Questions regarding the PhD/ThD and Degree Standards

As you may have heard, there have been some concerns raised over the degree standards regarding the conjoint PhD and the ThD. With the hope that information is what fixes miscommunications and uncertainties, the following is what I view as the relevant information on the subject, coming from the Toronto School of Theology, The University of Toronto, and The Association of Theological Schools.

The hope is that the facts speak for themselves.  As always, if you have any questions or concerns please feel free to email me or any member of the TGSA board, we’re more than happy to help.

Some Background:

On February 8, 2016, the student newspaper of The University of Toronto, The Varsity, published an article titled “From ThD to PhD: Students questions novelty of PhD in theology program, petition university to permit degree change after graduation” (

The main concern that has been brought to TGSA’s attention is the line from the article that says “…the review [from the U of T quality assurance Process in 2013] examined joint programs offered through TST and U of T, resulting in recommendations that addressed the “below standard quality” of the Doctor of Theology.”

Of course, I, and the whole of TGSA, can understand the concern, a substandard ThD isn’t good for any of our students. Knowing that, I went to speak with TST to see what, if anything, at been said on the matter. I was shown the documentation I am now showing you.

The Association of Theological Schools:

Alan Hayes, as director of The Toronto School of Theology, received notice, via letter dated February 23, 2012, that the Board of Commissioners for ATS met and voted to reaffirm accreditation for TST for ten years (until the fall of 2021). You can see the whole letter at

Tom Tanner, in August of 2015 published an article on on ATS’s website, titled “Tenure and other faculty facts at ATS member schools.” In this article is a table comparing the “25 Schools where the Majority of Faculty in ATS Member Schools Earned Their Doctorates” that compares date from 2001 and 2015. The University of Toronto, which includes TST (and in fact, TST represents more than half of the faculty), ranked, in 2015, 3rd (up from 15th in 2001) with 108 faculty.

University of Toronto Quality Assurance Process (UTQAP):

The final summary of the document was published in October 2012 and is located here,

This report, and its fact finding, occurred around the same time as the ATS team was at TST, the time of the review being January 10-11, 2012.

The document highlights both strengths and weakness of TST as well as offering recommendations and I commend the whole document to your reading.

Of concern for graduate students however, is the section regarding the review of the Graduate Program. Here, both the Doctor of Ministry and the Doctor of Theology were listed as “below standard” in their quality.

The concerns were that there was not enough coherence and oversight of doctoral students, the transfers of ThD students into the non-conjoint (St. Mike’s) PhD, and concerns over administrative structures at TST itself as regards to governance and authority of the TST Director and the Directors of Graduate Degree Programs.

The recommendations it then offered were regarding closing the ThD, not allowing transfers to the non-conjoint PhD, creating a conjoint PhD with The University of Toronto, and working on TST wide coordination of doctoral education.

The Toronto School of Theology:

In response to the UTQAP, The Toronto School of Theology, on October 2, 2012, published “Cyclical Review in The University of Toronto Quality Assurance Process Administrative Response to The External Review”.  I cannot find a copy of this online to link you to, so it is on our website for you to view if you would like-under documents and titled “TST response to UTQAP”.

The basic response is that UTQAP did not assess TST programs and yet made a ranking of them, without even notice of what the standards were. It also notes that ATS did not come to the same conclusion during the same time period, rather, ATS viewed the programs as within the standard for accreditation.  TST did acknowledge that there was room for improvement and said that they view the way forward as using the University’s standards and ensuring that TST meets or exceeds them.

In a Letter to the Editor, dated February 21, 2016, Jerry Skira, Director of the Graduate Centre, outlines TST’s response to the Varsity article, addressing not just the issue of degree standards, but the many issues around the ThD/PhD raised in the article, you can read it here.

In my meeting with Jerry on February 18, 2016 it was made very clear that TST stands by its students and their degrees. The ATS accreditation, the high level of faculty hires, as well as the rate at which students at TST publish and are selected for academic awards such as SSHRC and OGS, speak to the quality of the degrees and students at The Toronto School of Theology.

I hope this answers some of, if not all of, your questions or concerns about this issue, if you have concerns about this, or anything else, please don’t hesitate to talk to me or anyone on TGSA.

Rebecca Spellacy,

President, TGSA

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