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Advice on Petitions

When I first began working as a graduate coordinator, the notes left behind by my predecessor included a statement that there is an exemption for everything, you just need to write a letter to the right person. And I have found that to be pretty much the case although I have heard rumors of petitions that were denied.

So, if you need to write a petition for something, here are some tips for what to do.

First, determine to whom the letter should be addressed. Most of the petitions which we handle as Graduate Coordinators go to either the Graduate School or are internal to our departments. Occasionally, we may have to petition another UT office (examples - International Office, Parking and Traffic). If you are unsure of the specific person who will handle the petition, then address it to the highest person in that area - dean, director, etc - and it'll get passed down to the appropriate person at the receiving end.

(disclaimer - the examples below given in no way guarantee that a petition will be approved if you use similar text in your petitions)

Petitions to the Graduate School:

Some petitions to the Graduate School are a matter of simply sending in the correct form. These include things like changing the members of a dissertation committee.

The letter should be as specific as possible. Always include the student's name and EID so that the Graduate School can record the letter quickly and easily on the mainframe and any other place they may log incoming petitions. Explain what the problem is and why the student should be granted an exemption. Be very specific. Letters that do not include a reason for why the student should be exempted will be denied.

A few examples:

For admitting a student with a GPA below 3.0:

Jane Doe has taken graduate level courses at Podunk University. She maintained a graduate GPA of 3.2. We feel this is evidence that Ms. Doe is capable of graduate level research in our program and would like her to be conditionally admitted. (Go on to explain any department level conditions to be placed on the admission.)

John Doe has strong GRE scores, excellent recommendation letters, and good research experience. In reviewing his application, the Admissions Committee felt that these pointed to his potential to do well in our graduate program.

Jane Doe was a student at Podunk University for two years back in 1986-88. She subsequently spent many years in the work force and returned to school at Ivy League University in 1998 to earn her Bachelor degree. Her grades from the 1986-88 time period were low, however her performance since 1998 was much improved. The earlier grades dragged her overall GPA below the 3.0 minimum. Since Ms. Doe's recent academic work reflect positively upon her abilities, we request that she be admitted with conditions.....

To appoint a TA or GRA with a GPA below 3.0:

John Doe was admitted with Departmental Conditions due to his undergraduate GPA being below 3.0. We believe that Mr. Doe is capable of graduate level work and do wish to provide him support as a TA/GRA. (Add a tidbit along the same lines as the justification on the conditional admission)... Hence, we would like to request that Mr. Doe be allowed to be appointed in his first semester as a TA/GRA.

Letters to OGS should come from the Graduate Adviser. Usually the Coordinator will type up the text of the letter for the Adviser to sign. You and/or the Graduate Adviser may need to talk to the student for some petitions in order to know the reasoning behind the situation. Some departments have even in certain circumstances asked the student to draft the letter on behalf of the Graduate Adviser and then edited it accordingly. There are also departments which require the research supervisor to put in writing his/her strong support for the petition. A lukewarm response would alert the Graduate Adviser to investigate the situation a bit more thoroughly and perhaps advise the student about pursuing another path.

Be sure to keep a copy of the petition in your files. Decisions for most OGS petitions will be recorded on the GS65 screen of GSADM on the mainframe. Notification on most other approvals will come via a copy of the petition letter with signed approvals being sent back to the department. Again, place a copy in the student's file for future reference.

Petitions within the Department:

Petitions internal to the department vary depending upon the department. In almost all cases, the student will write the petition and submit it to the Graduate Adviser. Depending upon the department's internal procedures the Graduate Adviser will rule on the petition or will bring it before the Graduate Studies Committee (or some subset such as the GSC Executive Committee) for review. Some departments require either a letter or the signature of a faculty adviser on some of these petitions. The student will be notified of the result and the petition with approval/disapproval will be placed in the student's departmental record.

Some examples of petitions that happen within a department are:

waiving a class or substituting one class for another

waiving a particular degree requirement (i.e.-experimental requirement)

extension of a deadline - for qualifying exams, for defense dates

being allowed to continue to PhD level instead of stopping at the Master level despite not qualifying to proceed

count certain courses towards requirement or elective

Petitions to other units at the University:

It probably doesn't take being a Graduate Coordinator long before you have to send a letter of petition to some other department/unit at the University besides the Graduate School. Many of the tips for letters to OGS are applicable to letters to other units, such as being very specific about the problem and why you are submitting this petition, including the student's name and SSN. My experience has been primarily regarding petitions when a student has done everything right or had no control over some delay and the result was they bumped up against some UT regulation that would have a negative impact upon the student (see examples below).

Examples of petitions that might go to other units include:

petition to VP of Business Affairs for in-state tuition waiver for a student in unusual circumstances (This came up one year when an international student was already in the country under one type of visa. He submitted all the paperwork to INS well ahead of time to change to the correct student visa but INS dragged its feet. According to the paperwork they'd sent the student, he should have had the new visa by mid-June but he didn't get it until the end of September. In the meantime, we were unable to appointment him before the 12th day of class, qualifying him for in-state tuition. Since the hold up was not the fault of the student and he would have otherwise qualified for the in-state tuition and he was appointed as soon as his correct visa arrived, we asked that it be waived.)

petition to Health Center regarding late fee (Had an international student who could not get an appointment for the TB test until just a couple days before classes began. She then had to go back for the results to be read. Due to visa restrictions she had been unable to enter the country earlier and had contacted SHC about an appointment right away. In the meantime, she had a bar which could not be lifted until the TB results were read and resulted in her registering late and being charged a late fee. We sent a letter to SHC asking them to sign off on our petition and forward it to Student Accounting to have the late fee waived.)

Information prepared by Elizabeth Korves, Astronomy Department with much appreciated input from Barbara McKnight, Chemistry & Biochemistry and Norma Kotz, Physics.


University Resource People and their Areas of Expertise

Registration Training (NRTTVR and NRRECS) - Jim Whitten - 475-7660 or ljw@mail.utexas.edu
Admissions Training and Problems - Pat Ellison - 475-7381 or pat.ellison@mail.utexas.edu
Special Billing (SS2s - previously called gray notes) - Diana Lockhart - 232-4048 or dlock@mail.utexas.edu
International TA certification - Ghislane Kozuh - 471-0596 or itaprog@uts.cc.utexas.edu
International Student Health Insurance issues - Shannon Kawa - 471-8025 or shannonk@mail.utexas.edu
Financial Aid - http://finaid.utexas.edu

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