The Capstone Deadlines Controversy: Students Jeopardized, No Sanctions for Teachers

By Laura Galante

— On Thursday, June 29th, the Capstone Distinction seminar was held in AUC’s common room. Every year, a few students present their end-of-year theses, which are judged by the Capstone Committee based on certain parameters, such as intellectual contribution, originality, research effort, and broader impact. In the 2017 edition of the Capstone seminar, the students who received distinction or highest distinction included 15 students out of 253 across all three majors. However, whether all of them were considered for this award is debatable, as some students still had not received their grades at the time of the seminar.

Capstone Committee Chairman Maurits de Klepper said that between 10 and 15 students did not receive their grade or received only part of the grade from their supervisors before the official deadline for teachers. According to the Capstone guidelines, grades officially have to be handed in within ten working days of the deadline, which this year was May 31st. In addition, some students who have received the 87% grade required to be considered for distinction may not have been reviewed. “When we make considerations we also take partial grades into account,” De Klepper said. “If we don’t have all the grades, then those theses are out.”

Students missing the hard deadline for thesis delivery results in an automatic F. Usually, if a student wants their grade to be reconsidered, an appeal to the Board of Examiners is the only option, with the potential to get no higher than a C. For teachers, however, sanctions are not so strict when it comes to handing in grades late.

“I was kind of sad that my capstone was not even considered for distinction,” said an anonymous third-year social science student who had not obtained her grade until a few weeks after the deadline. “At first I was upset that I hadn’t received anything yet, but now it’s been so long that I don’t even care anymore.”

It may also be that discrepancies occur between the supervisor’s grade and the second reader, in which case the thesis becomes reconsidered by the Board of Examiners and later subjected to a third reader. This process can take more time than the original ten days allocated for the final grade. According to de Klepper, this decision has to be made one week before the date of the Capstone Seminar if distinction is to be allocated. Oftentimes, however, it takes longer than that. “I didn’t get any updates, I waited, then emailed my supervisor,” says Lieke Beunders, a graduating student who encountered this problem. After her supervisor did not provide updates, she emailed the capstone team herself after waiting an additional week. “[I asked] them whether there was a grade discrepancy and they [said] it will be as soon as possible.” The grades eventually came in the weekend, short of a distinction for the new parameter, which was moved from 82.5% of the past few years, to at least 87%.

However, grade delays are unavoidable. “We actively contact [the supervisors] for the missing grades,” de Klepper said. “We try to put pressure on the professors. If we have two grades missing then we have real problem cases. It’s really unfair to students.”

Another graduate student, Josie Miller, who also did not receive her grade until the end of the month, asserts her dissatisfaction about the uneven deadline sanctions. “More than anything I was angry about how strongly the AUC professors hold us to our deadlines, and then when they had one of their own some of us didn’t even get an explanation,” said Miller. She was discouraged at having been put under the stressful situation of constantly expecting a grade two weeks after the deadline.

When asked about the grade delays, Capstone supervisor, Melanie Eijberts, said that it is not necessarily the teachers’ fault; “Grading within the assigned ten days can be challenging as the deadline is geared towards what is considered reasonable and convenient Capstone completion, but not necessarily with instructors’ schedules in mind,” she said. “In my case, the preparation, coordinating, teaching, and the structural issues surrounding the June course tend to get in the way, and then if you are unlucky, you also have some tutoring emergencies regarding failing students.” Eijberts said this is also one of the reasons she does not want to teach in June, due to the inability to give enough attention to both the courses and to the students who worked particularly hard to deliver their thesis on time.

As Capstone Committee coordinator at AUC for the past three years, de Klepper has seen grade delays happen a lot in the past. “Faculty members…have other priorities. Other tasks. For some, it’s because they teach in June. But then you could argue that those teachers shouldn’t supervise.” Prior to this position, he was a lecturer at the Vrij Universiteit (VU). “At the VU they would fine the department if the teachers were late. I think sanctions have to be brought up. If students hand in their capstones on time, the deadline is inflexible, but there is no such system for teachers.”

Currently, Capstone guidelines are being revised to reflect this issue, and it will only be clear as of the next academic year whether these discrepancies will be addressed.

 

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