Help! Outside reviewer on a dissertation committee

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I am serving as the outside reviewer on a dissertation.  During the proposal defense, I raised serious concerns about the methodology. While this dissertation is not in my discipline, the methodology is commonly used in both (so it's no just a case of some cranky reviewer complaining the its not as rigorous as WE do it). 

The dissertation is completely off-base.  Chapters one and two are full of unsubstantiated claims.  It's an auto-ethnography, so I think the student thought they had license to editorialize throughout.  Maybe I'm wrong and that's acceptable in this program (Education) so I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on that.  It reads like a rambling manifesto against hegemony and injustice, is very poorly written and hard to follow. It's not of the quality that I'd be eager to sign my name to at the end.

What troubles me most is that it feels like none of my feedback from the proposal defense has been considered (even simple things like pointing out that data is plural has not been changed).

So here is the operative question, is it my role to shut up and sign in the name of collegiality with the other department, or is my role to raise my serious objections and concerns.  I'm relatively new to serving on dissertation committees (rather newly minted myself).



A third way is to get yourself taken off the committee somehow.

I'd be cautious if you're new to the job.  If you think there are serious problems, you could talk diplomatically to the dissertation adviser about them.  At our school, outside reviewers are notorious for taking their grievances about other departments, methodologies of other disciplines,  personal grudges to the defense, and that always seems pretty horrible for a student to sit through.  Inevitably, the toppling of one student by an outside examiner becomes a chance, when that adviser goes to your department, to topple one of your students.  And so the geological cracks of animosity begin that can last a career.

 Maybe you're right.  Maybe it is bad.  But keep in mind, in calling the student's work bad, you're also calling the judgement of the adviser flawed.  I'm not sure that is the battle that you want to fight as a newly-minted faculty member.

That is my exact concern. I have a friendly relationship with these faculty (it's a small school).  The fact that I often do research in this methodology is likely why I was selected for the committee.  I know that I am not playing out any petty grievances against the department, but I also can't see why anyone would advance this dissertation to a defense.

It's a bit late to back out now.

Pick up the phone. Call the chair of the committee. "Sue, I have real concerns about this dissertation and feel it needs substantial work to be acceptable. I am just not comfortable with signing my name to the this. What should we do?" See what she says. You may be offered a graceful exit.


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