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5. Academic Guidelines

5.1 Guidelines for Satisfactory Progress

The Department’s goal is to provide an environment in which our graduate students can thrive, and to support students in making satisfactory progress to degree according to the following guidelines:

Annual Plan

  1. All students at every stage of the doctoral program are required to schedule a mentoring conversation at the start of each academic year with a faculty member they have identified as key to their progress. (The chosen faculty member may change from year to year). The student will discuss with the faculty member their goals for the coming year, and identify areas to prioritize for professional development. 
  2. After this mentoring conversation, the student will complete the written form for the Annual Plan, for submission no later than Friday after Fall Study Break. A copy of the Annual Plan is sent to the faculty member and to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), and it is added to the student’s file. 
  3. Any student who fails to complete the Annual Plan will be contacted by the DGS for a mentoring conversation. 

Pre-Candidacy Progress Reports

  1. In addition to submitting grades, faculty members who teach a student in the first or second year of our graduate program are asked to submit a progress report on the student’s academic performance to the Comparative Literature office for inclusion in the student’s file. The student does not automatically have direct access to these reports but may request a brief written summary from the DGS. 
  2. The DGS will review transcripts and pre-candidacy progress reports at the end of each semester and will contact students who fail to receive a minimally acceptable grade-point average of B. 
  3. The Third Term Review Committee will review all pre-candidacy progress reports along with transcripts from the first year. In the case of a negative review, the student will be notified by the DGS (see Procedures below).

Incomplete grades

  1. Students in their first and second year may accrue no more than one Incomplete grade during the academic year. 
  2. Students who anticipate having to take an Incomplete should speak with the faculty member teaching the course and the DGS before the end of the semester, to consider possible alternatives. 
  3. Students who receive an Incomplete must confirm with the faculty member teaching the course a clear plan and deadline for completion of the coursework, and the Incomplete must be completed during the following spring/summer term 
  4. Any student failing to complete an Incomplete by the beginning of the following academic year will be notified by the DGS (see Procedures below)


  1. A Third Term Review will take place in the fall of the second year between the student and a faculty committee chaired by the DGS, followed by a written summary reporting on academic progress. 
  2. The Preliminary Exam must be taken no later than the beginning of September in the third year of study. 
  3. The Topics Paper must be completed by the end of the Winter term of the student's third year of graduate studies. 
  4. The Prospectus should be submitted quickly upon successful completion of the Topics Paper, preferably in the first term of year four and absolutely within one year of the Topics Paper. 
  5. Circumstances may arise that cause students to fall one semester behind in completing any of these milestones. Students in these situations should consult with and gain approval from their academic committee chair, who should communicate that approval to the DGS. 
  6. Any student falling more than one semester behind in completing these milestones (e.g. a student who by the end of the Winter term of the third year has still not taken a Preliminary examination; a student who by the end of the Fall term of the fourth year has not yet completed the Topics Paper; a student who by the end of the Fall term of the fifth year has not yet submitted the Prospectus) will be notified by the DGS (see Procedures below).

Post-Candidacy Progress Reports

  1. For students in their fourth year and beyond, an annual Post-Candidacy Progress Report must be submitted by the student and by the academic committee chair no later than March 15 of each year. 
  2. Annual Progress Reports will be reviewed by the DGS and the Department Chair to determine satisfactory progress. 
  3. Any student failing to demonstrate satisfactory progress will be notified by the DGS (see Procedures below).


  1. Any student failing to demonstrate satisfactory progress as defined above will be notified by the DGS, who will convene a preliminary meeting with the student and one other faculty member designated by the DGS, usually the student's academic committee chair, or another faculty member who has been involved in the student’s academic progress. 
  2. If the DGS serves as the academic chair of the student’s committee, the Department Chair will designate another faculty member to assume the role of DGS for the purpose of these procedures. If the Department Chair serves as the academic chair of the student’s committee, the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) will assume the role of Department Chair for the purpose of these procedures. 
  3. The goal of the preliminary meeting is to discuss what caused the failure to progress, and to discuss possible remedies. 
  4. If after this meeting, either the faculty member or the DGS suggests that a student ought to be placed on academic probation, the decision to do so or not shall be made by a committee to include the Department Chair, the DGS, and the student’s committee chair or co-chairs. 
  5. If a student is placed on academic probation, the DGS will inform Rackham’s Office of Academic Records and Dissertations (OARD); the DGS will also communicate the decision to the student in writing and specify the conditions under which academic probation will be lifted, including a deadline. 
  6. The probationary period will last a minimum of two months and will usually conclude at the end of the term. Should the probationary period begin within two months of the end of the term, the period will extend to the end of the following term. Spring/Summer shall count as a single term for these purposes. 
  7. Failure to pass a milestone exam or serious academic misconduct (as defined by Rackham’s Academic and Professional Integrity Policy) shall automatically trigger academic probation. 
  8. All students have the right to appeal the decision placing them on academic probation to the Graduate Committee (chaired by the DGS as a non-voting member). The Graduate Committee will consult with the student’s committee chair or co-chairs to review the decision, and vote on academic probation by a simple majority. 
  9. During the probationary period, students will receive the same level of departmental funding as they would have received had they not been on probation during the Fall and Winter term. 
  10. A student who has been placed on probation may request a leave of absence from the Rackham School of Graduate Studies. If the leave is approved, the probationary clock stops for the duration of the leave. 
  11. At the end of the probationary period, one of three decisions will be made: a) academic probation will be lifted; b) academic probation will be extended; c) the students will be declared to be no longer in good academic standing and will be dismissed from the program. The decision will be made by a committee to include the Department Chair, the DGS, and the student’s committee chair or co-chairs. The DGS will inform Rackham OARD whether probation has been lifted or extended, or whether the student has been dismissed from the program. 
  12. Students have the right to appeal their dismissal to the Graduate Committee (chaired by the DGS as a non-voting member). The Graduate committee will consult with the student’s committee chair or co-chairs, and meet in person or by electronic means within two weeks from receipt of the appeal. The Graduate Committee may decide to uphold dismissal with a two-third majority of the vote. Should the Graduate Committee grant the appeal, the probationary period is automatically extended by one additional term. 
  13. As always, it is the responsibility of the student to communicate with the DGS, their academic committee chair(s), and the Department Chair, to inform them of any circumstances, personal or otherwise, that may prevent the student from making satisfactory progress towards their degree.

5.2 Petitions, appeals, and academic grievances

Petitions. Requests for exceptions to any departmental requirements may be made only with a written petition to the DGS and the Department Chair, who will refer the petition to the Graduate Committee for discussion and a decision. Since petitions for exceptions are by their nature addressed on a case-by-case basis, the student should first schedule an individual meeting with the DGS to assess the need for and feasibility of the exception and what kind of documentation the student should provide in order to make a convincing case to the Graduate Committee. Bear in mind that in most instances exceptions to departmental requirements are—again, by their nature—granted only in exceptional circumstances. Request for exceptions to any Rackham requirements must be granted by the Rackham School of Graduate Studies; no unit within LSA has the authority to override Rackham policy.

Appeals. A student who wishes to appeal a decision made by the Graduate Committee should consult first with the DGS and/or the Department Chair, to discuss the grounds for appeal. A student may appeal on the grounds that (1) procedure was violated; or (2) significant new information has not yet been taken into consideration; or (3) the decision is discriminatory or manifestly unfair. An appeal grounded in at least one of these criteria must be submitted in writing by the student to the Department Advisory Committee (DAC), within two weeks of the Graduate Committee’s decision. If the DAC determines the appeal provides insufficient grounds, the decision will stand with no further appeal. If the DAC determines the decision warrants reconsideration, the DAC will confer with the Graduate Committee as needed and make a final decision. The Department Chair will communicate to the student the result of the appeal, within one month of its submission to the DAC. 

Academic Grievances. We encourage graduate students to seek resolution of conflicts related to grades or academic performance first within the department, in consultation with the DGS. Our departmental policy for grade grievances can be found HERE. Beyond the department, Rackham’s Academic Dispute Resolution Policy and Procedures are available to Rackham students who have a dispute or disagreement with faculty or staff about the equity and fairness of decisions or procedures that affect their academic standing, the conduct of their research, and progress toward degree.

5.3 Student concerns and conflict resolution

Diversity, equity, and inclusion. The University of Michigan supports its educational mission by fostering a community based on civility, dignity, diversity, inclusivity, education, freedom, honesty, and safety. Questions or concerns about diversity, equity, and inclusion within the department can be communicated to the DEI Committee in Comparative Literature, either to the faculty member(s) chairing the committee or via the graduate students serving on that committee. Upon written request, the DEI Committee will provide recommendations for next steps in addressing a concern. Beyond the department, students can go for confidential consultation to the Rackham Resolution Officer, or to the Office of Conflict Resolution (OSCR), or to the Office of the Ombuds.    

Rackham Resolution Officer. The Rackham Resolution Officer (currently Darlene Ray-Johnson) provides information about Rackham Graduate School and University policies and procedures, makes referrals, and offers resources when appropriate. She also provides a safe and confidential environment to discuss a wide range of academic and personal concerns, and advises students on matters related to emergencies, crisis situations, disputes, and student conduct violations. Graduate students can email or call  (734) 764-4400 to make an appointment with Darlene Ray-Johnson at Rackham (Room 1100). 

Student Conflict Resolution. The Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR) offers a spectrum of conflict resolution pathways that are educationally focused, student-driven, community owned, and restorative in nature, which are adaptable to meet the needs of individuals experiencing conflict. OSCR is located in the Student Activities Building (Suite 100). 

Office of the Ombuds. The University Ombuds office is a safe place where student questions, complaints, and concerns about the functioning of the University can be discussed confidentially. Rather than being an advocate for either side in a dispute, the Office of the Ombuds serves as an impartial advocate for fair and consistent treatment. Through informal dispute resolution services, resources, referrals, and discussion of available options, the work of the Ombuds office may supplement conflict resolution processes within the department. Students can call (734) 763-3545 or go to the Ombuds Office at 6015 Fleming Building.

Sexual & Gender Based Misconduct & Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence. The University is committed to providing a safe and non-discriminatory learning, living and working environment for all members of the university community, and does not discriminate on the basis of sex or gender in any of its education or employment programs or activities. The University has established Policy & Procedures on Student Sexual & Gender Based Misconduct & Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence. Persons connected with the University who believe they have experienced discrimination, harassment, or retaliation may bring their concerns directly to the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE). Please note, there is a distinction between making a report to OIE and seeking confidential assistance through confidential resources. Staff and faculty in administrative roles (in the Department of Comparative Literature, this includes the Chief Administrator, Department Chair, Director of Graduate Studies, and Director of Undergraduate Studies) are designated “responsible employees” and therefore required to report concerns about possible misconduct to OIE. Resources available to students for confidential consultation (without reporting to OIE) include the Rackham Resolution Officer, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC), Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and the University Ombuds.

5.4 Statement on Academic Integrity

Rackham documents its policies on academic standards and integrity in its Dissertation Handbook and in Rackham Graduate School Academic Policies (see section 8 for Rackham Academic and Professional Integrity Policy). Among rules that need particular emphasis is the one concerning multiple submission of term papers. Rackham states: “It is improper to submit the work one has done for one class or project to a second class or as a second project without first getting the informed permission of the second instructor.  Acceptance of one piece of work that is submitted for two classes must be arranged beforehand.”  The Department of Comparative Literature requires that a student obtain written permission of both instructors before submitting one paper in two courses and notify the DGS of same. It is expected that work submitted for credit in more than one course will be substantially expanded and developed in a manner consistent with dual credit. The new requirements for the combined assignment must be specified and approved in writing by both instructors.

5.5 Rackham Policies on Continuous Enrollment and Leave of Absence

Events may occur that make it necessary for a student pursuing a PhD program to interrupt his or her progress toward a degree.  Since Rackham requires that students in PhD programs be continuously enrolled (registered), a student may ask for a temporary leave of absence when certain life events make it impossible to continue active participation in the degree program.  A leave of absence enables a student not to register during a fall or winter term (students only register in the spring/summer term if they are defending the dissertation) and remain in compliance with the continuous enrollment requirement.  A leave will be granted to students for illness or injury, to provide care or assistance for family and dependents, to meet military service obligations, or for other personal reasons. 

A student on a Rackham-approved leave of absence suspends progress toward the PhD degree for a minimum of one fall or winter term.  No tuition and fees are charged for the period during which a student is on a leave of absence.  A leave of absence may have implications for a student’s federal financial aid and loans.  Please check with the Office of Financial Aid for further information. 

Students on leave have access to limited services that allow them to remain current in their field of study and connected to their program, but they do not have the benefits of registered status and may not use University facilities or services normally available to registered students.

Students are strongly encouraged to discuss the impact of a leave on the plan of study with the DGS and their faculty advisor in order to develop a strategy for completing the degree program as well as to discuss alternatives to a leave.

U.S. immigration regulations may restrict the eligibility of an international student for a leave of absence.  International students considering a leave of absence must consult with the International Center as a first step toward discussions regarding a leave of absence.

Rackham offers leaves of absence for medical reason, family necessity or dependent care, military service, extramural study, and personal reasons.  Please see the Rackham website for further information regarding leaves of absence for PhD students.