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Washington State University Graduate School

Letter from the Dean – Update on Graduate School exam policies

Letter From the Dean – March 18, 2020

Dear graduate students, faculty, and graduate coordinators:

It is the Graduate School’s goal to do our best to ensure that graduate students can make satisfactory progress toward degree completion. As university, state and federal responses to the COVID-19 outbreak have evolved, so too must the Graduate School policies and procedures. Two such policy changes are described in this email.

1. Extending deadlines for degree completion.
Normally, Friday, April 24th, would be the last day to complete a final exam and defend a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation for Spring 2020 graduates. This deadline will be extended by two weeks, until Friday, May 8th, the end of finals week. If a doctoral student wishes to be hooded at the spring commencement ceremony, the deadline for defending the dissertation will remain April 24th so that degree processing can be completed before the ceremony.

The interim exam period allows a student to defend after the Spring 2020 deadline without enrolling in a subsequent semester, and the student is placed in the Summer 2020 graduating class. Normally, the interim period would be April 27th to May 15th. The interim period is being extended to Monday, May 11th to Friday, May 29th. Students completing defenses during this extended interim period will be Summer 2020 graduates, but do not need to enroll for summer credits.

The purpose of these extensions is to allow students to complete their degrees in a timely manner despite delays that may arise because of COVID-19 related events. These extensions may also allow students to take exams at a later time when the demands for social distancing are less severe so that students and faculty can meet together for the defenses (and the joyous celebration that often follows a successful defense). I admit to some optimistic, perhaps wishful, thinking on this latter point.

2. Revised policy on exam environment for master’s and doctoral final exams and doctoral preliminary exams.
As of today, the Graduate School policy that “at least one committee member must be physically present in the room with the student” or that a proctor must attend the exam is suspended until Friday, May 8th. As the COVID-19 situation develops, extension of this deadline will be evaluated.

This policy change means that these exams can be conducted exclusively remotely or online, e.g., by Zoom with everyone participating from different places, with no faculty member in the room with the defending student. This policy change does not constitute a requirement that exams be conducted entirely remotely. The student and/or some or all committee members can still meet face-to-face if desired and appropriate social distancing can be achieved.

Similarly, the policy that the exam should take place “in an academic environment” is suspended.  Students and faculty who are currently not located at a WSU campus or research site are not required to travel to a WSU site for the exam; indeed, avoiding such travel is highly recommended. As exam participants choose the location from which they will join the online exam, please be mindful of possible unintended distractions and background noise. The quality and reliability of the internet connectivity will now be an even more important consideration. The policy will always remain in effect that “If an attending faculty member eligible to vote must leave the room or the online session during the examination, the examination is to be recessed until this member returns.”

Because these policy changes are designed to promote social distancing, there is no requirement for documentation to justify conducting an entirely remote exam. However, some additional information will be required about the location of the student and committee members during the exam, and included on the exam scheduling form submitted to the Graduate School via the GRM module of myWSU. It is not sufficient to only list the connection mode (Zoom, AMS, or Microsoft Teams) on the scheduling form. Please indicate from where the individual will be joining the online meeting (e.g., on-campus office, Pullman, Moscow or city and state). This information will likely be very important for efficiently managing the logistics of balloting, ballot collection and timely completion of the cotton signature pages for master’s thesis and doctoral dissertations.

With these policy changes for conducting exams, we are venturing into unexplored territory. It is important to plan how the remote exams will be conducted before the exam begins, and this information should be shared with the student. It is important to minimize unexpected, on-the-fly process decisions that may negatively impact the integrity of the exam and the student’s chances for success. Questions to address before the exam include:

    • How will the public aspect of the final exam be achieved? If there is a seminar portion, how will other scholars (students and faculty) be informed of the venue and allowed to participate?
    • If there is a subsequent, separate examination period with questioning by committee members and approved graduate faculty, how will this be conducted?
    • How will the ballot meeting be conducted, without the student present? How will the ballots be collected by the Graduate School liaison (typically the committee chair) while maintaining confidentiality of the individual ballots?
    • How will the student be reconnected to the online meeting to hear the results of the examination?

Contacting the Graduate School.
The current plan is for the Graduate School to remain open during normal business hours. We will accept in-person delivery of essential paperwork (in particular, completed signature cotton pages for theses and dissertations). However, in the interest of social distancing, it would be helpful if questions could be directed to us by email  gradschool@wsu.edu or phone 509-335-6424.

As the dean, I will be holding office hours via Zoom at the following times: