The goal of a university-wide process for conducting academic program reviews is to evaluate quality and aid planning. Primary outcomes include:
- an objective assessment of the health and vitality of our academic programs;
- recommendations that lead to programmatic improvement, from maintaining strengths to remedying weaknesses;
- alignment with institutional priorities and values.
Additional potential benefits provided by program review include:
- opportunities for our faculty and staff to engage with and learn about programs outside their unit, leading to an increase in cross-collegiate and cross-disciplinary collaborations;
- opportunities for outside constituents to learn about the strengths of our programs, leading to enhanced external visibility and reputation of the University of Minnesota.
To achieve these goals, the academic program review process should be defined by the following characteristics.
Program reviews are conducted through a partnership between the Provost’s Office and the colleges, and involve the provost, vice provosts, college dean and associate dean(s), program faculty and students, and relevant staff. Program reviews should be guided by a central University policy and set of procedures that allow colleges a high degree of flexibility. The process may be tailored to fit individual program needs, but must also include a core set of system-wide, discipline-independent criteria and questions that indicate the value and purpose of the program to the broader institution.
Program reviews should include all of a unit’s academic programs, both undergraduate and graduate or professional. Reviews should also consider all aspects of the unit that contribute to or have an impact on its programs, including organizational structure, budget, facilities, and affiliated centers or institutes.
The reviews must indicate how programs can improve as well as how they contribute to the overall strategic goals of the University. The process must therefore provide a safe space for faculty to examine areas where improvement is needed while also providing information needed for administrative decisions. Program reviews should be seen as part of a continuous improvement process, and it should be clearly stated when program review results may also inform resource allocation or program closure/merger decisions.
The reviews must be neither so superficial as to be meaningless nor so demanding as to be disruptive to the academic programs. The process cannot be perceived to be "homework" assigned by administration to faculty and staff of programs under review; it must be considered useful by producing valuable outcomes and actionable recommendations.
All academic programs must be reviewed; however, the review cycle may vary by college and should depend in part on collegiate and institutional priorities. The review cycle schedule must not be so frequent as to over-evaluate programs nor so infrequent as to risk programs becoming outdated or of lower quality. The process must respect faculty and staff time by leveraging existing processes (e.g., curriculum committee work, specialized accreditations) and providing central sources of key data.
The review process must be sensitive to the culture and history of the department. The focus on a science-based department’s review (laboratories, grants, more linear curriculum) might be quite different than the review of an art department or humanities department. Reviews will need to accommodate the different epistemologies and methodologies used, yet still provide a somewhat standardized approach for comparative purposes.
The review process itself must include opportunities to reflect on the effectiveness of the process and to identify areas for improvement.