over and over."

"While there seems to be some attempt to pull outside readers
from somewhat-related departments, the [X] Dept. and the
candidate have no say in the choosing of the reader. They want to
keep the veneer of objectivity intact."

"I believe the outside member is intended to be a safeguard for
the student against sloppy or highly biased dept. profile. I am
glad to have been able to choose a friendly' outside member."

"[the outside membership] occasions a lot of uncertainty, and an
occasional unpleasantness. (Then again, inside members can be

"I am currently a doctoral candidate at [institution], and we do
not require outside readers, indeed they seem to be against it. I
personally would like to have someone from the outside because 1)
there is too much internal politics inside the department to find
3 people who will work together in a productive way, and 2) there
is no one in my department who knows enough about my dissertation
topic to truly help me."

"It is seen as protection for the student from departmental
politics and bias. The Grad School sees it as somewhat of a
holdover from days when students tended to take more classes
outside of their own department."

"I've been on several committees outside our department ... and
find it a very broadening intellectual and scholarly experience.
[I've often made] contributions to the student's research design
that her/his advisors hadn't thought of, from points of view they
don't [have] in their disciplines. I've made a few boners', but
[it was] intellectually broadening!" [The hard copy of this
e-mail message was partially swallowed by my printer; hence the
fill-ins. LE]

"Since our dept. is so small, students usually take at least some
courses outside the dept. Students in the [speciality] track
usually take 90 percent of their classes outside of the dept. ...
Because most hispanic [specialty] students develop close
relationships with professors in the [different] dept., (which at
this time does not grant PhD-only MA], and especially since two
professors in the [different] department are hispanic [different
specialists], many students want [specialty] profs either on
their exam committees, or as dissertation directors. So far, we
have not had a problem with out dept. allowing outside profs on
exam and diss committees, but no one has been able, thus far, to
have one as the diss director."

"If UNT as a whole is foolish enough to drop it, [the
departmental faculty] should reinstitute it at the departmental

"I'm in favor of theoutside member on committes--very often that
member can provide the influence that makes a project make better
sense. ... In an ideal world we'd be ... removing the need for
these cross-check' mechanisms, and we'd be looking to specialists
in other departments to supply needed expertise. ...
Interdisciplinary efforts were quite comon. And they remain a
good, healthy idea."

"... [graduate students] get lots to say, I wanted a [area] prof
as mine and got him, a friend wanted a prof in [area] studies and
that was approved as well. It was nice to load' the comm. with at
least one prof who I liked, I had worked with and who comes from
a [location] background wherein profs do NOT interfere with the
dissertation writing"

"Although it's always nice when the outside member can bring
substantive expertise to a student's work, one of the outside
member's responsibilities is in effect to keep a department
committee 'honest', to insure that the department members are
requiring rigorous work of its students."

"Here at [US institution], we have submitted a proposal for an
interdisciplinary PhD .... in [area] ... where the nature of the
degree would seem to preclude the classification of outside'
member--since it will be housed in the college rather than in a

"When one looks at the way PhDs are delivered in some US
universities, one can't help but thinking of a bunch of stars
signing autographs to their fans."

"The way we proceed [in Canada] makes the students more
confident, not in endoctrinating them, but in confronting them
with others; they fgeel very proud of it afterwards. I myself
defended my dissertation ... at [university] on [topic]. Up till
today, I still feel very proud of it, for my external examiner
was [professor] of the [different university], one of the most
brilliant [specialists] America has produced. I think it's worth
keeping the option of having an external member on your jury. It
gives your graduates more credibility.

"Sounds MUCH easier to get a PhD in Texas."

"For what it's worth, as a Briton I find it fairly mind-boggling
that a PhD committee should not have to include an outside
member--all British PhDs are assessed by an examiner from a
different university as well as one or two from inside."

"... students usually consider it a pain in the butt and try to
find somebody who is a [specialist], but happens to have a title
like prof of german, etc."

"Even though it's a requirement [to have an external member],
it's not clear to me that it accomplishes anything at all.
Instead, I think it's mostly a nuisance, often resulting in a
faculty member who has no interest in a topic and knows nothing
about it taking up valuable space on a committee."

"I'm shocked that your U[niversity] has decided to remove outside
members, having served as an outside member on one or two
committees where I was the one who refused to sign."

"The idea [of the European public defense] seems to be that you
cannot achieve the distinguished degree of doctor unless you have
tested an opponent in academic argument in public. However quaint
all this may seem, it makes it plain that the final stage for
academic activity is broader than the individual department. It
influences the way we supervise our students, and the way they
write up their work: if they look over their shoulders it is not
at the internal politics of their own department."
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