Volume 12, Number 17 April 29, 2005

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Study, retooling of program review to take one year

While it appears the University of Saskatchewan will continue to gauge the quality of its academic programs, it seems certain there will be changes to the Systematic Program Review (SPR) process now finishing its six-year cycle of evaluating all 151 U of S programs.

One thing is sure: administrators and faculty across campus will get at least a one-year break before they’ll face another program review.

At its April 21 meeting, University Council launched a campus-wide debate over what a future review process should look like.

Council Planning Committee Chair Beth Bilson said her group will work over the next several months with the SPR Office, the Integrated Planning Office, Provost Michael Atkinson, Graduate Studies & Research Dean Tom Wishart, and the whole University community on the details of a new review process.

“We expect to present our recommendations to the University community for discussion in the fall of 2005, and to University Council for approval in early 2006,” Bilson said.

She led a discussion at the meeting, asking whether future reviews should focus on programs or academic units, how to streamline the reviews, whether they should provide assessment “grades” as SPR does or just constructive criticism, and possibly co-ordinating them with integrated planning or with the accreditation processes that some colleges face every few years.

In this final year of its first cycle of program reviews, SPR has itself been reviewed. After its own “self-study” report, two expert external reviewers found that SPR has had positive effects in communications and confidence for U of S programs, but they say some on campus question the workload, expense and assigning of grades to programs.

At the April 21 Council meeting, some faculty said there’s a need for a time-out before a new round of program reviews start.

“I feel we should take a couple of years’ breather, step back and try to address the concerns (about programs) raised in the previous reviews,” Languages & Linguistics Assoc. Prof. Lois Jaeck said. Psychology Prof. Peter Grant said, “The question is, what are the outcomes of the first round?, before we start another round.”

Provost Atkinson agreed: “Now that we have done them all, we should pause and reflect ... It’s time to ask ourselves where we want these assessment energies and dollars to go.” Atkinson told Council that, for instance, the U of S may want to consider doing more measuring of student outcomes – an area that, he said, many universities are now investing a lot in.

Economic Prof. and Planning Committee member Glen Beck said the committee considered the basic question of whether there should be any program review process at all. “We decided we do need some form of quality assurance program.”

Health Research Co-ordinator Bruce Waygood said the University has to carry out quality reviews. “If we don’t do this for ourselves, it will be done for us by others,” such as the provincial Department of Learning.

Bernard Laarveld, Head of the Animal & Poultry Science Department and Chair of Council’s Budget Committee, said it’s important to continue with reviews so the University can carry forward with program improvements started because of the first round of SPR.

“If you got a ‘B’ (under SPR) six years ago and you’ve worked hard for five years to change, based on the recommendations, that should be recognized” in another round of reviews, Laarveld told Council.

Atkinson said the University’s first attempt at program review has been valuable. “These SPR assessments have affected almost everything we do. In 1997-98, some people thought there would be a number of programs found to be sub-par, and very, very few were.

“Now we have a measure of ourselves, and I think that measure is, by and large, pretty good.

Bilson invited people to continue to provide input and suggestions to the Planning Committee on the future of the review process, for a deadline of May 15.

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

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