Let me start with a few bullet points of background, and then my modest proposal (as yet unproposed):
- I teach at a regional M.A. comprehensive institution. Undergraduates are our primary students, but we also support a thriving M.A. program -- though very few of these latter are medievalists. Most of our M.A. students are Americanists, and most of those are here to get an enhanced credential for high school teaching.
- I, nevertheless, usually have anywhere from 2-4 of "my" M.A. students at any given time. About half express interest in writing a thesis/going on to a Ph.D. program; the other half want the exam track, and are thinking of using the M.A. for secondary ed. or just personal enrichment.
- In our department, the decision of whether a student writes a thesis (as opposed to taking exams) must be mutual: that is, both the advisor and the student must agree to the thesis option. A student cannot simply announce that he or she will be writing a thesis.
- We are under pressure to admit more M.A. students, though the grad advisor and some of us faculty work hard to keep standards high. But we DO NOT have the option to decide not to admit a student because s/he doesn't work on our specific chronological/topographical focus. I can say no to someone who wants to work on Early Modern studies, but if they want to work in the Middle Ages and they look qualified ("qualified" meaning quite a few things, of course), they're more or less in, even if there's no real match.
- I am the only tenured/tenure-track medievalist in the department, and that is not going to change. I therefore am the supervisor on all medieval M.A. theses and exams.
THE PROPOSAL: I would like to tell students that if they want the thesis option, they must work on something I have some degree of expertise with.** For example, let's say my research was on the cultural meaning of saints and sanctity in 13th-century Paris. Then, I could accept students working on any aspect of medieval France, or saints and sanctity anywhere, or (even more broadly) the cultural history of religion anywhere (yes, including England). But someone wanting to work on Anglo-Saxon queenship, or merchant guilds in 13th-century Constantinople, or the Spanish Reconquest, would have to take the exam track (where I would happily design one of their exam fields in their particular area of interest).
I'm thinking of running it by our department's grad advisor. But what are your thoughts -- does this seem fair? And if it does, can I lay it on the students we've already admitted? Are there other solutions?
**There are, of course, other requirements of my own devising, such as "No Latin, no thesis," and "Your writing in your coursework must be up to graduate-level standards."