Graduate Course Completion, Exams and Defences: Further Information from FGS

This document clarifies the graduate program implications of decisions announced by the University, particularly Updates #14, #15, and #17 under the Community Communications tab on the York University Coronavirus Information and Update site: .

The University and FGS continue to operate virtually.
York University is

Comprehensive/Qualifying Examinations
FGS is not aware of any graduate courses with examinations scheduled in the formal course examination period with room allocations; however, in-person formats of graduate program comprehensive/qualifying examinations can no longer be administered until further notice. Programs need to create electronically mediated options (e.g., take home, online via Zoom, blended format). Teaching Commons resources may be helpful in imagining possibilities as well as what is feasible with Moodle and Zoom for written and oral components, where applicable. https://teachingcommons.yorku.ca/course-continuity/
Programs may offer to students the option to defer the in-person examination sitting until such time as the in-person cancellation ends; however, at this time there is no possibility of suggesting when that might be.

We appreciate that these decisions can involve Executive Committee decisions and/or membership agreement right when everyone’s focus is on course completion plans; however, students will need clarity about comps/qualifying examination formats for their own decision-making.

Please convey through your GPD, who will forward it to fgsdean@yorku.ca, how your Program will adapt your comprehensive or qualifying examinations to non-in-person formats as soon as possible, so that FGS can support your decisions, be able to identify where the strong challenges may be, and facilitate future queries.

Course Completion Plans
Community Update #15 COVID-19 provides relevant information for determining your course completion plans: https://returntocampus.blog.yorku.ca/2020/03/community-update-15-covid-19-course-completion-information/

  • … assume that students will need to be able to complete all course requirements without further in-person instruction or evaluation.
  • Senate Executive has NOT reduced or extended the term.
  • Senate Executive has confirmed that instructors have flexibility to change the number, type, and weight of assignments as required …

The ideal completion plan for all courses would be 100% of material covered; however, we encourage faculty members to be flexible in the ways that they complete their courses. The flexibility described by Senate Executive applies to graduate courses and may be helpful in some circumstances. Elaboration of this flexibility includes the following:

  • Where a course director has graded assignments that amount to 70% or more of the final grade in a course, the instructor may give individual students the option of receiving a final grade that is based on a re-weighting of assignments already completed, provided the instructor is satisfied that the learning objectives of the course have been achieved and that fairness to students and academic integrity are preserved
    https://returntocampus.blog.yorku.ca/2020/03/community-update-15-covid-19-course-completion-information (emphasis added).

This option is part of course instructors’ flexibility and is not one for graduate students to choose. Course instructors know best the relation between learning in the graduate course and the assignments designed to assess and evaluate that learning.

Important caveat:

Finally, Community Update #15 COVID-19 - Course Completion Information contains the following language:
Flexibility for Students
Please be aware of the following accommodations approved by Senate Executive:

  • an extension of the deadline to Withdraw from a Course Without Receiving a Grade for F/W 2019-2020 and W 2020 courses to 9 May 2020; and
  • an extension of the deadline for students to opt in or out of the Pass/Fail grading option is extended to the last day of the final examination period to 9 May 2020.

The Faculty of Graduate Studies provides a different, individualised process, including

  • a course extension, with deadlines to be agreed upon by a student and the professor within FGS guidelines and approved by the GPD (https://gradstudies.yorku.ca/files/2014/08/course-transaction.pdf?x69816); and
  • a petition (https://gradstudies.yorku.ca/files/2014/06/academic-petition.pdf?x69816). The multi-purpose petition form specifies various program registration options, including an “other” category, with which students can explain the nature of their request, including withdrawing from a course without receiving a grade on the transcript. A short personal statement providing the rationale for the request is required to be submitted. Students must consider carefully the academic implications of petitioning to drop courses, given that we cannot yet provide clarity as to how course offerings in the summer term will be affected the present, on-going, and rapidly changing circumstances.

Both forms are submitted first to the Graduate Program Office for GPD recommendation. The Program Office forwards the forms to FGS. The forms are fillable PDFs and can be submitted electronically with either ink or digital signature, or an email confirmation as “signature.”

Some graduate programs grade normally with a pass/fail option, but this is not normally a blanket option for all graduate programs. Information about “Graduate Courses and Grading” can be found at https://gradstudies.yorku.ca/current-students/regulations/courses-grading/

We encourage all instructors to be in touch with their students as soon as possible regarding course plans. Please submit these plans to your Graduate Program Director, who will compile them into a program response to be sent to fgsdean@yorku.ca and your anchor Faculty AD Grad by Wednesday 18 March 2020, so that we can support your decisions best and be able to identify where the strong challenges may be. All Faculties need to assess the information and coordinate plans by Friday 20 March 2020.

Thomas Loebel, PhD
Dean & Associate Vice-President
Faculty of Graduate Studies,
York University