How will faculty be held accountable for completing their part of the Student Progress Review?

Date: September 2020

Question

Hello,

A number of advisors still have not filled out the Student Progress Review (SPR) form, and some students have been waiting for responses since the spring. The deadline for students (and faculty) kept getting pushed later and later, but I believe it has finally passed. Even so, many students have been waiting for months without any clear acknowledgement from their advisors, their departments, or the Grad School regarding this issue.

This seems exceptionally unfair given that students are threatened with punitive measures if they don’t comply while advisors face no or seemingly negligible repercussions. We’ve heard rumors that advisors who haven’t filled out the SPR forms won’t be able to serve on new committees, but recruitment season seems to be going off without a hitch.

Upon expressing these concerns to my field, the response assumed the wrong fear (that advisors’ lack of filling out the form will adversely affect the students). It’s not that. The SPR process was implemented to begin with to allow for constructive feedback and tangible checkpoints. Countless students don’t have the sort of relationship with their advisors where they feel comfortable regularly asking for feedback, so the SPR form is really the only time they can know more concretely where they stand. 

I completely understand that this is a stressful time for everyone, but that makes it all the more important to have documented communication and constructive feedback for grad students. How will faculty be held accountable? We don’t want our advisors to get a slap on the wrist and move on – what we need is assurance from the Grad School that we will see their feedback.

Best,

A Concerned Grad


Response

Dear Concerned Grad,

First, let me say that I’m sorry to learn that students in your graduate field have been unable to receive timely feedback on their academic progress from their committee chair. That is a primary goal of the Student Progress Review (SPR) and something all research degree students are entitled to. The Graduate School has been in direct contact with every student and faculty member who has not yet completed a 2019-20 SPR. We understand that this has been an exceptionally hectic and challenging time for many people, faculty included, but we’ve also reinforced the message that prompt, honest feedback is integral to the mentor/mentee relationship.

For 2019-20 there were 2,840 students who were required to complete the SPR. We placed holds on 10 students for missing the extended deadline in August after sending multiple reminders. As of last week we have 66 faculty members who have not completed their 2019-20 SPRs. We are following up with their fields and Dean Knuth is contacting each to emphasize that members of the graduate faculty are obligated to complete the SPR as part of their advising duties. The Graduate School has withdrawn advising privileges in the past for faculty who refuse to complete the SPR and we’ll certainly do so again this year, if needed. Of course, there is no penalty imposed on students by the Graduate School if their advisor fails to finalize the SPR on time.

While the SPR is a useful tool for sparking conversations about goals, challenges, and progress, there are other ways that a student can proactively seek feedback. Calling a meeting of your special committee might be one of the most productive options. Not only will this allow you to share updates with your committee chair, but you can engage your minor members in the discussion and use the time to develop a roadmap for your upcoming academic or professional development goals. If there have been setbacks you can discuss strategies for overcoming them or possibilities for shifting research. Unfortunately, that has been a common theme during the COVID disruptions since March when most travel was cancelled and many research facilities were forced to shut down.

If you are unsuccessful in prompting feedback from your chair or full committee it would be wise to request a meeting with your DGS. She or he should be able to offer guidance on how to navigate the situation. Associate Dean Jan Allen in the Graduate School (jan.allen@cornell.edu) is also available to offer guidance. Thank you for raising this important topic.

Sincerely,

Jason

Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration