Guidelines for Academic Program Review Queens College of the City University of New York Office of the Provost—2008 September

A. Introduction

Academic program review came to Queens College in the late 1980’s in response to pressure from accreditation agencies. After a 1986 Middle States Association visiting team expressed concern about the lack of formal academic program review at Queens College, President Shirley Strum Kenny appointed a Planning Committee on Academic Program and Support Services Review. This committee proposed a review program consisting of an intensive departmental self-study followed by a review by an external panel. This recommendation formed the basis of the program review process at Queens College, which was initiated by the Office of the Provost in the 1989–90 academic year. Some procedures were modified for the reviews begun in 1992 and later years in response to new policies promulgated by the university. In 1994, the University-Wide Guidelines for Formal, Periodic Academic Program Review established standards to be applied throughout CUNY. The College Guidelines were modified in 2002 in response to suggestions from faculty and administrators involved in the initial cycle of reviews (1989–96). The current College Guidelines contain additional modifications, again based on suggestions of faculty and administrators.

These guidelines apply not only to academic departments, but also to centers, institutes, and other units that support curricular or research programs. All of these units are referred to as departments in the text below, and logical substitutions for terms such as chair, departmental P&B, and divisional dean must be applied. These guidelines do not apply to academic departments that are subject to a rigorous accreditation process by external agencies such as NCATE.  

Self-study, the first step in the review process, is meant to encourage a department to analyze its curriculum in relation to the goals of the department, the college and the university; to investigate the effectiveness of its curricular and research programs in relation to the desired outcomes (as perceived by students, alumni, and faculty members); to review various procedures to determine strengths and weaknesses; to consider needed changes; to evaluate the effects of current levels of resources on the ongoing programs; and to suggest needed changes in programs, department organization, and resources. The site visit, the next step in the process, involves a visit to the campus by a panel of external reviewers who meet with members of the department, students, and administrators and prepare a report evaluating the department’s programs. Next, the department prepares a response, which addresses any specific questions the report may have raised and drafts a plan for the department’s future. After discussion with the Dean and Provost, a formal Academic Plan for the next five to seven years is prepared. The review concludes with a meeting of the department P&B with the President and formal written acceptance of the Plan.

The model of internal self-study followed by external review parallels the accreditation process used by the Middle States Association, which describes the purposes of these two steps as follows:

The self-study allows an institution to analyze “its functions, appraise its educational effectiveness, review its on-going planning procedures, and discover means by which its work can be strengthened.” The primary function of an evaluation visit by a team of experienced academic colleagues from other institutions “is to study an institution’s analysis of its own work and to give the institution the views of competent outsiders on the validity of that self-analysis….It is a healthy sign when their work can be predominantly corroboration of an institution’s own findings, a cause for serious concern when they identify major problems undetected by the institution.”

The departmental review should be conducted in a manner consistent with these purposes, in the understanding that the intent is to assess the department’s performance in order to strengthen and improve its effectiveness.

B. The Self-Study—the Department’s Review of Itself

Department representatives, usually the P&B and Chair, will meet with the Associate Provost and the Dean prior to initiating the review process to review the guidelines, expectations, and timetable. It can also be helpful for the Associate Provost and the Dean to meet with the entire department so all understand and can contribute to the writing of the self-study and the rest of the review process. Normally the actual writing of the self-study will be delegated by the department chair to a departmental review committee. Experience from Queens, other institutions, and accrediting agencies indicates that the production of the report is facilitated if a small number of full-time, tenured, senior faculty take responsibility for writing and gathering data. Of course, a broad representation of the faculty, students, staff, and alumni should be included in the data pool.

The Provost’s Office and the Office of Institutional Research (Director, Dr. Margaret McAuliffe, 997-5788) are prepared to meet with department P&B’s and self-study committees to assist in any way needed. On request, Institutional Research will provide a historical record of FTE’s produced; students graduating with degrees from the department; the number of full-time faculty, instructional staff, and support staff assigned to a department; and other data the department feels may be useful.

The self-study is a report developed by the department’s faculty. It should describe and analyze the current status of the department and project where the department aspires to be in the next five to seven years. Accordingly, the review should forecast needed changes, the resources necessary to make the changes, and the plans to obtain needed resources. In writing the self-study, keep in mind the intended audiences: the department itself; the internal reviewers, i.e., the college administration; and the external reviewers. A self-study that is exclusively laudatory or damning is likely to be less useful to the department and the college than one that tries to describe frankly and accurately as possible the current status and needs of specific units.

The attached outline provides an extensively annotated list of the major elements to be included in the self-study, along with a recommended format. This is intended to help the department prepare a self-study which includes all the necessary information. While the department is free to organize the information as appropriate for its discipline, the outline provides a convenient way to organize the information, and if it can be adhered to, the task of the Provost’s office in reviewing the self-study is greatly facilitated. Departments should check with the Provost’s Office if they wish to deviate significantly from this format.

Note that an essential element in the self-study is a report on the department’s outcomes assessment activities, that is, the department’s assessment of its effectiveness in achieving its goals and mission for its students. Assessment is essential since a primary purpose of the Academic Program Review process is improvement of a department’s programs, and in order to improve, one needs to measure how well one is currently doing. It is because assessment provides important information to guide departments as they improve their programs that outcomes assessment is increasingly mandated by accrediting agencies and the New York State Education Department. The college as a whole must also engage in assessment of its activities; indeed, the department-level Academic Program Review flows from this mandate. While the college can and must articulate its overall goals and mission and measure its success in achieving those goals, individual departments can best make such determinations in their disciplinary areas.

The self-study will be presented to the divisional Dean, the Dean of Research and Graduate Studies, the Provost, and the President, as well as to the external review panel. CUNY guidelines require that a copy be forwarded to the Chancellor and Board of Trustees on request. The self-study is considered a privileged document. That is, the college administration will not release it to others, but the department may share the report as it chooses.

C. Selection of the External Review Panel

In view of the multiple missions of most academic programs at Queens College, the external review panelists must have not only high scholarly standing in the discipline under review, but also expertise and experience at the highest level of quality in at least one of the following areas:

  1. liberal arts and sciences programs;
  2. scholarly research;
  3. large (preferably public) college education.

The department will suggest to the Dean individuals who meet these criteria, along with pertinent biographical information such as current position, area of specialization, relevant administrative experience, where and when the PhD was granted, and other distinguishing academic credentials.  The Dean may seek additional names and will then select a panel with the approval of the President and Provost. Normally, the panel will have two members, although three may be justified for complex departments. The Dean will handle scheduling, travel, and other arrangements with the panelists, including the payment of appropriate honoraria.

D. Guidelines for the Site Visit

The Departmental Self-Study Report will be sent to the review panel members by the Dean at least two weeks in advance of the visit. A senior member of the college faculty from outside the Department’s academic division will be designated by the Dean, in consultation with the Provost, to serve as a liaison with the external reviewers during their stay. The liaison will be available to help explain the governance structure of the college and rules governing searches, promotion and tenure reviews, etc. The site visit will typically involve two full days on campus, consisting of interviews and the drafting of the final report. The Dean, in consultation with members of the Department, will establish a schedule for and oversee the visit. Minimally it will include:

  1. a charge to the reviewers by the President and meetings with the Dean and Provost;
  2. a tour of  facilities;
  3. examination of additional material, e.g., course syllabi, sample examinations and student work, scholarly or creative works of the faculty, etc.;
  4.  meeting with the Chairperson and P&B Committee;
  5. individual meetings with all full-time faculty;
  6. meetings with adjunct personnel, graduate students and staff;
  7. meetings with students, and if possible, recent graduates;
  8. attending classes;
  9. an exit interview with the President, Provost and Dean.

The focus of the panel during the site visit should be on expanding their information about the department under review; evaluating the department’s performance in teaching, research and support; identifying problems and issues for discussion in the curriculum, teaching or research efforts of the department; and making suggestions wherever appropriate. The Dean will make arrangements with the review team concerning submission of their final report. It is expected that it will be submitted within two weeks of the site visit.

E. Department Response to the External Reviewers’ Report

As soon as the reviewer’s report is received, the Dean will distribute it to the department and the President, Provost, and Dean of Research and Graduate Studies. The department will examine the report for accuracy and consider its recommendations. It is expected that it will serve as a basis for broad discussion within the department. The department will develop a written response to the Report, correcting factual errors or misperceptions, if any, and offering a plan to incorporate the suggestions made by the reviewers into the department’s agenda for the next five to seven years.  The goals articulated by the department for itself should be as explicit as possible. The department’s written response should be developed as quickly as possible, no later than one month after receiving the reviewer’s report.

F. Meeting with the College Administration—the Academic Plan

When the department’s response is complete, the Dean will set up a meeting of the department’s P&B and the President, with the Provost, Dean of Research and Graduate Studies, and divisional Dean attending, to examine the reviewer’s report and the department’s response. At the meeting a set of goals for the department for the next five to seven years will be established and a timetable to effect agreed upon changes worked out. The Provost will summarize the goals and timetable in a document called an Academic Plan, which will be accepted in writing by the college and be available for review by the Chancellor or Board of Trustees.