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ISSUE 115 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 3/15/2002

Departments examined by self-studies

By Stefanie Graen
Staff Writer


Friday, March 15, 2002

Two departments have recently gone through self-studies -political science and English. The process is extensive. First, the department writes a report on their findings, then a team of external reviewers reads the report and visits the campus. These reviewers are deans, administrators, and professors from other colleges and programs competitive to St. Olaf. After looking at the department first hand, the reviewers write a report on their findings, which is then given to the administration.

One of the main jobs of a college’s administration is to make sure that things are running smoothly within academic departments. This is why St. Olaf makes occasional self-studies mandatory for all departments. According to Dean and Provost Jim Pence, self-studies are normal and necessary, and help ensure high academic quality.

Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary and General Studies, John Day, agreed. "Self-studies are valuable for the college because they help clarify the collective thinking of the strengths and needs of individual departments." These studies are not part of the recrediting that is done every 10 years.

Pence explained how three things happen with the report after the administration receives it. When departments make requests for a new faculty position, the study can be used as evidence for tenure-track. Also, new changes in curriculum can result, which was the case in the psychology department. Departments also get feedback on research, such as the economics department, which was encouraged to prioritize faculty research. Sometime a department is so strong that few changes are recommended, such as biology, which, according to the external reviewers, is one of the best programs of its kind in the country.

Dan Hofrenning, the chair of the political science department, described four main goals that were involved in the study of his department. The first is a disciplinary literacy of the content of political science. Next was an intellectual competency, which includes the capacity to do good research, ask good questions, criticize effectively, and write clearly and analytically. The third goal is to have students be aware of the diversity that exists in the world. Finally, the department also has a desire to see students emerge as critical citizens. In order to achieve these goals, the department looked at all major and non-major courses, with the help of faculty and students within the major.

Seven years ago, the English department reconstructed its major, with the addition of a Literary Studies course and the Literatures in English series. This is the main reason that English Chair Jonathan Hill statesd "we don’t anticipate any major changes to come out of this [self-study], but it has clarified where we stand." He feels that the main reason for self-studies is so departments can question how they are covering their subjects, as well as serving their students and the college.

The next big issue for the English department will be the hiring of new faculty for a long-term basis. According to Hill, the size of the faculty has been reduced over the past five years, which means that professors have to do as much with fewer resources. There is a low number of professors in their early twenties and thirties, for when the contractions of the faculty occurred, untenured, and therefore usually younger, professors were let go.

Deciding whom to hire is one outcome of the self-studies. When a department has a request for an increasing number of tenure-track positions, it has to have participated in a self-study in the past few years in order to determine what areas the department is looking to improve. SGA is not involved in this process at all. Random students that have had a professor who is up for tenure may be asked to fill out a survey, but otherwise it is up to the college’s Review and Planning Committee, which, according to the official SGA description, "deals with those issues that directly affect the lives of faculty members on campus. This includes faculty salaries, college budget, tenure and promotion procedures, and teaching load." A senator, Dave Marotz, does sit in on these meetings, however.

The schedule for self-studies is rolling, and each department must have one every six to seven years, based on which departments are due and which have volunteered. Because of the expense, and the time commitment required of the faculty, only seven to eight can take place a year. Pence stated that the purpose of the studies is not to add or change programs. Instead, he says, "It gives current students an opportunity to shape the future of the program; in doing that they help ensure that the quality of their degrees remains high."

Emilee Ellingson,’03 feels much the same way as Pence.

"Knowing that my major department, biology, has had to participate in a self-study is reassuring," she said. "It is one thing to hear from people on campus about the strengths and weaknesses of a certain department, but it is another to hear that reviewers are brought in from the outside to give their opinion. When departments are open to changes suggested by these studies, it gives much m Two departments have recently gone through self-studies – political science and English.

The process is extensive. First, the department writes a report on its findings, then a team of external reviewers reads the report and visits the campus. These reviewers are deans, administrators, and professors from other colleges competitive with St. Olaf.

After looking at the department first hand, the reviewers write a report on their findings, which is then given to the administration.

One of the main jobs of a college’s administration is to make sure that things are running smoothly within academic departments. This is why St. Olaf makes occasional self-studies mandatory for all departments. According to Dean and Provost Jim Pence, self-studies are normal and necessary, and help ensure high academic quality.

Associate Dean for Interdis-ciplinary and General Studies, John Day agreed. "Self-studies are valuable for the college because they help clarify the collective thinking of the strengths and needs of individual departments."

These studies are not part of the recrediting that is done every 10 years.

Pence explained how three things happen with the report after the administration receives it.

When departments make requests for a new faculty position, the study can be used as evidence for tenure-track.

Also, new changes in curriculum can result, which was the case in the psychology department.

Departments also get feedback on research, such as the economics department, which was encouraged to prioritize faculty research.

Sometime a department is so strong that few changes are recommended, such as biology, which, according to the external reviewers, is one of the best programs of its kind in the country.

Dan Hofrenning, chair of the political science department, described four main goals that were involved in the study of his department.

The first is a disciplinary literacy of the content of political science.

Next was an intellectual competency, which includes the capacity to do good research, ask good questions, criticize effectively, and write clearly and analytically.

The third goal is to have students be aware of the diversity that exists in the world.

Finally, the department also has a desire to see students emerge as critical citizens. In order to achieve these goals, the department looked at all major and non-major courses, with the help of faculty and students within the major.

Seven years ago, the English department reconstructed its major, with the addition of a literary studies course and the Literatures in English series.

This is the main reason, English Department Chair Jonathan Hill stated, "we don’t anticipate any major changes to come out of this [self-study], but it has clarified where we stand." He feels that the main reason for self-studies is to make departments question how they are covering their subjects, as well as serving their students and the college.

The next big issue for the English department will be the hiring of new faculty for a long-term basis.

According to Hill, the size of the faculty has been reduced over the past five years, which means that professors have to do as much with fewer resources.

There is a low number of professors in their early twenties and thirties, for when the contractions of the faculty occurred, untenured, and therefore usually younger, professors were let go.

Deciding whom to hire is one outcome of the self-studies.

When a department has a request for an increasing number of tenure-track positions, it has to have participated in a self-study in the past few years in order to determine in what areas the department is looking to improve.

The Student Government Association (SGA) is not involved in this process.

Students that have had a professor who is up for tenure may be asked to fill out a survey, but otherwise it is up to the college’s Review and Planning Committee, which, according to the official SGA description, "deals with those issues that directly affect the lives of faculty members on campus.

This includes faculty salaries, college budget, tenure and promotion procedures, and teaching load." A senator, Dave Marotz, sits in on these meetings.

The schedule for self-studies is rolling, and each department must have one every six to seven years, based on which departments are due and which have volunteered.

Because of the expense, and the time commitment required of the faculty, only seven to eight can take place a year.

Pence stated that the purpose of the studies is not to add or change programs. Instead, he said, "it gives current students an opportunity to shape the future of the program; in doing that they help ensure that the quality of their degrees remains high."

Emilee Ellingson ’03 feels much the same way as Pence and sees department self-studies as valuable for gaining student perspective. She said that it is good to know that departments want student input.

"Knowing that my major department, biology, has had to participate in a self-study is reassuring," she said.

"It is one thing to hear from people on campus about the strengths and weaknesses of a certain department, but it is another to hear that reviewers are brought in from the outside to give their opinion.

"When departments are open to changes suggested by these studies, it gives much more weight to the findings, and keeps students more informed."ore weight to the findings, and keeps students more informed."





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