Normsetting in action: redrafting doctoral regulations at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences

On July 2 the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences (MNF) has initiated a faculty-wide consultation process to elicit feedback on how to restructure the examination regulations concerning doctoral degrees. More than 1.300 people have been invited which include all faculty and doctoral students as well as a selection of undergraduate and postgraduate students and representatives of the administration. Legally it is organized as a public session of the Faculty Council – therefore the whole process is publicly visible on the web even though only invited people may register to participate.

The  Faculty Council takes all the binding decisions concerning the MNF and will also formally have to take the final decision on adopting the cooperatively developed document. While the Faculty Council is still free in its final decision, it is the first time that all the members of the faculty that are (potentially) concerned with PhD degrees (either by trying to obtain one, by supervising students or by administering it) can have a say on the actual regulations.

The process itself is structured along five stages:

  1. online (3 weeks): discussion of and vote on basic rules to incorporate
  2. online (2 weeks): discussion of and vote on proposal by the Dean of how to aggregate the basic rules from stage 1 into a single document
  3. offline (3 weeks): drafting of actual document by Dean
  4. online (3 weeks): discussion of draft
  5. offline: vote of Faculty Council on adoption of draft document as binding examination regulations for doctoral degrees

Today marks the end of the first stage which has seen widespread and constructive discussion of 26 proposals (suggested both by the Vice Dean as well as by the participants itself) which included some asking for quite dramatically altering current practice such as getting rid of the grades for PhD degrees, introducing public examinations or seeking external examiners – all not standard at German universities today. You can see a screenshot of the (partial) list of proposals below, detailing supporting votes in green, declining votes in red and number of comments on each proposal.

screenshot of list of proposals

While many more have been visiting the site, more than 200 people have participated through commenting or voting, generating thousands of votes and more than 400 comments. A screenshot of an individual proposal, consisting of proposal, justification, comment section as well as details on votes is below:

screenshot of individual proposal

We are excited to see how the process continues and will provide updates accordingly. This process is part of the efforts of our research group on Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting to not only develop theory but also to practically apply our knowledge in real-world settings. The redrafting of the doctoral regulations is our second pilot project, following our first pilot on performance-based pay of University faculty. We use the Free and Open Source Software Adhocracy by Liquid Democracy with a custom theme. It significantly simplifies the powerful functionality of the original code and introduces a number of features specifically relevant for our research context such as displaying votes for a proposal broken down into the different status groups within the university (i.e. professors, fellows, PhD students, else). At Düsseldorf we are now part of the core developers of Adhocracy, contributing to the main code performance improvements or introducing data logging features and facilities to administer experimental treatments.

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