As challenges to graduate education mount, so too have calls for reevaluating the dissertation. This article argues that the dissertation is a critical institution by which knowledge production is disciplined; however, alternative models of credentialing expertise are warranted. We explore the "dissertation dilemma" by explaining that the modern university's legitimacy hinges on the expert authority that the dissertation confers and the social deference that it commands. Next, we discuss shortcomings of the dissertation process, namely that it is supposed to sift out amateurs from experts, which negatively impacts demographically underrepresented doctoral candidates while failing to prevent the overproduction of Ph.D.s. Lastly, we evaluate reform proposals that have emerged as awareness of the challenges with graduate education has grown. We argue that these reform efforts have raised important questions about the university's role in American society that demand serious reflection on the part of stakeholders in and beyond the academy.


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pp. 313-331
Launched on MUSE
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