On the books we've had a policy in place for some time for students to forgo a traditional dissertation and instead do several academic papers. What we have not had in place is a structure for how they go about doing that. I'm kind of excited that we're putting one together (Nick Eastmond has taken the lead). I think this holds some decent potential for students but there are also several dangers. By necessity a proposal that involves the methods of say two research papers is going to give far less detail than we get with a dissertation, but that said how many of us have written journal articles with that much detail?
I think this ups the ante on the proposal stage. Because there will be less detail the committee and student had better be on the same page going into the research and then the final defense. As a current state there is a draft document in place for the summer and we'll hopefully come to agreement as a faculty during our retreat this Fall.