Supervising dissertations without credit


Shall remain nameless:
Over the last decade, a number of students have asked me to
suggest readings for their dissertations, read or edit their work, and
mentor them. Usually, they ask if I will be their supervisor, or be on their committee, but since I am not at their university, they are told, it is impossible.  

I have asked for the status of outside reader, or if another faculty member could sign in my place, just so long as my role in this process is recognized, but the answer is consistently no.  

Other colleagues do, however, serve as committee members of students from afar. And, I brought in an outside faculty member to my own committee years ago, having another faculty member sign for her on
the final documentation.  

Recently, this came up again. The student's topic is so special and closely related to my work, and the available faculty members know so little about the topic (can't even read the proper languagues), that I tried to insist a bit more strongly that I be included, even if only as an outside reader because it is exploitative, I think, to do this work without any attribution.  

What do others think?

There usually is a way to appoint you as an unpaid adjunct. In my university, I have chaired dissertations and theses where there is an outside-of-university committee member. We have to file special paperwork to approve them, and they sign an agreement that notes that we aren't paying them a salary for the work (which really isn't fair -- I just try to do my fair share of outside work). Perhaps the committee chair doesn't know how to do this, or does not want to bother with the paperwork.

As far as I know, someone who is a faculty member at another school is often permitted to be an outside reader, but not always. Usually, outside readers are at the same school, but in a different department. Are you currently holding a full-time teaching or research appointment? If not, that may be a deal-breaker, otherwise it shouldn't be such a problem (maybe at one school, but not at all of them). For example, a woman in our field who holds a doctorate and who is the curator of a department at our city science museum is often on graduate-student committees in our academic department. She isn't a professor, nor is she at the university per se, but holds a full-time appointment. If she wasn't at the museum, but independent, I don't think that our rules would allow her to be on a committee. It wouldn't make any difference to the department, but the graduate school has arcane rules governing such things.

Shall remain nameless:
Thanks for sharing your experiences.  

Dora, it could well be that this particular program director does not know how to file the appropriate paperwork. But I will pass on the unpaid adjunct idea.

Tippi, I do have a full-time teaching appointment, and my university and the students are in the same statewide public system, under the same board of regents.  

I would not mind so much, except that this has happened quite a number of times, and like Dora, I've served on committees where there were outside members, so I know that it can be done.

Shall Remain, that is truly odd! At least you know that much now. We have what we call "adjunct appointments" in our department, too -- these are not A.B.D. teachers or part-timer Ph.D.'s. They don't teach at all. They are people who are professors at various ranks in other departments and in other places (like the museum) whom we consider to be affiliated. They might be people that supervise student practicums or internships, even. They are as Dora says, unpaid, and purely for administrative purposes. Try that route.

You may want to talk to someone in your personnel/human-resources area, anonymously, and see if there is an actual "reason" why there's a problem, and if there isn't, present the relevant people with a copy of the rules (it will be written in their degree requirements somewhere, probably buried). One other thought -- sometimes people in certain "traditions" in a discipline don't much like those in other related fields. For example, sociologists and anthropologists often don't approve of each other's methods for studying the same thing (not always, but sometimes). Or similarly, classical archaeologists and anthropological archaeologists, or historians and political scientists.

Is it possible that a chairman or other person just doesn't want a competiive "such-and-such" on their departmental committees?  I can sort of see this if I think of some well-known curmudgeons that I know at my university.


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