OSU graduate programs thrive on creative forward motion. But every so often, like any successful company or organization, we have to stop and take stock: take a hard look at what we’ve done and where we’re heading, take time to listen to one another’s concerns, readjust and adapt.
The schedule for program reviews is set five years in advance (though adjustments
are sometimes made to accommodate department needs). Six or seven programs are
reviewed each year. This year, the following graduate programs have been reviewed:
• Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering
• Computer Science
• Wood Science and Engineering
• Adult Education
• Human Development and Family Studies
• College Student Services Administration
Ideally, this kind of self-evaluation should be continuous, woven through committee meetings, course reviews, and budget discussions. But even in the healthiest departments, an occasional full-scale, formal review can be extremely valuable.
OSU’s Graduate Council Program Review process answers that need. On a ten-year cycle, every graduate program in our system participates in an intensive review. Like an accreditation process, the review gives departments the opportunity to consider their resources and their performance in view of university priorities and changing national trends. It encourages planning in a deliberative and collegial setting.
A department starts this process by doing its own intensive self-study. Following a standard format, the department gathers input from faculty and staff, current and former students, and any outsiders who may have useful insight. This information, collected over many months, provides a thorough answer to the following questions (whose simple and direct phrasing was developed by Michigan State University):
• Who are you?
• What do you do? Why do you do it?
• How well do you do it and who thinks so?
• What difference does it make whether you do it or not? How do you know?
• Do your students, faculty, university, or disciplinary trends demand that you do something different?
• How do you intend to evolve in the future, given where you are now?
• How will you evaluate your progress and success?
The self-study document becomes the primary source of information for a panel of reviewers: one member of the Graduate Council, two additional members of the OSU graduate faculty (from outside the department), at least one academic disciplinary peer from another university, and at least one prospective employer of degree recipients from outside OSU. The Graduate School dean and associate dean also participate in every review. This panel discusses the self-study, spends a day in the department, and reports major findings and recommendations to the Graduate Council. An action plan is developed, and progress is checked about three years later.
In general, the findings are very positive. Every unit is proud of its students’ performance. There is always strong evidence of the dedicated relationship between students and their major professors. Cooperation among faculty, both within and between departments, is celebrated.
But the process is designed to reveal problem areas and challenge complacency. As a result, there’s rarely a self-study that doesn’t identify at least a few constructive changes and opportunities to pursue. Lately, several departments found their incoming students needed better orientation, and have developed excellent programs to introduce them to the people and resources available to them. Others have realized the benefit of putting graduate students on department committees. Self-study discussions also stimulate planning around more complicated issues: quality of the students in the program, productivity of the faculty, and the continued relevance of the program itself.
For Graduate School administrators, this process provides a broad-view perspective on emerging concerns. When several departments raise similar issues, we start looking at whether the pattern may reach even further. By bridging departments to bring common concerns to the table, we can shorten the time it takes to identify and resolve campus-wide problems.
Slash courses are a good example. A couple of years ago, several departments’ self-studies identified a common weakness: their practice of merging graduate students into upper-level undergraduate courses. When the issue was brought to the attention of the Graduate Council, other departments agreed that in many cases, graduate students in 400/500-level courses were not held to the same expectations as they were in 500-level stand-alone courses. After campus-wide discussion of this issue, University policy was revised, requiring instruction and evaluation of graduate students in slash courses at a higher level of learning.
The program review process helps to assure that the quality and vitality of OSU graduate programs meet the standards of a top-tier university. It’s an important piece in our accountability to our students and our mission.