Union Theological Seminary Academics


The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Graduation Requirements

The graduation requirements for the degree are stated below. The information given also lays out the general framework within which faculty advisers and students work. More specific guidelines from consortia and programs may be issued by the Academic Office to complement this material.

Program Planning Conference

In the first semester of residency the candidate will have a conference with faculty assigned to his or her program of study to frame an overall vision of the program, review the student’s preparation for the program, and outline a course of studies. If any aspect of the student’s educational preparation for the doctoral program at Union so warrants, the faculty conducting the conference will recommend or stipulate remedial courses. If the faculty require remedial courses, this stipulation must be put in writing. After the completion of the Program Planning Conference, the faculty adviser(s) report this on a form provided by the Academic Office.

Language Requirements

Each candidate must demonstrate proficiency in reading scholarly materials in two modern languages other than English, normally French and German. Another modern language may be substituted for German or French if it is more useful for scholarly research in the student’s area of special study. If such substitution is planned, it must be noted in the faculty adviser’s report to the academic dean following the Program Planning Conference. The language requirements can be met by passing qualifying examinations administered by the Seminary on dates stated in the academic calendar. A reading knowledge of French and German is expected prior to entrance into the program.

Candidates are expected to pass required examinations in both modern languages no later than the end of the first semester of residency, and in any case no later than the end of their first year. Students who are not prepared to pass one such examination upon entrance are discouraged from matriculating in the program. The timing of this requirement does not apply to the classical languages— Hebrew, Greek, or Latin—required for certain individual programs. In the case of these languages, an additional year can be permitted to achieve a reasonable facility in their use.

As noted above, some candidates will also be required to demonstrate proficiency in other languages necessary for their research besides French and German, notably ancient and classical languages in which biblical and ecclesiastical texts are written. These special language requirements and the means by which they may be satisfied will be specified at the candidate’s program planning conference. A student’s faculty advisers will inform the academic dean when special language requirements have been completed.

Residency Requirements

Students admitted to the doctoral program will pursue advanced study for at least two academic years of Residency at the Seminary, while working under the supervision of a professor appointed by the academic dean and by the consortia faculty of the student’s area of study. If the student holds the S.T.M. from this Seminary, residency may be completed in one year of full-time study. Students who hold the S.T.M. from other institutions that are accredited for advanced theological studies may be allowed to complete residency in three semesters, if the program planning conference so recommends at the beginning of the student’s first term at the Seminary.

During residency, the student must register for at least 40 points of academic work. This work, selected in consultation with the faculty advisers, will include seminars and tutorials for guided research, as well as regular course work. Twenty points, including at least one seminar, must be taken for full credit; the remaining 20 points may be taken for R (reading) credit.

As part of the residency requirements, students are to take at least three and no more than twelve points of graduate work in another institution, normally at one of the institutions affiliated with the Seminary: Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the General Theological Seminary, The Jewish Theological Seminary, the graduate school at Fordham University, or the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. (Candidates in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament will be allowed to take up to 16 points at affiliated institutions because of the particular need for study of several ancient languages.) Permission to take courses in other institutions is granted on the recommendation of the student’s faculty advisers, and ordinarily such courses may not be taken for R credit. Modern language courses at other institutions are not covered by a student’s tuition and can not be included in a student’s program.

Comprehensive Examinations

Candidates shall pass their four comprehensive examinations by the end of the semester following completion of their course work, normally the fifth semester of the program. (A dissertation proposal is to be presented in the sixth semester.) Subjects of the exams will range from the broad field of study to cognate disciplines and a specialized area. The student’s faculty advisers supervise the comprehensive exams and report the results to the dean. The examinations, which are set by the faculty of the consortium or field of study, may include timed exams, oral exams, take-home exams, essays, or combinations of these. Each consortium may determine its own pattern within the following guidelines: (1) at least one exam must have a major oral component; (2) at least one must be a closed-book exam; (3) at least one must be an essay. Although no comprehensive examination shall constitute a proposal for the dissertation or be a formal part thereof, comprehensive examinations should be preparatory for the dissertation.

Completion of Requirements

The Candidate must satisfy all requirements for the M.Phil. and Ph.D. and present the dissertation not later than seven years after admission, except by special permission of the academic dean. Petitions for an extension of candidacy must be made annually in writing to the dean after the seven-year limit has ended and must be supported by the student’s faculty advisers in their annual conference with the candidate.

Review of Student Progress

At least once each semester, doctoral students shall meet with their primary advisers. This meeting is an occasion for the students to assess their progress, including course work and language acquisition, and to explore topics for comprehensive examinations and the focus of the dissertation. This is also an opportunity to raise any personal matters that may significantly affect their studies and to discuss their calendar for completing the program.

At the conclusion of each academic year, faculty in the program conduct a more formal assessment of the student’s progress. The primary advisers leads the review of the progress the student has made to date, and the designated faculty discuss reasonable expectations regarding remaining requirements. Following this conference, the advisers review the student’s standing, and report on behalf of the program to the Academic Office by early June, with a copy to the student. This annual report from the program, following the form provided by the Academic Office, certifies the student’s continuance in the program.

If the advisers are concerned with a lack of progress or achievement, they should inform the student in writing, with a copy to the Academic Office, that her or his standing in the program is in danger. The advisers must review the student’s progress again by the conclusion of the semester following the warning. If, in their judgment, the student’s progress and/or achievement still does not meet standards of doctoral study, they may recommend to the academic dean that the student be dismissed from the program.

If the academic dean accepts the recommendation for dismissal, the student may appeal. The appeal goes to the academic dean, who in turn calls a meeting of a “Doctoral Hearing Committee,” chaired by the dean, and constituted by the advisers, and the professors who are members of the faculty’s committee responsible for doctoral studies. This Doctoral Hearing Committee has the final say on the appeal. The academic dean may vote to break a tie.

The Master of Philosophy Degree

After satisfactorily completing the four comprehensive examinations and all other requirements stated above, the candidate will be awarded the degree of Master of Philosophy at the next commencement.


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