By Ioana Murgoci
Photo: Emma Kappeyne
— The Capstone is the final, most considerable, and demanding assignment for students at AUC. Despite its high workload and its importance in the curriculum, final drafts that are not graded by a supervisor within 10 working days are not considered by the Distinction Committee, and cannot be awarded a thesis of distinction.
A total of 12 course credits, the rationale behind the Capstone is that the student has the opportunity to explore a chosen question while using all the knowledge and skills they have accumulated in their two and a half years at AUC. Even so, struggles concerning the organisation of the Capstone process have been a long standing problem, with more than 10 graduates in 2017 receiving late grades for their work — disqualifying them from an award.
Wade Geary, AUC’s Capstone coordinator since 2019, is the current contact person for any questions related to the process. Geary is ultimately responsible for the behind-the-scenes organisation of the Capstone. One of these tasks is organising the procedure for selecting Capstones that merit a distinction award, which occurs during the June intensive period. By the time all the Capstones are submitted, the Capstone coordinator puts together 9 to 10 members from the AUC teaching body to form the Distinction Committee.
Geary explains that the issue comes from the fact that the Capstone is considered an assignment by the committee and falls under similar rules. As stated in the Academic Standards and Procedures (AS&P) under 3.2: “Assignments will be returned to students by the lecturers within 10 working days.”
Similarly, on the procedure for selecting distinguished theses, the Capstone Guidelines state that theses are only eligible if they’re sent within “10 working days after the final deadline.”. Following this procedure, Capstone administrators process the papers that are eligible for a distinction, after which the Distinction Committee meets for the first time to divide the papers based on their topic and assign them to committee members with the most expertise in their identified fields.
Lou van Roozendaal, AUC alumni, says: “I received my capstone grade back after 16 working days, however, I would not have been considered for a distinction since I assume my grade was not part of the top 15%.”
Geary acknowledges the complexity of the supervisor’s responsibility and says “It is fair to say that it can be difficult to have it done in 10 working days.” He explains that “this is mandated because it is a rule for all the courses and the Capstone to be considered a course.” As a result, there is a clash between the teachers who are pressured to deliver a grade within 10 days and the students who expect to have the opportunity to have their capstones taken into account by the Distinction Committee.
Professor Stacey Vorster, an ARW lecturer says she is very familiar with the issues related to “how institutions are being held accountable for the hours allocated for projects such as Capstone supervising.” She frames the issue along the lines of capitalism and says that “students should resist this system as they become young academics.” She adds “To supervise a capstone is actually quite limited. A capstone grading process is going to take at least 3 hours if I want to do it well.”
Geary advises that “teachers need to think about this in advance when structuring their semester” adding “most supervisors manage to get back their grades within the 10 working days.”
The pressure is substantial on both students and supervisors. Vorster says “When I was much younger, I really thought that the only thing I could do was to work harder than everyone else and I will succeed. But this mind-set comes at the expense of social life, mental health, and other important aspects of our lives.”
Late Capstone grades have been a continuous problem for more than three years, yet there is no foreseeable change to the Capstone selection process as it continues to fall under the same course standards of the AS&P.