Handbook - General Information

photo of a group of Social and Political thought graduate students

Please note that parts of the handbook are out of date and currently being updated

Welcome to the Graduate Program in Social and Political Thought

This Handbook provides information relating to the Program that you will need to read through and keep for future reference. Please refer to it frequently as it will contain most of the answers to the questions you will have! 

This Program Handbook consists of regulations and information which are in addition to, or explained in additional detail to the information provided elsewhere on this website or by the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

The Program offices are located in the South Tower of the Ross Building. Correspondence, messages, appointments, and general enquires should normally be routed through the Program Assistant, room S712 Ross, (telephone 416-736-5320). The Director's office is S711 Ross, and the Director can be reached at spt_gpd@yorku.ca.

The students' lounge is S716 Ross. Each student has a mailbox in the lounge, which should be checked regularly. In addition, there is a fridge, microwave and coffee pot that you may use (please clean up after yourself). 
Inside the lounge is a computer room exclusively for SPTH students' use. The lounge and computer are accessed by codes, which will be disclosed to students when they register. In the interest of security please do not circulate these combinations. In addition, in the interest of safety and security, please do not leave valuables in these common rooms. 

The Social and Political Thought Program strives to avoid being an impersonal bureaucracy, but the Program is a large one and the workload in the office is often overwhelming. There are a number of relatively easy ways in which members of the Program can reduce the administrative burden. The most obvious one is to inform the Program regularly of changes in plans, courses, GAships, etc. A brief note to the Program Assistant informing her of some new development can often save endless bureaucratic hassles at a later stage. Moreover, students need to make a point of discussing with the Director their academic plans: course selection, comprehensive fields, thesis topics, potential supervisors and committees, leaves of absence, etc. Finally, the most effective way of avoiding misunderstandings and confusion is consult this handbook first and be familiar with the rules, regulations and processes, and then to let the Program office (Director and Assistant) know about changes, questions, problems in writing. Also, ensuring that deadlines are not missed will simplify your life immeasurably 

Students who have any academic concerns or questions are always encouraged to make an appointment with the SPTH Program Director at their earliest convenience.

Registration Information

Each new student is required to meet with the Director in order to discuss courses and have their registration approved. Students interested in taking courses not currently cross listed to the program should discuss their plans and request the appropriate paperwork from the Director or the Program Assistant at the time of their advising appointment, or by the first week of classes.

New students entering the program will be contacted and have appointments set up for advising between mid-August and early September, or may contact the program office by telephone (416 736-5320) or e-mail (at jhawley@yorku.ca ) to book an appointment.  Appointments are usually set for 30 minutes, and students may request longer if there are pressing or complex issues.

Students are advised to observe the Faculty of Graduate Studies registration deadlines.  Student registration packages will be emailed in late June to all incoming students.  Students relocating for the summer as asked to ensure the program office received your change of address in writing or via e-mail, and indicating the date that the new address will be effective.  (Most of the time, email contact is sufficient).  For PhD students, hiring offices will also be in contact regarding TA placements, so current email and phone numbers will be imperative for both the program office and the hiring offices .

Students in the Faculty of Graduate Studies use a computerized registration system that allows students to register either through terminals located across campus or from home.

Graduate students are required to be register for each term, therefore students who wish to register for both the Fall and the Winter sessions may do so starting in June.  Students who do not register in the Fall term for the Winter term must ensure that they have registered for the Winter term by the FGS posted deadlines (please refer to FGS' Important dates for all official deadlines).  Students who register late will incur a late fee, and may find many of the courses they are interested in are full. Summer registration occurs in March.

Students may find themselves blocked from entry into other courses for various reasons. If this is the case the student will be required to contact SPTH for advice on the type of block, and who can lift the block (generally either the SPTH office, or FGS or Admissions, depending on which type of block is on your record).

Students who register late may incur delays in regards to their payroll generation for their GA, RA or TA. Scholarships may also be impacted if the student is not registered in a prompt and timely manner.

Students are advised to be on campus early in September for orientation to meet faculty, fellow students, and the Director.  The program will hold an Orientation for incoming students to discuss the program requirements, funding issues, etc. and to meet the other incoming students.

Most Graduate courses begin after Labour Day (please refer to the Faculty of Graduate Studies Important Dates page for all official dates, as Osgoode and Schulich courses may start earlier, and if you have enrolled in one of their courses, you should confirm their start date through their graduate program office). Students are responsible for determining the date of the first class meeting of courses in which they enroll, although the program will indicate - whenever possible - in the course information if the start date of a course differs from the norm. 

Faculty may not hold classes off campus due to safety and liability concerns.

Please note: In the event of inclement weather, classes may be cancelled, and although this rarely occurs, students are encouraged to access the Weather Emergency Line at 416 736-5600 (or check York's homepage) to see if the University has officially closed. 

The attention of all students is drawn to the regulations concerning completion of course work provided on the website. It is essential that students ensure course papers and all paperwork is submitted in a timely manner. Any difficulties should be brought to the attention of the SPTH Director as soon as possible. 

Possible Problems with Registering

Do you have outstanding fees? If you do have large outstanding fees from the previous session, you may be prevented from registering until you have cleared the outstanding fees or addressed the issue with FGS. To make an appointment to clear any fee blocks, please contact 416 736-5521 directly or pop into their office.  If you have a fee block, you will need to make a repayment plan and get it approved by the Student Affairs Manager.  

Have you hit a time limit in your program?  Do you have a supervisor?  For MA students, you must have a supervisor officially in place in your 2nd term of student.  For PhD students, you must have a supervisor in place in your 5th term, and a full supervisory committee in place by your 8th term.   (Officially in place means you have completed the Supervisor and Supervisory Committee form located on the FGS website and submitted it via the program to the Faculty of Graduate Studies office for approval).  If this has not been done, the Faculty of Graduate Studies will block students from enrolling, and the student risks getting deregistered.   If there are extenuating circumstances, please speak with the Director before the deadlines hit to discuss options.  PhD students have a maximum of 6 years (18 terms) to complete their studies and defend.

 If you have grounds for a petition to request an extension, you need to prepare the petition (and all supporting documentation) and submit it to the program at least 8 weeks prior to the start of term. 

Students in Full Time Studies 

Students are advised to adhere to the guidelines set out in the FGS Faculty Regulations, governing full-time and part-time studies. As well, students doing course work are required to take no less than one-and-a-half courses in a given year to maintain full-time status. Failure to maintain the norms for full-time status may jeopardize eligibility for graduate and teaching assistantships. Queries in this regard should be addressed to the Director or Program Assistant.

Mail, E-mail, and Lists

Incoming Mail for Students and Announcements

Students should check their email regularly for notices about registration, scholarships, deadlines, guest speakers and information concerning the Program. Most announcements are made by email (more environmentally friendly), so please make sure you are regularly receiving notices from SPTHAnnounce. If you are not, please send an email to the program office.  (If your e-mail is full, the listserv will automatically delete you, and you may miss out on an important announcement).

Mailboxes are assigned to each student in the program in the SPTH lounge.  Please check them when you are on campus, and empty them at the end of the year.

Email Accounts

All students are encouraged to set up their e-mail accounts as early as possible and to provide the Program Assistant with your e-mail account. A considerable amount of information is posted to students through the SPTH listserv. Hardcopy notices of much of this information is also posted in the Student Lounge. It is the responsibility of the students to check their mail, e-mail and postings as deadlines are firm.

Please note: students must have an email account listed on your York information (you can update it through your Passport York).  Please ensure it is current and up-to-date.  Please ensure that the program office and the listservs have the correct e-mail address at all times. Frequent changes to e-mail addresses generally assure that important news will be lost.

SPTH Listservs

There are two listservs for the SPTH community: one for students and the other for faculty members. Neither group has access to the other listserv.

The SPTH students also have a listserv that they use to have discussions among the students.  (The program can post to the spt-l but do not see the discussions).  Your GSA rep in the program can get you added to that listserv.

General Guidelines for use of the listservs:

  • Please remember that when you hit "Reply All", the information goes not only to the person who sent the message, but to everyone on the listserv.
  • In these days of easily accessible email, sending information to a listserv reaches a lot of people quickly, but as these are academic listservs, please limit your impulse to send information regarding your current "cause" if possible. In addition, if anyone floods a listserv with information on any singular issue or sends large volumes of information to the extent that it clogs other people's mailboxes making them inaccessible, you may be asked to refrain.
  • Student scholarship announcements, program deadline information, and information relevant only to students will be sent on SPTHANNOUNCE. A missed deadline caused by not checking one's email is not an acceptable reason for an extension. Please ensure your email is checked regularly.
  • All listserv participants are asked to review and must adhere to the University Policies, Procedures & Regulations Database (Senate Policy) at http://www.yorku.ca/secretariat/legislation/senate/computng.htm .
  • Any student having concerns regarding listserv policies or usage may make an official (written) complaint to either of the Associate Deans in the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Computer Needs

Students who require specialized computer needs, or seeking computer related assistance should contact the Help Services at Computing and Communications Services (CCS), William Smaller building, Computing Section, phone: 416 736-5800 or ext. 55800.

Graduate and Research Assistantships

Graduate Assistantships

Students who have been awarded a Graduate Assistantship for the upcoming year should consult the Director or Program Assistant regarding their general responsibilities and their prospective supervisors.

Students are expected to remain in close contact with the GA supervisor during the period of the appointment, and to monitor the number of hours worked on a weekly basis.  Workload forms need to be submitted to the supervisor at the end of each term. Students are asked to note that if the hours are not completed, the supervisor has the right to cancel the GA payments. All GA positions are in the Cupe 3903 union.

Research Assistants

Research Assistants are Students who are funded directly from Faculty members' Research Grants. These Assistantships are expected to be related to the Faculty members research and the student's research (this means the work the student will be undertaking will also advance the student's academic work). RA positions are not limited by the 10 hour rule, since they are part of a student's program of study and research. There is no set hourly rate of pay, amounts vary from discipline to discipline and faculty member to faculty member.

Teaching Assistantships

Students in the Program obtain Teaching Assistantships in a variety of undergraduate departments particularly, but not exclusively, in Social Sciences and Humanities. Teaching Assistantships are an important and valuable experience for anyone who intends to later teach in a university. They are also a critical source of funding after the first year. Continuing students, therefore, should explore the possibilities of obtaining a Teaching Assistantship for each fall/winter session early in the academic year and file the appropriate applications. The Program can offer advice about possible openings but it is not responsible for placing students. More information is available through the Program Office.

For current graduate students:

The TA Blanket application deadline for the summer session and the following academic year is usually in January, and applications are submitted to all departments and programs that the student in considering, or has the knowledge base to work in. Students are encouraged to define their teaching interests in a broader focus rather than targeting only one program wherever possible.

For incoming students:

Once you have been admitted to the program, SPTH will send you the TA (unit 1) application, and will ask you to fill it out and submit it back to the program.  You may include a CV with your application.  The program will then forward it out to hiring units, and the hiring units will review the application and contact you directly.  Students are asked to be prompt in replying back to hiring unit inquiries.  (If you have questions about the process, you may contact the SPTH office and we can assist you).

For All SPTH students:

Teaching Assistantships are available in a limited number and students are requested to respond back to the program offering the TA at the earliest time possible. Failure to do so may put another student at a disadvantage.  Students should also know that the hiring units as they are making offers are not able to make multiple offers to each student, so if you have an offer and cannot do the course, please contact the hiring unit to discuss options.   (Please also make sure that your teaching assistantship does not conflict with your own coursework).

Students are also asked to note the following: Students who have previous teaching experience in a department, (and are planning to continue teaching either the same course, or within the same department) are requested to complete the blanket application for every year they are planning to teach. This prevents many placement problems which may develop due to changes made by hiring departments when enrollment numbers change, faculty members cancel planned (upcoming) courses, etc.

Students are also requested to notify the SPTH Program office once they have received an offer, as well as confirming their acceptance. This is because hiring departments contact the SPTH office when a position suddenly becomes available seeking potential Teaching Assistants. If the SPTH office is aware of a student in need of a position, we can contact the student with a lead. If we have not been kept apprised, we will contact only those students who have requested assistance or let us know the status of their placement. Students who are having difficulties getting a TAship, should be in contact with the program office if they have not received an offer by July 25th for the upcoming September session. In addition, if the program has a current CV and/or Unit 1 application, the Director then has the tools to assist the student better.

Teaching Assistants at York are members of CUPE 3903 Unit 1. Their terms and conditions of employment are governed by the collective agreement. A copy of this collective agreement is available from the Administrative Office, Faculty of Graduate Studies, (416) 736-5328, or from Academic Staff Relations, or individuals are encouraged to consult the CUPE website for detailed information including the rates of payment and contract details. (New students will get copies of the CUPE Collective agreement once they are on campus in September).  Teaching Assistants are hired by the relevant Teaching Faculties according to the terms of the contract.

All Teaching Assistantship contracts must be approved by the Faculty of Graduate Studies on the recommendation of the Graduate Program Director.

Hours of Work 
A note regarding hours of work: The Faculty of Graduate Studies indicates that students are designated as full-time graduate students if they:
are not regularly employed by the University, for more than an average of ten hours per week for any period for which they are registered full-time graduate students. (If the student is employed as a teaching assistant or demonstrator, the ten hours per week represents the total time spent by the student in connection with the appointment and includes the time spent on preparative work, reading set assignments, marking examinations, etc.). 
Therefore, in order to adhere to both program and faculty rules, and if an opportunity arises for a student to take on additional work, the student cannot agree or take on additional work until they have the express written of both the SPTH Program Director and the permission of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. The full definition of a full time student may be found on the FGS website at: http://www.yorku.ca/grads/cal/regs.htm#dfts.
If students receive an offer of additional work, the student should be aware that no additional work is permitted until all students have at least one full assistantship.  In order to receive approval for the additional work, an email must be sent to the Graduate Program Director and include the relevant course numbers for the course(s) the student wishes to take on, the status of the student's own academic work, and the name of the student's supervisor. The Graduate Program Director will then contact the Faculty of Graduate Studies for approval.

Ontario Visiting Graduate Scholars (OVGS)

This is a program that allows Ontario graduate students to attend courses at other ONTARIO universities without paying additional fees. However, it must be pointed out that there is a charge to the institution whose student is taking the course at another University. In order for a York student to take advantage of this program, it must be clear that the course they wish to take is not offered at York. Convenience of location is not a reason for permission to be granted.

The form and guidelines for OVGS courses is available on the FGS website.


  • The Program Director reviews the request and the rationale, the course description (supplied by the student) and if appropriate, signs the OVGS form. The form is sent to the Faculty of Graduate Studies, where it is checked to ensure that the student has not exceed the number of courses allowed to be taken outside of the home program (1 full or half course per student per degree maximum), and that the course is eligible, and that the student is eligible, and if so it is approved by the Associate Dean.  The signed form is sent to the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the University offering the course (Host University), for approval by their program director and their associate dean, and only then will the student be enrolled in the course.
  • The process - due to the number of signatures involved, usually takes several weeks, so students are encouraged to begin the paper process at least 4 weeks before the start of the course.

Note: It is important that students formally notify FGS in writing if they drop these courses, otherwise we are charged for them. 

Graduate Student Exchanges 

York University has a number of Graduate Student Exchanges available to students. The York International office has information available on the Universities participating in the exchanges, and the options available to students.

All students considering participating in an Exchange are requested to note that in addition to the paperwork required by York International, all graduate students participating in an exchange are required to submit a petition through their program of study to FGS for permission to participate in the Exchange. It is requested that the student submit the petition 2 months prior to the intended departure date.

York International can be reached at (416) 736-5177.

Note regarding exchanges: in order for these students to opt-out of the Graduate student health care plan they need to be out of the country for at least two semesters of the school year starting in Sept and ending in August. The student must submit - via memo - a request to the program office by August 1st requesting confirmation that they will be out of the country on an official exchange, along with the students names and their student numbers, location of the exchange (country), method of contacting the student (either a new address for while they are overseas, or the email address they will be using while away) and confirmation from York International regarding the status of the exchange which will then be prepared into an official letter from the program for the GSA - Health Plan office so they can reverse the charges.

Helpful Hints

  • If in doubt, please ask. If the Program Office does not have the answer, we generally know where the answer can be found.
  • Appointments are encouraged (and usually drop-in visits are fine too). Appointments to see the director can be arranged through the Program Assistant.  If you need to talk about something that is affecting your academic progress, let us know sooner rather than later. It may save a lot of confusion later on.
  • Join in Program events to get to know the faculty members and other students. It will help you find support and necessary information to succeed in the program.
  • Pace your workload. Don't fall behind if possible, but if you do, make sure that your faculty members (course directors, committee members, etc) are aware of the situation in case you need to take an Incomplete. (And if you do need to take an Incomplete, check the deadlines for submission and fill out a petition if needed).
  • Plan your academic career early, give yourself time to develop scholarship opportunities, research goals, and publishing contacts during your time in SPTH. A strong CV builds opportunities and contacts that you will need later in your career to fulfill your academic goals.
  • We hope to make the time you are in SPTH as academically successful and as enjoyable as possible. If you have concerns, issues or suggestions, please convey your thoughts to us.
  • Make sure the SPTH office has your current email address. When you change your address, please also go on-line and update it there, and notify the SPTH office. Please remember that the more times you change your email, the more email will get lost when people sent to your old address.
  • Remember to register. Every term.
  • Let the Program know - in writing - when you are planning to go on an exchange. Please let us know at least 3 weeks prior to your departure.
  • When in doubt, check the website.  If it's not in the handbook, check with the Program office. Asking early saves a lot time later on.
  • Mentioning something in passing in the hall to the Program Assistant or the Director is not official notification. Please put it in writing, otherwise it may be forgotten.
  • Please put the access codes to the Lounge and the computer room in your wallet, and do not give it out to non-SPTH students.

SPTH Committees

Social and Political Thought has a number of committees that set the internal policies for the program, reviews and ranks admissions applications, scholarships, thesis proposals, new course proposals, etc. All committees with the exceptions of the scholarship and thesis prize committees have student involvement. Students are encouraged to become active participants in the committees. Student appointments to the committees are made through an election process held by the SPT Graduate Student Association.

The Executive 
The Program is administered by the Director in conjunction with the Executive Committee. That Committee is comprised of six faculty members representing the three areas of study (History of Social and Political Thought, Society and Economy, and Consciousness and Society), the Director, two student voting members and the student alternates (non-voting). Voting student reps may take an active part in the discussions, and are responsible for conveying information from the Executive meeting to the students in the program. The Executive meet at least once per term, and holds the Annual General Meeting (AGM) at the end of each academic year.

The Curriculum Committee 
The SPTH Curriculum Committee is responsible for curriculum review and approval of new course proposals. This committee will also review the courses currently offered and make recommendations to the Director and/or the Executive Committee regarding the recruitment of additional faculty to address possible new course offerings relevant to the program, or to supplement existing course offerings and faculty resources. Course submissions must be submitted to the program office by September 30th of each year in order for them to be reviewed by the Curriculum Committee, for supporting documentation prepared and submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies for approval.

SPTH has two Admissions Committees - one reviews the MA applications, and the other reviews the PhD applications. Each committee has two faculty members and two student members and is chaired by the Program Director.  These committees operate in the Winter term (February – April) to review the applications, rank each file, and attend admissions committee meetings where all rankings are reviewed and the top applicants are selected.

The Scholarships Committee
This committee normally meets during the Fall term to review the SSHRC and OGS applications in the program. It comprises three faculty members. It may also review scholarship applications that are submitted through the program at other times of the year.

Theses Prize Committee
Each year a number of dissertations are recommended by the examiners for the annual Faculty of Graduate Studies Thesis Prize. The committee consists of two faculty members and the Director who review and rank all nominated dissertations and make a recommendation to FGS. The deadline for the Thesis Prize recommendation is February 1st of each year.