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Comprehensive Exam/Dissertation

Comprehensive Exam


At the beginning of the sixth term, students will register for ECL, HMS or PPS 841: Comprehensive Examination. The comprehensive essay exam focuses on the primary area of concentration and is administered in two parts: Part I is the written component and Part II is the oral component. In the comprehensive essay exam, students will be responsible for demonstrating knowledge in the primary area of concentration, an ability to integrate their learning; and knowledge in the foundations of the program (the creative process, ethics & social justice, and engaging difference). Students must successfully pass Part I and II to receive a passing grade for the comprehensive exam.


The exam is intended to test students’ knowledge in their primary area of concentration, as well as the foundations. Students are expected to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge: facility with a wide range of texts and the ability to draw on main ideas of important thinkers and writers in their fields of study, linking them together in interesting and relevant ways to other scholars working in the field. In addition, students are expected to demonstrate depth of knowledge: the ability to engage, critically and substantively, with texts that both respect and interrogate the students’ claims, positions, and arguments. Finally, students are expected to demonstrate advanced academic skills, including (but not limited to) the ability to develop and sustain a line of argument that is coherent and supported with viable, text-based evidence, while writing clear scholarly prose.

Reading lists

Each area of concentration has developed its own reading list. Each reading list is unique and draws from disciplinary conventions and expectations as well as from courses developed for the program. While grounded in these shared similarities, each list will have distinctive features and divisions that may result in different types of questions and different requirements for students who are working with different lists. The Comprehensive Examination comprises reading drawn from coursework students have undertaken at Union Institute & University. However, not all texts studied in every course will be on the reading lists and lists may include texts that may not have been covered in students’ coursework. While students’ coursework should provide them with a good basis from which to begin studying for the Comprehensive Examination, students should also be attentive to those texts on the list that they may not have already studied in order to ensure both breadth and depth of coverage of their field(s). The Comprehensive Examination will be evaluated on a Pass/Fail basis by three faculty members. If students fail to successfully complete the Comprehensive Examination during Term 6 and are, therefore, unable to move on to their dissertation research and writing, the faculty evaluates the work as “I” incomplete and students must register for Comprehensive Exam Course Extension (CEX799) during the subsequent term.

The Dissertation

Dissertation Committee

The Dissertation Committee is the formal decision-making body whose purpose is to guide the student’s dissertation and progress towards degree completion. The student should be actively searching for Dissertation Committee members in Term 3 and have the committee approved by the beginning of Term 4. The Dissertation Committee is composed of three faculty members, one of whom serves as the Chair. Outside of the Chair, it is permissible to have committee members from other universities. The Dissertation Committee is nominated by the student. For more information about dissertation committee formation, please see the student Handbook.

Dissertation Guidelines and Format

The Dissertation integrates and adds to the learning the students have accomplished in other phases of the program. It addresses the appropriate intellectual, cultural, and/or artistic traditions of the field and signifies grounding in the theoretical and critical scholarship in this field. It allows students to exercise originality and creativity so the work provides new knowledge and approaches to the larger scholarly community. Union Institute & University accepts a dissertation in several forms, including a traditional dissertation, a creative/artistic project, or a social action project. For more information about each of the formats the dissertation can take, please see the student Handbook.

Dissertation Proposal and Defense

The Dissertation Proposal Meeting and Dissertation Defense Meetings are conducted by using a web conferencing tool that provides a way to hold real-time meetings and recorded sessions in an online environment. The purpose of the Dissertation Proposal Meeting is to bring the Dissertation Committee together to evaluate the student's dissertation proposal. It is a working meeting so that the student can benefit from the committee's collective wisdom as the student prepares to request Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. When the Dissertation Committee is satisfied with the student's dissertation and has no or only minor changes to recommend, the student may schedule the Dissertation Defense Meeting. At the Dissertation Defense Meeting, the committee approves or disapproves of the student's dissertation. The Dissertation Committee must be satisfied that the student has fulfilled the dissertation requirements and met all Cohort Ph.D. criteria for the doctoral degree.

Public Presentation of the Dissertation

Once the student successfully defends the dissertation proposal and it is approved by the Dissertation Committee, the student is required to publicly present a central idea, aspect, or argument related to the dissertation during the academic residency in Term 6. The public presentation is a requirement of RMTH 900: Dissertation.

If students registered for RMTH 900: Dissertation in Term 6 do not complete the research and writing of the dissertation by the end of Term 6, they must register for either PCX 799 Program Completion Extension or DIS 780: Dissertation Supervision. Program Completion Extension receives 0 credits and is not eligible for financial aid. Dissertation Supervision receives 0 credits and is eligible for financial aid. The decision about whether the student should register for PCX 799 or DIS 780 is made by the dissertation committee.