Volume 12, Number 15 April 1, 2005

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Campus invited to join in revision of Systematic Program Review

By Colleen MacPherson

As the first six-year cycle of Systematic Program Review (SPR) comes to a close, the Planning Committee of University Council is looking for ways to improve the process for next time around.

Beth Bilson

Beth Bilson

SPR will have reviewed all 152 academic programs on campus by later this year.

In a presentation to Council March 17, Planning Committee chair Beth Bilson asked deans, department heads, council committees “and other interested members of the University community” to consider their experiences with SPR and make suggestions about what future reviews might look like. To encourage thought and feedback, the committee posed a number of written questions that ask, for example, where the focus of reviews should lie and how SPR can be streamlined. It asked for responses by May 15.

Speaking after the meeting, Bilson said the end of the review cycle that began in 1999 creates a window of opportunity to assess SPR “before we start over again with whoever was first out of the chute last time. The Provost’s office has renewed its commitment to some kind of quality control mechanism,” she said, “and we’re encouraging people to forget they were irritated with some part of the past process and look to what kind of system they want in the future.”

Included in the information provided to Council was the report of two outside consultants who, late last year, reviewed SPR. That report was prepared by Trudy Banta of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and Janet Donald of McGill.

Their review noted some problems with the process. In particular, its expense “is a sore spot with many faculty”, and much frustration arose around “the assignment of grades to programs by the senior academic leadership at the university”, a process that creates “distrust, disappointment, and competition among units.” The consultants also described the number of committees dealing with SPR results as “overkill”.

On the other hand, Banta and Donald found a number of “positive outcomes”, including “increased communication, particularly within units, raised awareness of the review process and of the unit’s operating process, and self-confidence.”

In a written response, the SPR Executive (the Provost and the Dean of Graduate Studies and Research with support from the SPR office) said the report shows the process “engendered considerable angst on campus and some hope that SPR would be discontinued”. While it recognizes changes are needed, the executive said “SPR has provided a wonderful opportunity for the University of Saskatchewan to tell its story to other universities, to students and to the general pubic.” The report said “It is crucial that the University continue to utilize a review process.”

Bilson said based on the reviewer’s report, the Planning Committee is asking for reaction to a suggested shift in the focus of SPR to academic units rather than programs. The committee also wants to explore several options for a future process, including one that “looks fairly similar to what we have now or one that can be dovetailed with some other process. One of the options might be to marry it with the Integrated Planning process. This time around, SPR came first and then people had barely recovered from that when they got a set of instructions for coming up with a college plan.”

Responses to the Planning Committee’s questions will be discussed with other Council committees, Bilson said. Then, in collaboration with the Provost’s Office and the SPR Executive, “we’ll come up with a recommendation on what we’ll do in the future.”

The next round of SPR would be scheduled to begin in September but Bilson said there will probably be a gap between the end of the first cycle and the start of the second.

“We’re not going to have this in place for September (2005) but nobody’s going to complain too much about that.”

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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