Posthumous degrees

March 27, 2014

I just got this e-mail from the UCLA administration:

In an effort to recognize the academic achievements of graduate students who pass away near the completion of their degrees, the UCLA Graduate Council has approved a new campus policy for awarding posthumous graduate degrees and certificates of attendance.

A graduate degree may be awarded posthumously in cases where it is determined that the student has successfully completed a substantial portion of their program at the time of death. The student’s thesis or dissertation committee and the department or IDP chair makes its recommendation for posthumous degree conferral to Graduate Division, which will determine whether the eligibility criteria have been met. The Graduate Council is responsible for approving such requests and instructing the Registrar to issue the degree.

Eligibility Criteria:

• For a master’s degree under the comprehensive examination plan, the deceased student must have been enrolled in the final quarter of coursework, the successful completion of which would have culminated in the awarding of the degree.

• For a master’s degree under the master’s thesis plan, the deceased student must have completed required coursework and a draft of the thesis which, following review by the thesis committee is recommended as warranting conferral of the master’s degree posthumously.

• For a doctoral degree (Ph.D., D.Env., Ed.D., D.M.A., Dr.P.H.), the deceased student must have advanced to candidacy, and completed a body of research or scholarship in tangible form (e.g., published work or substantially completed draft of the dissertation) that: (a) in substantia meets the degree program’s standards for awarding the doctoral degree, and (b) following review by the dissertation committee, is recommended as warranting conferral of the doctoral degree posthumously.

In cases, where it is determined that the student did not meet the above requirements, a “Certificate of Attendance” may be issued by the Graduate Division.

The policy seems sensible enough to me, though I can imagine alternatives — either more or less restrictive — that would seem sensible, too. Obviously, the school wants to show respect to students who died (generally died young), and it’s not like the recipients of the degree will use the degree to defraud employers or unfairly compete against recipients who actually finished. On the other hand, I take it that the school thinks that granting such degrees too early (say, for someone who hasn’t substantially completed a dissertation) is disrespectful to those who have finished, or nearly finished, the degree program. In any event, I’d never thought about this subject before, so I thought I’d pass it around and see what people thought.

Note that I don’t know if there is such a policy for the undergraduates, or for professional schools such as the law school, medical school, or business school.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.
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