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I’ve just completed a graduate degree at a university in the UK, as an older student.

The department, IMO, is a mess of politics, fickle actions, and backstabbing. Whilst here, I have been pushed, abused, called names, intentionally failed and ignored.

A few others have suffered the same fate and it has dealt more than a few low blows, so much so that it has made me severely depressed.

I finally got my course completed, received notification of passing and confirmation of my degree award.

Recently, I learnt that I may be facing yet another confusion with my department (regarding my choosing to publish dissertation findings with a certain professor (dissertation supervisor) and not including the department head).

Please can you let me know if my degree can be taken away, i.e, revoked, from now to graduation ceremony? (No plagiarism or fraud)

My question specifically is, can a whimsical and angry department head revoke a degree once granted by the university?

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    "a mess of politics, whimsical actions, and backstabbing" <- That's better than most, I think, where you get a mess of politics, monotonous actions and front-stabbing... – einpoklum Jan 30 '18 at 0:15
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    @AnonAnon: I think some people interpret "whimsical" as "funny, humorous, spontaneous"... – einpoklum Jan 30 '18 at 9:31
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    @AnonAnon: Thanks. Kind of ironic considering the mismanagement that happened to you. – camden_kid Jan 30 '18 at 11:17
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    Might want to change "whimsical" to "fickle"; has connotations more in line with what you seem to mean. – Tin Man Jan 30 '18 at 18:31
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    Possibly "mercurial" is what we're really looking for here. – Daniel R. Collins Jan 30 '18 at 18:46
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Absent plagiarism, fraud, or other academic sanction, it would be difficult to revoke an awarded degree. There would have to be strong evidence for doing so, and it’s not often attempted, in part because of the likelihood of legal action.

So, I would normally say don’t worry about it. However, in a dysfunctional department, anything could happen, and you should be prepared to act in that unlikely event.

  • I don’t think I’ll have the strength to act, if something like that happens. I’ll want to give up on everything. – Anon Anon Jan 29 '18 at 19:20
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    A department may be dysfunctional, but revoking a degree already confirmed is a step that at the very least could be challenged in court. I can't see a department wanting to do that. There is a difference between being annoyed by someone and embarking on a punitive expedition that is almost certainly going to lead to a lawsuit. Few people are stupid enough to do that. – Wolfgang Bangerth Jan 29 '18 at 23:04
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    @WolfgangBangerth Few > 0, though. – jpmc26 Jan 30 '18 at 9:16
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    @jpmc26 -- no, I meant zero. This would be behavior so stupid that it is not worth worrying about or planning for. – Wolfgang Bangerth Jan 30 '18 at 13:02
  • @WolfgangBangerth it depends on the outlooks and if it is civil or criminal law. In many places if something is illegal but not criminal, you would have to sue personally ending up with lots of court costs if losing. Which kind of a newly graduated student would both expect to afford and dare to do that..? Most of newly graduated don't even have the balls to be tough in interviews/negotiations at work. Sue a whole university? Nah that's just waaay out of the box for most. It would be stupid for many other reasons though, with bad PR for the university being one of the worst. – mathreadler Jan 30 '18 at 18:33
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Can a whimsical and angry department head revoke a degree once granted by the university?

No, because your degree was granted by the university (e.g. the senate or other such body) not by the department head. At worst s/he could initiate a procedure to possibly revoke the degree, but there you would not be at the mercy of his whim.

Caveat: There is a remote theoretical possibility that somehow in your university, departments grant degrees themselves. Even in that case, the department head cannot revoke a degree him/herself, and would need the appropriate forum to do so (same forum which grants degree). But again, this is extremely unlikely.

  • Degree was awarded by the University, not department. – Anon Anon Jan 30 '18 at 5:31
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    @AnonAnon: In your case, ok. But you need to consider other people reading your question as well - so I'm keeping the caveat. – einpoklum Jan 30 '18 at 11:18
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Your university would normally have a policy document on this subject and you might try contacting the registrar's office and asking if they have one. Don't go into details why with them.

For reference this is from Swansea's Revocation Of Awards document :

Revocation of Award

The University may, on the recommendation of the Senate, revoke an award and all privileges connected therewith, having determined that there is good cause to do so. This may include where a person

  • has after investigation, been found to have obtained an award by fraud or deception, including unfair practice;

  • obtained an award due to an administrative error or irregularities in the conduct of the Examining Board.

There's an explanation of the procedures required as well on that linked page.

Recently, I learnt that I may be facing yet another confusion with my department (regarding my choosing to publish dissertation findings with a certain professor and not including the department head).

There's a possibility this could be construed as academic misconduct, although the details would be important in making that assessment.

I think your best bet is simply to see what happens, rather than anticipating the worst. Again there should be a very detailed policy document on this available from the university.

I think if it's a case of genuine mistake it's very unlikely much would happen at all, but you'd probably need to have committed some major infraction (misrepresenting a substantial body of work as your own would be typical) to suffer a loss of the whole award.

If at all possible try and discuss the issue with the people involved and ask for advice on how to rectify any error by e.g. contacting the publishers and seeking to make a correction.

I don’t think I’ll have the strength to act, if something like that happens. I’ll want to give up on everything.

Your comments make you sound somewhat depressed. I suspect you're suffering somewhat from a difficult process qualifying and may have actual clinical depression. You might consult a GP about this, rather than anything else. Final stages of qualification can do this to people - it's very stressful.

  • It seems to me that action taken a posteriori cannot have effect on an awarded certificate. At least if the awarded person didn't behave so unethically that the awarding institution want to break every liaisons with him/her (it happened in a spectacular case of reiterated frauds, where a PhD degree was dismissed for misconduct well after it was awarded). – Alchimista Jan 30 '18 at 12:37
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    @Alchimista To clarify, was the "misconduct" in your PhD example a breach of the rules above? To me it seems clear that unless OP has erroneously been awarded the degree (for example from fraud that is only found after the award) - it cannot be taken back. I.e. Even if OP commits some horrendous act of academic dishonesty in future, as long as it didn't contribute to how they got the degree itself, the degree is still safe. – Bilkokuya Jan 30 '18 at 17:14
  • I comnent exactly to say that seems unrealistic that a phd us revoked for anything happened a posteriori. Ergo I mentioned one of the most spectacular fraud even happened ib science! – Alchimista Jan 30 '18 at 17:56
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Not unless you cheated to get it. Or if you do something really nasty like crimes against humanity.

I am sorry that you are going through this. It sounds like your department is acting like pompous idiots. I can understand that they prefer students to complete their degrees as this represents well on them. They also want people to go into successful academic careers, for the same reason. But the reality is that you need to decide for yourself what is best for you. Pay no attention to their pressure.

It is a shame you will not be able to remain in good standing with them. These academic contacts are important, but certainly, it is not going to end your career to lose them. Ultimately, they will also benefit from your success in the private sector. And they know this. They are just giving you a guilt trip which is absolutely reprehensible.

  • Crimes against humanity are not sufficient reason to revoke a degree, unless that is an explicit part of the charter and law providing for the award of it, which is thankfully rare (as an extreme case of politics interfering with academic action). – Nij Jan 31 '18 at 4:56
  • Committing reiterated spectacular scientific frauds unrelated to the PhD had sufficed for the revokal of the latter. Likely crimes against can do the same. – Alchimista Jan 31 '18 at 11:01
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First and foremost, your degree was officially awarded from your university, rather than your department head. He doesn't have the power to take your degree back. It is a university in UK.

Secondly, I wouldn't worry that so much if I were you. I know some people's degree were revoked after they had got them, but the reason of revoking their degree is always the same: Plagiarism or cheating on their dissertations or publications.

So if your thesis or dissertation has nothing to do with cheating or plagiarism, nothing to worry. Also remember, revoking a student's degree is not easy, it involves independent investigation, even legal process.

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