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GP.04.02
April 26, 2004
University of Illinois
Urbana-Champaign Senate

Committee on General University Policy

GP.04.02, Unit Review
(final- Action)

Background

Six years ago Provost Herman appointed an ad hoc committee, chaired by Leigh Estabrook, to consider whether there are good reasons for a system of periodic reviews of units that function in the manner of academic departments on this campus, and if so, what sort of system of this kind might be most appropriate for this campus. Many universities have such unit review systems

. This campus once did (called “COPE,” or “Council on Program Evaluation”); but it was dropped, owing to a general feeling on the campus that it was not worth the effort required on the part of all concerned to conduct the kinds of reviews it involved. The Estabrook Committee was mindful of that experience, and was concerned that it not be repeated. However, the Committee did feel that there are a variety of good reasons to have a more flexible sort of review system, and proceeded to set out the rationale for it and to recommend guidelines for such a more flexible system.

The Estabrook Committee report was submitted to the Provost in March 1999. It was transmitted to the Urbana Senate for comment, and was then referred to the General University Policy Committee for consideration. GUP reported to Senate Council in May 1999, saying that it “endorses the report” but “does not support mandating a regular cycle of review for all units,” on the ground that “the benefit must justify the cost,” and that it is not clear that the benefits of reviewing all units in a regular cycle in accordance with the report’s guidelines would do so. Nothing further was done with or about the report at that time, either by the Senate or by the Provost’s office; for at that time a higher priority was assigned to addressing the question of a campus policy with respect to faculty review (after as well as prior to tenure), after which other concerns seem to have eclipsed it.

Discussion

GUP has returned its attention to the matter for a variety of reasons, relating both to internal campus issues and external developments. It is becoming increasingly important to be able to satisfy external constituencies that we are monitoring ourselves responsibly, not only at the level of the individual faculty member but also at the level of departments and analogous academic units. And just as having a system of faculty review in place is essential with respect to the former, so also having a system of unit review would go a long way toward satisfying accountability concerns with respect to the latter.

Even more important, GUP believes that it would be highly desirable to have a flexible review system in place that would enable both units and administrators to ascertain the respects in which units are either to be commended or are in need of assistance or changes. For example: the assessment of the consequences of the budgetary problems of recent years is going to be increasingly important if we are to come out of this difficult period in the best shape possible, in the units and as a campus. Reviews can be helpful in this connection, as in many others; but if they are to be helpful, they need to become commonplace occurrences that will not be perceived as signaling that units undergoing review are in trouble.

Finally, while GUP today agrees with its 1999 predecessor that “the benefit [of a review system] must justify the cost,” in faculty time and effort as well as in expense and in impact upon units, we also believe that (1) the costs of having a comprehensive unit review system must also be balanced against the costs of not having such a system (the greatest and worst of which could be the imposition of a crude and onerous system upon us that would do real harm, if we are deemed to be unable or unwilling to monitor ourselves in some clearly comprehensive and systematic way), and (2) only a comprehensive unit review system can remove the onus of “being reviewed” that will inevitably exist otherwise, and that will greatly diminish the positive results that unit reviews can and should generally have.

And while GUP today also agrees with its predecessor that it would be a mistake to “mandate a regular cycle of reviews for all units” that would be of a uniform nature and uniformly intensive character, as was the case under the old COPE system, we believe that it would be both prudent and beneficial to have a policy mandating a review of an appropriate sort for all units functioning in the manner of academic departments at least once each decade.

We therefore recommend that the Senate endorse the idea of a unit review policy of this sort, along the lines of the plan proposed in the Estabrook report’s initial sections with the qualifications indicated below, to be refined, implemented and overseen by the Provost’s office.

We do not recommend that a “comprehensive review” of the sort described in the Estabrook report’s “Guidelines” sections be mandated for all units at least once each decade, even though we do believe that it would be desirable for most units to undergo a fairly comprehensive review (involving an external panel) at least that often.

We recognize that some units must undergo forms of review for accreditation or other such disciplinary reasons with equal or greater frequency that do or may be used to serve similar internal and campus purposes; and we believe that it is desirable to incorporate and take advantage of such reviews in our campus unit review system, to avoid needless duplication, supplementing them with more narrowly focused reviews from time to time to give attention to matters not covered in the other reviews.

We recommend that the unit review system developed recognize that the kinds of reviews to be conducted will be of greatest benefit if they are tailored to the needs, circumstances or other such reasons that may exist and come to the attention either of the units or of the administrators responsible for their oversight; and that such reviews may be either quite comprehensive or more narrowly focused. We do not believe that a “one size fits all” approach would be desirable; nor do we believe that a particular unit ought to undergo the same sort of review every time it is to be reviewed, since the reasons for the undertaking of a review may well vary from one time to another. In short, we believe that it should be recognized that the reviews undertaken in different units or at different times may differ very considerably.

We suggest that the following points be incorporated into the system of unit review, in the spirit of the Estabrook Committee report:

1) All academic departments and all campus units that function in the manner of academic departments should be included (e.g., the Program in Religion, the School of Social Work, the College of Law).

2) All units should be given some sort of review at least once every ten years (in part because it is sound policy, in part to counter the idea that being reviewed means being in trouble, and in part to assure all concerned that we have a comprehensive program of unit review).

3) Guidelines for reviews should take account of differences in unit governance structures, disciplines, and disciplinary practices and requirements.

4) Reviews should be conceived and conducted in a fundamentally constructive manner, and intended to help identify and address opportunities and needs as well as problems (e.g. after periods of budgetary stress, unusual faculty turnover, changes in demand for undergraduate or graduate programs, disciplinary or professional developments).

5) Where reviews of various sorts (e.g. accreditation reviews) are mandated by disciplines, they may suffice; but they may also be supplemented by different sorts of reviews, depending upon their nature and the unit’s circumstances.

6) Reviews should be initiated by next-level administrators (NLA, e.g. deans), either at the request of unit Executive Officers (EO) or faculties (if the NLA concurs), or when otherwise deemed appropriate by the NLA.

7) The character of the review to be undertaken (focus, timing, procedure, etc) should be worked out between the EO (and other members of the unit if appropriate) and the NLA, and articulated in a memorandum of understanding, on which both the unit EO and the NLA sign off.

8) Reviews may be either focussed and limited in scope or comprehensive.

9) Comprehensive reviews should involve both unit-based assessment and an external review element. The understanding should include a process for the identification of external as well as internal reviewing groups, both of which may make reports to the NLA and to the unit or EO. Focussed reviews may also (but need not) involve an external review element.

10) Comprehensive reviews might typically consider such things as a unit’s rationale for its undergraduate and graduate programs, their quality, and student demand for them; faculty quality and professional activity; public and professional service contributions appropriate to the unit’s nature and discipline; and faculty and student concerns.

11) Reviews should be action-oriented (identifying steps to take advantage of opportunities, address problems, meet needs, etc.).

12) The review process should culminate in discussion between the NLA and unit EO and/or Executive or Advisory Committee or faculty, and may (but need not) issue in a written report, depending upon the nature and purposes of the review, and upon its upshot. In any event, however, it should conclude with a letter from the NLA to the unit.

Recommendation

That the Senate endorse the establishment of a program of academic unit review along the lines suggested in the 1999 Estabrook Committee Report and above, to be refined, implemented and overseen by the Provost’s office.

Attachments:

Estabrook Committee Report, May 1999

Grossman GUP Memo, May 14 1999

General University Policy

Richard Schacht, Chair

R. Linn Belford

Clifton Brown

George Gross

Carol Livingstone

Alex Longan

Mark Nattier

Joanne Vining

David Swanson, Ex officio