What are my rights here in this situation involving my university?
February 28, 2013 11:13 AM Subscribe
My university has seriously misrepresented its ability to grant a particular degree on its website, due to which I am in a lot of hot water. What are my rights and options in this situation?
posted by anonymous to Education (7 answers total)
This is a long story but please read it. I really need your help!
I am a graduate student in an Ivy-League, top-20 US university. In the Fall of 2007 I enrolled in this university in a particular PhD program in x field. Four years later, things were not going so well. I took my A exam in the summer of my 4th year, but achieved only a conditional pass, which required another committee meeting to convert into a full pass, and the possibility of leaving with an MS degree started to become more attractive. I looked at the Graduate School website to see if there was a possibility of leaving with an MS degree, which only said that this decision depended on the individual field. I then looked at the field website, which said clearly, in black and white, that students who had not passed the A exam may be awarded a Masters degree and that if they had passed the A exam, they may be awarded a special Masters degree. Keeping this in mind, I went ahead my PhD program, thinking that worst case scenario I could always leave with a Masters. In the Fall of 2012 I scheduled my committee meeting. At the end of the meeting, my advisors informed me that they would pass me, but only at the Masters level and that they wished me to leave with a Masters degree. I was initially shocked, but soon got over it. The relief of not having this everlasting committee meeting hanging over me was great and I was determined to leave with a Masters degree in May of 2013. I did not wish to graduate immediately, due to commitments I had already made to a TAship position and to give me more time to find my feet. My advisor said that he would work things out with the graduate school so that I could graduate in May. In a week or so I was informed by my advisor as well as the administrator who handles my field, via email, that they had consulted the Graduate School and that everything was all set for my graduation in May 2013 and that I just needed to fill out a form and submit it to the Graduate School. I submitted this form and it was accepted by the Graduate School.
The next semester I returned to school and I found that both my advisor and the field administrator were being rather secretive about the procedure I needed to follow to graduate in May. Finally I told my advisor that I really needed to talk and figure out the situation. He informed me that he had suddenly been informed in an email from the Director of Graduate Studies of my field that the field had not actually registered the Masters degree and thus would be unable to grant me the Masters. I pointed my advisor to the passage on the website which clearly states that such degrees could be granted (which he had not seen!). He was shocked and said that he would bring it up with the Graduate School and the DGS and get them to set things right.
After not hearing anything about the situation for a week or so I decided to take matters into my own hands and scheduled an appointment with one of the deans on Wednesday last week. From the meeting I found that the field had indeed omitted to register the degree with NY State (before which it needs to go through an internal process as well). The field adminstrators, DGS and the Graduate School had all been looking at the erroneous field website when they informed me that I could leave with a Masters degree in that field. She told me that going through this process would take a year or so (though that does not seem to be the case from the NY State website). She told me that they could look into granting me a degree in my advisor's field y or giving me a leave of absence and granting me the degree after a year's time. She promised to figure out my options and get back to me as soon as possible. I sent a followup email, saying that I would prefer to be awarded a degree in z field, which is closely aligned to mine, and which three of my four committee members also are members of, because that would enable to me to leave with an MS instead of MA degree. Since then I have hardly heard from them. I wrote on Tuesday only to get a boilerplate email asking me to have patience and that they are working out the options. Today I called again, and was told that they are still waiting to hear back from all the parties involved. I enquired about the possibility of z field and was told that they couldn't involve z field people themselves and that I should think about approaching them myself after consulting my advisor. She said that she could not unilaterally make a decision for any field and that I might have to complete field requirements (including passing an A exam in that field!) if required. I said that I thought since the university made the huge mistake, it was up to the university to figure out a resolution that was satisfactory to me. I had fulfilled requirements in my field under the impression that this degree could be granted to me, and to be told suddenly that such a degree does not exist leaves me in a very frustrating situation. Further, I need to figure out what degree I will be getting in order to get a job(!) and also because I am an international student, I need to apply for OPT some 3 months before I graduate in order to be able to work this summer and stay in the country.
I guess what I want to figure out is what are my rights and options in this situation? I know you are not my lawyer. Surely it can't be right that a university can promise one thing on its website and then throw up their hands and say, oops, sorry we made a mistake? And if such a mistake does happen surely it is up to them to figure out a satisfactory resolution without making me go hat in hand to the DGSs of various fields, asking if I can transfer to that field to get a degree?
What are my legal options as well? I am trying to find a lawyer who represents students in such cases and it is very difficult as most higher education attorneys seem to represent colleges and universities. The one firm I found in town has a conflict of interest because they represent the university concerned in some cases.
This post was deleted for the following reason: poster's request -- jessamyn