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Five academic units are in the midst of being reviewed this semester by internal review teams — led by the Academic Priorities Committee — and external review teams of scholars from other institutions, according to guidelines and procedures for reviews of academic programs produced by the Office of the Provost. The review process gives departments and concentration programs an opportunity to "improve the quality of academic units individually and the University as a whole," according to the guidelines and procedures.

Associate Provost Nancy Dunbar, who oversees the reviews of academic departments and centers, said the goal of the review process is to "think about where we are, where we are trying to get and how to get there." The units undergoing review this year are physics, chemistry, modern culture and media, English and literary arts.

The issue most departments wanted to focus on was "how the department is doing in relation to its national or international peers," Dunbar said. Scholar visits from other universities would help departments see themselves in relation to their broader disciplines, she said, adding that departments want to reflect on their strengths and their capacities for leading scholarship.

Historically, departments have said the most useful part of the review process is the initial discussion that happens among faculty, Dunbar said. "Our departments are all interested in being the best they can be," she said.

The review process "provides us an opportunity to assess where (we) currently stand, both in terms of teaching programs and research directions," Professor of Physics Chung-I Tan P'95 P'03 — who chairs the Department of Physics and the Faculty Executive Committee — wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

Tan wrote that the most meaningful part of the review to the physics department is the self-study, which allows the department to examine "what we have done over the past decade for our faculty hire, undergraduate and graduate programs, future research direction and hiring and expansion." Tan added that the physics department discussed how to "expand strategically in order to maximize the outcome" of the growth of the Division of Engineering into an engineering school.

While the self-study is valuable, "it is nice to receive validation by the external visiting team, which the administration should take seriously," he wrote.

According to Tan, the internal review of the physics department has been completed and a report will be provided to the external visiting team. This team consists of five faculty members — two from Harvard and one each from Princeton, New York University and Duke University. They will visit the physics department in April.

"The Department is always evolving, both in terms of new faculty and the natural evolution of the frontier areas of physics research," Tan wrote. The concentration program is evolving in tandem, he added. Tan wrote that the department is adding new tracks in biophysics and astrophysics to its bachelor of science concentration due to increased faculty research and student interest in those areas.

The English department identified four issues — its undergraduate concentration, doctoral program, non-fiction writing program and hiring plan — to focus its review on, said Kevin McLaughlin, professor of English and chair of the department.

The review will not lead to "a revolutionary change" but the department will try to "simplify our numbering system, and that's a little bit difficult because of the way the concentration requirements are," McLaughlin said. "That's probably going to lead us to step back and look at everything."

The department's practice has been to stay open to making changes, McLaughlin said. "We've been in this current kind of system for four years. It's time to maybe look at it again and have a conversation, try to get some student input," he said.

McLaughlin said one of the things the English department wants to get out of this review is an assessment of the non-fiction writing program and its relationship with the literature program. "More of our literature faculty are teaching courses in the non-fiction writing program, but we'd like to have more integration of the two if possible," he said.

Brian Evenson, professor of literary arts and director of the literary arts program, said the program consulted with other departments that had gone through the review process in the past, because the literary arts program was part of the English department until 2005 and has never been reviewed before. "We worked very hard and figured out what was both good and bad about our department. We got some very productive responses from the external review. Now it's up to the University" to implement the external review team's recommendations, he said.

"We have a responsibility as a top-ranked program to expose students to the best writers and the best teachers possible," Evenson said. "We feel very good about the process. The recommendations of the external review committee were good. We're really hoping the administration will respond positively," he said.

— With additional reporting by Anita Mathews



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