Do We Have a Policy for That?

By Jan Allen, CGS Visiting Scholar

Across all the roles and responsibilities of graduate school leadership, a common experience is encountering a case that is not exactly like anything we have encountered before. As a colleague often says, “When you have seen one student case, you have seen one student case.” 

The first question you might ask yourself before addressing the next unique student problem or question is: “Do we have a policy for that?” Managing routine or challenging cases is easier if a policy exists to guide your response and any consequence for policy violation. Effective policy is written, clear, and accessible to both graduate faculty and students. Transparent policies also help us do at least two other things: 1) eliminate (some of) the need for answering questions about the topic, and 2) being as fair and equitable as possible when enforcing requirements, expected outcomes, and consequences. 

Consider these two contrasting examples: A graduate faculty member calls you to request approval to allow an 8th year humanities doctoral student who is making solid progress to remain enrolled and funded for one final year. The faculty member asks, “Can you make an exception for my student? And please don’t tell anyone that I asked.” 

Now consider that same request at a graduate school with a policy for graduate students requesting an exception to time-to-degree and funding expectation: You have a petition form that is completed by the student requesting an exception to a requirement (e.g., that students complete their doctoral degree within seven years of first registration). The form requires the signature of the advisor, committee members, and the Director of Graduate Studies. It documents the request, its justification, and that all relevant parties approve the request. It also provides a record of the conditions under which the graduate school approved the request, or the reason for declining it. Links to examples from Cornell University, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, the University of Florida, and the University of Illinois, are below. 

Petitions : Graduate School ( 

Academic Petitions | The Graduate School | UNC Charlotte 

Petition Guidelines – Graduate School | University of Florida ( 

Graduate College Petition Process | The Graduate College at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

Is there a policy in your graduate school that has made an impact on efficiency or equity or communication with your graduate programs? I’d love to hear about it!