I am really struggling with a member on my dissertation committee. This person has been very difficult, combative with other members, unresponsive to e-mails, and extremely late with feedback (as an example, they did not send me any feedback until 11:00 pm the night before my 8:00 am proposal). I have talked it over with my chair, and we have decided that it would be in the best interest of my project (and my sanity) if I were to ask this person to step down from my committee. I don’t want to create any enemies or burn any bridges, but this person has got to go. Do you have any suggestions as to how to go about removing a faculty member from your committee in a civil way?
--Hit the Road, Jack
Dear Hit the Road,
This type of situation must be handled delicately in order to maintain professional relationships with faculty members.
It is likely that you may cross paths with this committee member again, and may even need their assistance in the future. Thus, rather than placing blame on the committee member, it is always preferable to state that there is simply an incongruity between their area of expertise and your research goals. Furthermore, you can state that because there seems to be discordance between committee members’ opinions and feedback, it is best to pare down the size of the committee in order to ensure that the project is cohesive and consistent in its general reasoning.
You can also cite your program’s policy on the amount of time allowed for committee members to return feedback to students, if your program has such a policy implemented. You can let this committee member know that you are on a strict deadline to finish and graduate, but that you realize that they are extremely busy with their own responsibilities. Thus, in order for you to meet your goals for graduation, you think it would be beneficial to everyone if they were absolved of their obligations as a committee member. Additionally, because you are not able to integrate their invaluable feedback in such a short period of time after receiving it (i.e., less than 10 hours), you are not able to give their ideas the appropriate amount of consideration for your project. Thus, you would hate for their time spent on your project to be a waste of their time.
Regardless of how you approach the issue, be sure to talk to your major advisor first! You need to have them on board before you remove anyone from your committee.
Below is a sample letter (or e-mail) that might be helpful in drafting your own letter to your committee member.
Dear Dr. Smith,
I would like to thank you for all of your invaluable feedback on my dissertation proposal. Your feedback has given me a unique perspective on this research. Unfortunately, based on committee consensus on the needs of my project, I am requiring a committee member with a more closely matched background with this research.
I realize that this is a busy time of the semester for faculty, so I would like to thank you for all of the time you have spent on my project, but do not want to take up any more of your time. Because there has been some incongruity between feedback from committee members on this project, I think it would be most beneficial to all committee members and to the project to have a committee with cohesive overall goals and aspirations for this project. This will ensure that every facet of this project is consistent in its line of reasoning.
Because this time of year is so busy, I can understand why reviewing my project might take an extended amount of time. However, because the program’s policy is to allow committee members two weeks to respond to feedback, it is difficult to incorporate feedback offered later than the two weeks into subsequent drafts. With a deadline to graduate of May 2014, it is important that I continue to make steady progress in my drafts. Unfortunately, I feel that I am unable to adequately incorporate your invaluable feedback into my drafts due to when the feedback is received. Thus, I don’t think that I am able to give your ideas the appropriate amount of consideration for this project, and I would hate for your time spent on my project to be ill-spent.
Again, I want to thank you for your time spent on my committee. I truly hope that we can collaborate on another project in the future that more closely aligns our two avenues of investigation. I wish you the best in your research.
--René Paulson, PhD