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Skidmore College
Self-Determined Major

Guidelines for Faculty Advisors

The role of an advisor to a Self-Determined Major student differs in important respects from more traditional advising responsibilities. Please read these guideline carefully and contact the SDM Program Director, if you have any questions.  

THE SDM PROPOSAL:  A Self-Determined Major is by definition not contained within traditional Skidmore majors or departments and are usually interdisciplinary; therefore, they require very careful design on the part of the student and the faculty sponsors. SDM proposals typically require the expertise of two faculty advisors. While the central responsibility for the proposal belongs to the student--who must demonstrate a focused understanding of the major's intellectual merits and coherence--the faculty advisors of an SDM student are also critical to the success of the student's proposal efforts. All proposals must be presented to the SDM Committee with a written evaluation from the faculty sponsors.  The letter of support should address:

  • the academic and intellectual merits of the proposal as a liberal arts major;
  • the ability and preparedness for a student to undertake an independent Self-Determined major;
  • the availability of existing resources within or external to Skidmore to support the student's chosen area of study.

For a detailed explanation of proposing a Self-Determined Major and sample proposals, see Requirements and Creating a Proposal.

THE SDM COMMITTEE: The SDM Committee is composed of five members. SDM Committee members representing the College's four major divisions (Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Science and Pre-professional programs) are appointed for a three-year term. The SDM Director is appointed by the Dean of Faculty/VPAA; three faculty representatives serving staggered terms are appointed by the DOF/VPAA in consultation with the SDM Director; a representative from the Office of Academic Advising will be appointed annually by the Dean of Studies. The Self-Determined Major Committee holds final authority over the approval and modification process of all Self-Determined majors.  Once an SDM is approved, the SDM Committee functions in all respects as the student's "department," with the Director of the SDM Program functioning as the student's "department chairperson." This is a crucial concept and necessitates the following:

  • The content of the Self-Determined Major evolves as new course opportunities arise, as scheduling conflicts become evident, and as the student's understanding of the original proposal grows through formal study. Students must formally submit all such modifications to the SDM Committee, and the SDM Committee must approve these changes before they are implemented, not after the fact. Failure to obtain such approval may lead to the SDM Committee's revocation of its prior approval of the entire major plan. 
  • The faculty sponsors' written support must accompany any request for change in the major. 

ONGOING FACULTY ADVISING SUPPORT: As much as the SDM Committee tries to act as a coordinating "department," the student with an approved SDM doesn't have a true departmental home base as do traditional student majors; there is no department office to consult daily, no series of departmental activities, and no camaraderie of other majors.  Therefore, it is especially important for the SDM student to keep in close touch with his or her SDM advisors and for the advisors to maintain close ties with these advisees. Problems of intellectual drift or even of inappropriate academic decisions can occur if the SDM student is left in a free-floating situation.

THE FINAL PROJECT:  The SDM Final Project is the key academic component that draws the diverse strands of the major together, demonstrating the student's mastery of the special aspects of his or her SDM. No SDM student can graduate from Skidmore without successfully completing his or her own, SDM Committee-approved final project. Students and faculty advisors should follow the guidelines and deadlines presented in the Final Projects section of the SDM web site. Advisors should especially keep the following points in mind:

  • The final project must be conducted in the student's senior year of study and must be formally approved by the SDM Committee no later than the first term of the senior year and prior to the commencement of the project.
  • The student must register the project through one of the formal course structures at Skidmore: for example, the course ID 371/372 designed for SDM projects, a discipline specific independent study or thesis course, a special topics course, or when appropriate, a 399-level Internship.
  • Every final project must have two faculty readers, one of whom functions as the instructor of record. The instructor of record holds final authority over the grade for the project, but both faculty readers must submit individual  formal evaluations of the project to the SDM Committee by the established deadline.
  • The SDM Committee assumes that both faculty readers will work cooperatively together and with the student to resolve any disagreements they might have over the content and quality of the final project; however, if they reach an impasse, the instructors of record hold authority over the grade for the project.
  • The student and faculty readers must be certain that the content of the final project does not depart in any substantial academic way from the project approved in advance by the SDM Committee. If the project does begin to move in a new direction, such modifications of the plan must be submitted to the SDM Committee for approval. Failure to gain such approval may result in the SDM Committee's rejection of the completed project as an adequate completion of the degree plan. Thus the process for proposing and successfully completing the final project is substantially different from a more ordinary "independent study" or "thesis," for the SDM Committee exercises significant "departmental" authority over the outcome.

SDM DEPARTMENTAL HONORS: All the stipulations described above under "The Final Project" apply to considerations of Departmental Honors. In addition, the following criteria and procedures apply to departmental honors consideration. All of these criteria must be met:

  • The graduating student must have earned at least a 3.00 GPA for all work taken at Skidmore and at least a 3.50 for all work in the approved self-determined major core courses.
  • The student must meet all established deadlines for submitting the completed project to the faculty advisors and to the SDM Committee.
  • Both faculty readers of the final project must regard the project as "excellent" in quality and worthy of honors and must submit their evaluations in writing (including the assessment of "excellence") to the SDM Committee by the published deadline.
  • The SDM Committee must, in its own judgment, determine that the final project fulfills the approved project plan and is of excellent quality. While the SDM Committee will take very seriously the evaluations of the faculty advisors to the project, the SDM Committee as the "department" reserves the right to grant or withhold "departmental honors" for the student's work in the major. If such disagreement occurs, each of the faculty advisors (to a maximum of two advisors) will have a vote in the final "departmental" determination of departmental honors for the student (the members of the SDM Committee cast their own individual votes). The majority of the votes must favor departmental honors for the student to be granted honors. The final decision may not be appealed beyond the SDM Committee.
  • The SDM Committee does not regard departmental honors as an indication of the student's growth over the course of time or his or her improvements in the process of developing the final project. The SDM Committee appreciates these important issues but regards them as "threshold" concerns that are embodied in and rewarded by the student's GPA in the major and grade for the project. These measures of student success constitute the baseline for departmental honors; it is the quality of achievement actually represented by the final project that is of central concern when the SDM Committee considers granting departmental honors. Faculty advisors are encouraged to embrace the same criteria and to articulate them to the student so that the student will understand, from the outset, just how honors will be determined.