Regular external reviews of academic departments are conducted every 8 to 12 years. The guidelines contained in this document were developed by the Assessment Planning Committee during 2006-2007 and were approved by the Provost.
An external review is usually conducted by a committee of (usually) three individuals from outside the College who visit the campus and prepare a written report for the department and the administration. The department to be reviewed recommends members for the review committee, as does the Provost. The Provost then selects and appoints the committee.
Departmental reviews begin with a departmental self-study. The self-study assesses the strengths, weaknesses and needs of the department and looks ahead to the challenges that the department may face. The plan for the self-study is developed by the department and approved by the Provost.
All members of the instructional staff in the department, and the Provost, should be aware of the concerns and issues that the external committee is charged to address. Accordingly, while a small number of faculty in the department may be responsible for producing the self-study report, all department faculty, and the Provost, will review the report before it is provided to the external committee. The Provost submits the self-study report to the external committee, along with general College-wide descriptive material and a letter (developed in consultation with the department) that raises specific issues that the external committee should address.
As part of the self-study, the department will prepare a 6-8 page written document that discusses the results of its examination, provides background information on the program of the department and raises specific departmental strengths and concerns. This document will be provided to members of the external committee prior to their visit to campus. Departments and external committees are charged to consider the following general topics in assessing the current state and future challenges of a department and its programs:
- Departmental goals and objectives
- Curriculum and pedagogy (including participation in honors, Writing courses, first year seminars)
- Student life and experience
- Faculty and instructional staff experience and development
- Governance, collegiality and interaction with other departments
- Relationship to the library and to Information Technology Services
- Other department-specific concerns, including facilities
In the narrative report of the self-study, the department will summarize (1) its perspective on these topics, including a description of the current state of affairs and the rationale; (2) the data collected in the course of the self-study that relate to these topics and some reflection on its conclusions; (3) future plans; and 4) departmental concerns.
In the course of the self-study departments will gather and provide to the review committee information from a variety of sources, all of which should be summarized (and where appropriate, submitted in raw form as appendices) for the external review committee:
- Surveys of alumni regarding their experiences in the discipline prior to and after graduation
- Copies of the Chair's end-of-year reports to the Provost for a period of 5 years
- Course enrollments for the last five years
- Syllabi of currently and recently offered courses
- Vitae of current instructional staff
- Results of the most recently completed external review
In some circumstances, it will be appropriate for the department to examine the curricula of peer institutions and to report the results of this study and the department's perspectives on the data to the external committee.
In addition, the Provost will prepare and send materials that describe for the committee the curriculum of the College, including descriptions of the goals and structure of the Honors program, first-year seminars, writing courses, distribution requirements, interdisciplinary minors, the foreign language requirement and any other material deemed appropriate.
Structure of External Committee Visits
The visit by the external committee will generally take place over a two-day period. The schedule will incorporate the following minimum set of opportunities for the committee:
- Consultation with all faculty members in the department - normally on an individual basis
- Consultation with other members of the instructional staff, either individually or in groups
- Consultation with students (majors and non-majors) working in the department without instructional staff present
- Consultation with faculty from other departments in same division and others that are relevant to the program of the department being reviewed
- Consultation with the Provost and the President
- Adequate time for the committee to discuss their visit, formulate their conclusions and begin to prepare their final report
Once the final report is submitted, it is to be shared in its entirety with all members of the faculty of the department. The Provost in consultation with the department Chair may approve exceptions to this principle. The department may wish to schedule a meeting with the Provost or the Associate Provost to discuss the report, its implications for department planning, and the department's ideas about addressing issues and suggestions raised in the report.
Questions to Consider for Self-Study
Curriculum and Pedagogy
Is the curriculum well thought out?
Is the curriculum more than the sum of its parts?
Is the curriculum consistent with the current state of the discipline?
Is the curriculum comparable to that at peer institutions?
Does the curriculum serve well the needs of majors in the department? Of non-majors?
Are there missed opportunities?
What does the curriculum prepare students for?
What is the impact of Honors on the rest of the curriculum?
What is the impact of first-year seminars and writing courses on the rest of the curriculum?
Are the personnel well matched to the curriculum?
Are the facilities well matched to the curriculum?
Student Life and Experience
What is the culture of the department for students?
How does the department obtain student feedback on non-curricular topics such as hiring decisions and general administration of the program?
Instructional Staff Development
What efforts are made to mentor and assimilate junior faculty?
Is the faculty's on-going scholarly work substantial?
Is the faculty's rate of publication (or production and communication of creative work) appropriate?
How do instructional staff understand the relationship between their teaching and their research?
Governance, Collegiality and Interaction with Other Departments
Is the department a collegial place to work and learn?
What is the governance structure of the department? Is it appropriate?
Is there a fair and reasonable distribution of administrative chores?
What is the role of the department in the academic mission and structure of the college? What is the broader role of the department in the campus culture?