Disputes in British Universities

David Cape, University of Lancaster

I was a Candidate for Ph.D. in the Department of Geography at Lancaster. I was originally enrolled (part time and privately-funded) in the M. Phil program in November 1992. On the basis of my progress I was “promoted” to the Ph.D. programme in 1994. I submitted my dissertation in January 2002, for defence in July 2002. Upon appearing at my viva, I was criticized by the external for not having concentrated on an area of HIS interest –substantiated by a display of rail-fan badges attached to his jacket. My response was that I had stated on page 2 of my dissertation why I was not analysing his interest, rail, but rather bus which allowed for more useful and valuable analysis.

I was not asked a single question to support the content of my dissertation. I asked whether there was Ph.D. calibre material in my paper and was told “yes, lots.” I was told I had a year to redo the dissertation focusing on his area. Alternately, I was told I could take the M.Phil there and then. The entire “viva” lasted just over one hour, much of which was spent by the external railing (pun unintended) against my paper.

Before deciding, I contacted the appeals faculty member, and was told that the University would not entertain any (viva) appeals on academic grounds. If, however, the external had shown up drunk then an appeal would be considered. I was concerned about the external a priori as this person had not published anything even remotely close to the area of my dissertation. His university does not seem to offer a course for which the topic would be appropriate. Furthermore, my first advisor with whom I had a sharp disagreement subsequently became on faculty of the same unit at the same University as was my external. I had suggested at the suggestion of my latest advisor about a dozen names of academics in England who would be competent to evaluate my work. The external was not one of them, and I would not include him on the basis of his publication record.

As I was fully employed by Ryerson as a Professor in Fall 2002 (with a large teaching load, including one brand new case study course) and had been told by my advisor that I needed to work almost full time starting in September on re-writing the dissertation, I reluctantly opted for the M. Phil.

Is there someone that I could appeal to, at this point, viz-a-viz Lancaster’s unwillingness to listen to my appeal?


D. M. Cape,
Professor Emeritus,
Economics Department,
Ryerson University
Canada M5B 2K3


Email David Cape