This article is about the IRB process for Minerva Students writing their Capstone projects. IRB is the review board that anyone doing human subject research (HSR) at an institution must go through before they can begin to ensure and protect the rights and safety of all human subjects. More info on what the IRB is can be found at this link.

Thirteen students from Minerva’s class of 2019 submitted their Human Subjects Research (HSR) protocols to the Claremont Institutional Review Board (IRB), but so far, the board has only granted approval to two of them, with five weeks to go until the universal Capstone deadline on March 23. The institution first notified students of the requirements for HSR at the beginning of the Fall 2018 term, and they experienced many challenges and delays along the way. Key issues were the convoluted user interface of the protocol submission platform and a lack of communication about IRB processes. The complications have forced some students to change their projects. Students whose Capstones suffered because of these issues have voiced their frustrations, and the Minerva administration is taking steps to prevent such problems in future years.

Natalie Kanter, majoring in Social Sciences, submitted her complete protocol in the middle of December 2018, but it was not until January 2019 that all three IRB reviewers completed their evaluations. Describing the modules of the IRB protocol, Kanter complained: “Every part has its own ridiculous intricacies and confusions, and a bunch of back-and-forth between me, my advisor, and Josh Fost (Minerva’s Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and head of the HSR revision process), and [James Griffith – IRB Manager].”

The most frustrating part, she said, was finding out that another student, whose research questions were the same as hers, did not have to go through the IRB after he and his advisor emailed Professor Josh Fost. When she inquired with Dean Fost about this, he gave her the same response, albeit too late.

Dean Fost attributed the failure of the process to a discrepancy between the working schedules of the partnering graduate institutes  – who review Minerva’s IRB protocols – and the fast pace of Minerva Schools. From the information Minerva released at the beginning of the Spring 2018 semester, students had the impression that the IRB works continually to assess protocols and respond to them immediately, yet the reality is that they only meet on a bi-monthly to monthly basis. Therefore, any replies would take at least two to three weeks to reach the researching student. The failure to account for these delays meant that the class of 2019 students could not proceed with crucial aspects of their projects until the Spring semester.

“The thing that I regret the most,” Dean Fost remarked, “is that I was excessively conservative and I basically recommended that anybody doing anything whatsoever related to human beings submit to Mentor (the protocol submission platform). I now realized that this killed several people that should never have been in the system.”

To address this issue, Dean Fost has founded a committee within Minerva consisting of himself and four other faculty members who will determine if students’ project proposals need to go through IRB and to guide them through the process. Minerva will expect students in the class of 2020 to have received the final decision on their protocol by September 1st of their senior year, at which point, if they have not gotten approval or exemption, they are to omit the HSR aspects from their Capstone.