Administrative Guidelines for Academic Department Chairs


Section Eight – External Review of Academic Departments and Programs

Purpose of the External Review – 8:1

All Departments have a strategic plan which guides their program. External review is an opportunity for the department, Provost, and Deans to review together the status of the department’s program and curriculum, assessing its strengths, problem areas, and plans for the future. This review helps departments see how they are doing in terms of their strategic plans. There are three key foci for a department review.

The starting point for the review should be the department’s goals in its strategic plan. Many of the goals will be unique to the department, but every department will have expected student learning outcomes. The focus of the review will be considering how well the department is meeting all of these goals.

The departmental review will also evaluate what qualitative and quantitative indicators (e.g., alumni feedback, course enrollments) suggest about the health of the program. Many departments assess these indicators in their annual end of the year reports, so a summative evaluation should be relatively easy to accomplish.

Finally, departments should examine what assessment results for the two General Education options, First Term Seminar, January Interim Experience, the Writing Program, relevant interdisciplinary programs, and institutional learning outcomes suggest about their departmental contributions to these programs and outcomes.

Process – 8:2

Departments will have an external review every ten years. The only exceptions to this will be if a department makes a request to postpone the review for a year for personnel related reasons or if the department has an external accreditation process which dictates another timeline. Departments will be notified of the timing of their review no later than the spring before the year of the review. Normally, the chair of the department will be responsible for the evaluation process. The chair should meet with the appropriate dean to discuss the process (see section 8:4 for the review checklist).

The chair, working in collaboration with the department, should conduct a self-study (see section 8:3 for guidelines) and prepare for the outside evaluators’ visit. At the beginning of the process departments may find it helpful to schedule a departmental retreat to reconsider departmental goals and plans and to identify desired outcomes of the review process. Some departments engaged in ongoing external review as part of their field (e.g. external accreditation processes). In such cases, the department may choose to work with their Dean so that the scope of their review is valuable but not redundant.

Choose Evaluators

In most cases the evaluation team will consist of two external evaluators within the discipline of the department undergoing review. Departments will send a list of at least four evaluators, along with their vitae, to the Dean. In cases where there are multiple distinctive majors within the department and two may not be the most sensible number, the department chair should consult with their Dean to identify the appropriate size and background(s) of the evaluation team.

The department should contact their nominees to see if they are interested and available. The department will then provide the Dean with a ranking and rationale. The Dean will select the evaluators and send the evaluators a written invitation. Ideally, the team will consist of one male and one female, with one evaluator being an ethnic minority. Normally, one visitor will be from a comparable undergraduate institution and one will be from an institution that has a graduate program in the discipline. Evaluators should both have tenure in their field, bit it is desirable to select evaluators at different points in their career. We find that reviews are most effective when the reviewers have a strong understanding of higher education in this region; for this reason we encourage departments to first consider reviewers from institutions within 500 miles of Gustavus.

When contacting prospective evaluators, it is important to say that the Dean will make the final decision and that they are among several potential candidates. Please ask them to hold proposed dates open, but do not promise that they will be selected. Once the two evaluators have accepted the formal invitation from the Dean, the department chair should contact the remaining prospects to let them know that other evaluators have been selected.

Travel Arrangements and Expenses Related to the Campus Visit

Reviewers are guests of Gustavus when visiting campus. Their expenses are paid by the Office of the Provost. The College appreciates the time faculty devote to hosting candidates and extending hospitality. The Provost’s Office also appreciates efforts made by departments to control costs, while ensuring that every reviewer is treated well and has a comfortable visit.

After the Provost’s Office authorizes reviewers for a campus visit and extends an official invitation, the Chair should contact each reviewer and begin making travel arrangements and arranging for the on-campus visit.

Air Travel
All evaluators should book their own flights when possible. The Chair or Administrative Assistant should contact Shanon Nowell ( or x7541) for approval of the ticket cost before they are purchased. The tickets are paid for by the Office of the Provost. Copies of all receipts need to be submitted to us.

Evaluators should be picked up from the airport or take Land to Air Express ( or 507-625-3977) to Saint Peter rather than renting a car to drive to here.

Car Travel
Reviewers who drive to campus will be reimbursed for mileage at the standard IRS rate. Please remember that even a candidate who drives from the Twin Cities will be reimbursed for mileage. While this cost is less than an airline ticket, it’s important to note that there is no such thing as a “free” reviewer.

Reviewers who wish to rent a car for personal purposes (e.g., to visit local family) must do so at their own expense.

Campus visits will include two overnight stays. Contact the Center for Servant Leadership ( or x7001) to make Guest House reservations or, if necessary, make reservations at a local motel using a department member’s Wells Fargo card for payment. The department is also responsible for obtaining the key to the Guest House in a timely manner (e.g., on Friday by noon if the evaluators arrive on a Saturday or Sunday). The Chair will obtain parking permits from the Campus Safety Office, if needed.

During the course of a campus visit, it is useful to use meals as an opportunity to introduce the evaluators to a wider range of people on campus and to show our hospitality. Ideally, evaluators will share all meals with a department member, students, or other faculty with related interests.

In order to have a comfortable, informal conversation with the candidate, only modestly sized groups should join evaluators for meals at the College's expense. Although we want to be hospitable, this is a time to model good stewardship to our colleagues from other institutions. Please adhere to the following meal guidelines (the number of listed guests below is the maximum; you may opt to invite fewer):

  • Breakfast: evaluators + 2 guests (maximum $10 per person) *normally on-campus
  • Lunch: evaluators + 4 students or 3 guests (maximum $15 per person) *normally on-campus
  • Dinner: evaluators + 2 guests (maximum $35 per person)
  • Receptions: Limited to one during the on-campus visit ($75 per reception)
  • Alcoholic beverages are permitted and will be reimbursed, but are limited to one per individual

A department member’s Wells Fargo card should be used for payment. An itemized receipt (not just the credit card receipt) needs to be obtained and the names of those in attendance at the meal should be written on the receipt before it is turned in to the Provost’s Office.

In accordance with the College Travel Policy, tips should not exceed 15% of the cost of service, unless automatically charged.

On-campus meal tickets (for the Marketplace and Campus Buffet) are obtained from Jennifer Harbo ( or x6223) in the Provost’s Office.

Evaluator Reimbursement
When evaluators come to the Provost’s Office they will be asked to sign a form that provides the information we need in order to reimburse them for expenses. They will be directed to mail receipts for reimbursement for parking, mileage, tolls, etc. to the Provost’s Office upon completion of the trip. Reimbursement will normally be made within two weeks of receiving receipts.

Other Expenses
Should there be costs other than transportation, lodging (if off-campus), and meals, it is important to clear these in advance with the Provost’s Office.

Schedule/Coordinate Visit

The Department Chair arranges a detailed schedule for the visit (see this sample schedule). Normally, the reviewers visit for a period of one and a half days. If the visit starts on a Sunday afternoon, for example, the schedule should include:

  • Dinner (Evaluators and 2 faculty)
  • Monday (morning): 30 minute meeting of Evaluators with the Dean
  • Rest of schedule could include meetings with:
    • Department faculty
    • Faculty from related departments
    • Student majors
  • Some free time on Monday evening for them to compare notes. Be sure to inquire of them before they arrive if there are specific things they want to see or do as part of their review.
  • Tuesday (late morning /early afternoon): 1 hour exit interview (Provost, Dean, Department Chair, and Evaluators); this should be the final meeting of the visit.

The department is responsible for ensuring that the evaluators are accompanied to, and picked up from, each appointment.
The Chair of the department will consult with Linda Steinhaus, Administrative Assistant ( or x7675), to determine appointment times for the evaluators to meet with the Provost and Dean.

The Evaluator's Report

Generally, the report will be 10-15 pages in length. Though there is no standard template for review the external review reports, we suggest the report address the following questions:

  • How well is the department meeting the goals outlined in its strategic plan?
  • How well is the department doing in terms of national standards or recognized model programs?
  • What are the significant strengths and weaknesses of the program as currently configured?
  • How well is the department covering the field in its course programming for those planning to go to graduate school?
    What are recommendations for improvement in the next decade?
  • Any advice on questions specific to the department (e.g. re-envisioning a retiring faculty member's position, adding or removing a curricular theme).


The Provost and Dean are responsible for all expenses incurred for this review. The department is responsible for keeping track of all expenses and for submitting a completed request for payment form, along with all receipts.

Following the evaluators’ visit, they will prepare a written report for the Provost and the department. The Provost will acknowledge receipt of the written report with a letter of gratitude, and enclose a honorarium check in the amount of $750 per evaluator.

Follow up

Following receipt of the evaluators’ written report, the department will submit a written report to the Provost outlining their plans to implement evaluators’ suggestions, or indicate their reason for declining to implement suggestions. Then, all members of the Department will meet with the Provost and Dean to review and consult about follow-up.

Self-Study Guidelines – 8:3

Creating the Department Self-Study provides the department an opportunity to reflect on where it has been and where it is going. A department’s self-study must include the following items:

Departmental Goals
Departments should include a copy of their department’s goals from its most recent strategic plan including student learning outcomes.

Departmental Assessment Results
How a department presents these results can vary; for example, this part of the review might include copies of the department’s annual assessment reports or alternatively the department’s assessment plan for student learning outcomes, how they have evaluated student learning outcomes since the last external review and a summary of what was learned in this evaluation, and any changes which have resulted from the assessment process.

Departmental Data
This section should include discussions of available qualitative and quantitative data (alumni feedback, course enrollments, majors, minors, number attending graduate school, other parameters, etc.) and what it suggests about the program quality, health, and contributions to the liberal arts.

Department Curriculum
Discussion of the department’s contributions to our two general education programs, First Term Seminar, January Interim Experience, the Writing Program, interdisciplinary programs, and institutional learning outcomes in light of these programs’ assessment results. A department should examine what its and the programs’ assessment results suggest about the Department’s contributions to these programs and outcomes. Every department contributes differently to each of these extra-departmental programs. For some departments, their extra-departmental contributions may be limited to one area. Other departments may be substantively involved in every kind of extra-Departmental academic programming Gustavus offers. It is also likely that how well these extra-departmental assessments indicate where departments programming efforts are or are not working will vary. However, inasmuch these extra-departmental assessments provide an additional way to understand the department’s contributions to the college as a whole, they are important. An example would be if a department’s courses make up the majority of the college’s general education course offerings in one area and assessments indicate the majority of graduates feel exceptionally prepared in this area, it would be relevant.

Department Mission Statement
This defines the work of the department and the relationship of the department to the institutional mission, vision, and philosophy. Departments should review the College mission statement, as it should serve as a starting point for departments and programs. Departments should consider the following questions in crafting their mission statements: What do we as a department do for majors, non-majors and the college as a whole? What are the special contributions the department makes to the college’s overall goals?

Goals of the Review Process
Such goals might include, for example, advice on curricular and staffing changes.

Last Departmental Review Report
If possible, it is helpful to include the last departmental review and a copy of the department response letter.

Ideally, many of these required materials have already been collected and provided by the department to the Provost’s office on an annual basis. However, evaluating the information together again as part of the review material preparation provides an opportunity for the department to reflect on it as a whole.

There is no expectation or obligation for any department to include more than the above required materials.

Additional Information

Depending on the nature of the department and its goals, however, a department may still choose to include additional materials in its self-study. The department may find it helpful to contact the evaluators to determine what additional information beyond the required materials would be valuable to them. There is no benefit in a review to write about activities only tangentially connected to the department’s mission.

If departments choose to provide additional materials, they should be strategic in providing only that which is most relevant and important for their field and their department during the time of the current review. These materials may include the following or other pertinent information:

  • The Department’s most recent strategic plan
  • Course Syllabi
    This could be one from each regularly taught course.
  • Brief (one-page) Vitae of All Faculty
  • Advising
    This could be a brief discussion detailing the departmental procedures for advising majors. It would include materials (Major Handbooks, Advising Documents, Major Declaration Forms) that the department uses for advising.
  • Department Curriculum
    This material may come from the College Catalog, but could be expanded upon to include a more focused discussion on: major(s), participation in General Education, service courses (those courses that are included in other majors and/or programs), electives, etc.
  • Diversity Issues
    This would be an assessment of the ethnic and cultural diversity of the department, both in terms of students, faculty, and curriculum, as appropriate. It should report how the department is addressing the College’s goal to create a welcoming environment for diverse members of the community.
  • International Dimensions
    This would be a brief assessment of how the department addresses the College’s desire to provide an international perspective to students and the campus. It could include: descriptions of courses that have been revised to have a more international dimension; what the department is doing to encourage students to study abroad; lists of international guests the department has hosted, faculty attendance at conferences on internationalizing the curriculum and/or international travel, or percentage of majors who have studied abroad.
  • Postgraduate Preparation/Advising and Outcomes
    This could include: a brief discussion of the process used to prepare students for graduate or professional schools; Departmental handbooks, manuals, etc., numbers of students who have been accepted to graduate or professional school since the last review or senior exit interview data.
  • Internship Programs
    This could include: a brief description of the appropriateness of internships for your students and how they are incorporated into your curricula, the number of students who have recently participated in internships and their sites.
  • Student/Faculty Research, Scholarship and Creativity
    This could include: a brief description of student faculty research, both in and out of the classroom or a list and brief description of recent student/faculty collaboration. Depending on the department, evidence of creative work such as performances, art showings, concerts, etc., would clearly be relevant as well.
  • Teacher Education
    A brief description of your program’s participation in teacher education if it is a major component of your program.

Again, none of the above bulleted points are expected or required in any way for the self-study. They are simply ancillary materials for reviewers.

The completed self-study should be sent to the Provost as one electronic PDF document with a table of contents five weeks before the visit. After approval of the draft by the Provost, a final draft of the PDF document should be sent to the evaluators two weeks before the visit.

External Review Check List – 8:4

  • The Department Chair will schedule a Departmental retreat to discuss evaluators and issues for review, and distribute self-study work the year before the Department will undergo review.
  • The Department Chair will meet with the Dean to discuss evaluators.
  • The Department Chair will work with Linda Steinhaus ( or x7675) in the Provost’s Office to schedule the dates of the visit and the evaluators’ appointments with the Provost’s Office as soon as the date is selected to ensure the Dean’s availability.
  • The Department will conduct a self-study and assemble a single PDF document with a table of contents that has the materials described in section 8.2.
  • Send the Provost’s Office a copy of the self-study five weeks before the visit.
  • Upon approval from the Provost's Office, send the self-study to the evaluators (at least two weeks before the visit.)
  • The Department Chair will arrange the itinerary for the visit.
  • The Department Chair is responsible for making travel, lodging, and ground transportation arrangements for the evaluator.
  • Once the reviewers’ report has been received the department will review the report and provide a written response to the Provost’s office.
  • All members of the department will meet with the Provost and their Dean to discuss the review and consult about follow-up.

Intermediate Review and Reflection – 8:5

At the midway point between external reviews, each department/program will conduct an Intermediate Review and Reflection. This process will require less work than the full external review. Each department/program will explore the following questions and submit a written report to the Office of the Provost. While there are no rigid guidelines for this report, it should be 3-4 pages in length; and should addresses the questions below as specifically as possible.

Looking Backward

  • What were the primary recommendations of your most recent external review?
  • What steps has your department/program taken to address these recommendations? If you have not followed up on these recommendations you will want to provide some explanation as to why not.
  • After implementing these recommendations, what does your assessment data suggest regarding these changes?
  • What else does your assessment data of the last 5 years suggest as strengths and weaknesses of your department/program?
  • What changes have you implemented to capitalize on these strengths and address these weaknesses?
  • Overall, how are you using the assessment results in curricular and program development?
  • If you have implemented any other innovations in pedagogy, curriculum, or advising in the last 5 years? Please identify them and explain why these changes were made.

Looking Forward

  • How has your field changed in the past 10-15 years and what trends are currently emerging? (A good source for this would be a state of the field document from your professional association. Please provide sources.)
  • What are your departmental/program goals for the next 5 years?
  • Do you anticipate any changes in your department/program (faculty retirements, etc.) that will shape your opportunities before the external review?
  • How will you accomplish these goals?
  • How will you know whether you have met these objectives?

Data Collection

As part of this intermediate review, the Provost’s Office will provide for you the following items:

  • Enrollment data for courses
  • Number of courses offered in either general education curriculum by department/program faculty
  • For Liberal Arts Perspectives courses, the breakdown of course offerings across the various categories
  • Number of FTS and January offerings provided by your department
  • Your department/program assessment reports of the last 5 years

Sample Schedule – 8:6

Sunday, October 9

2:30 p.m. Arrive at Minneapolis airport; Tom Keenan, Associate Professor of Linguistics, will meet you
4:00 p.m. Arrive at the campus Guest House.
4:30-5:30 p.m. Tour Linguistic Department facilities in Storkson Hall followed by a brief campus tour with Elizabeth Lewis, Assistant Professor of Linguistics
5:30-6:30 p.m. Open time for evaluators
6:30-8:00 p.m. Dinner with Linguistics Department colleagues Gilbert Broden, Assistant Professor, and Ann Serrano, Associate Professor (Lone Star BBQ and Grill)

Monday, October 10

8:00-9:00 a.m. Breakfast with Professor Susan Smith, Linguistics Department Chair (She will meet you at the Guest House and walk to the Gustavus Market Place)
9:00-9:30 a.m. Meet with Dean Loren Sorenson (Carlson Admin Building, Room 221)
10:00-10:20 a.m. Chapel is optional
10:30-11:30 a.m. Meeting with faculty from related departments and interdisciplinary programs (Storkson Hall, Room 198)
Emmett Davis, Chair, Philosophy Department
Kasia Mazur, Chair, Computer Science Department
Helena Brink, Chair, Psychology Department
Emily Lin, Director, Asian Studies Program
Charles Hinton, Director, African and African American Studies Program
**Note: Unless otherwise indicated, meetings with faculty are scheduled for Storkson Hall, Room 198
11:30-Noon Jill Marshal, Associate Professor and College Assessment Director
Noon-12:30 p.m. Ann Serrano, Associate Professor (escort to Jackson Student Union)
12:30-1:30 p.m. Lunch/Open time for evaluators (Gustavus Market Place)
2:00-2:30 p.m. Marie Fordyce, Assistant Professor (escort from Jackson Student Union)
2:30-3:00 p.m. Elizabeth Lewis, Assistant Professor
3:00-3:30 p.m. Gilbert Broden, Assistant Professor
3:30-4:00 p.m. Conversation with student majors (Storkson Hall, Room 134)
4:00-5:00 p.m. Open time for evaluators (Guest House or Library)
5:30-7:00 p.m. Dinner with Linguistics Department colleagues Marie Fordyce, Assistant Professor, and David Kim, Associate Professor (Whiskey River Emporium)
7:00 p.m. Open time for evaluators (Guest house or Library)

Tuesday, October 11

8:00-9:00 a.m. Breakfast with Professor Susan Smith, Linguistics Department Chair; she will meet you at the Guest House (Gustavus Market Place)
9:00-10:00 a.m. Review/discussion time for evaluators (Guest House or the Library)
10:00-10:20 a.m. Chapel is optional
10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Review/discussion time for evaluators (Guest House or the Library)
12:00-1:00 p.m. Lunch with students who are linguistics majors (Anna Brandt ’15, Braydon Schmidt ’16, Rayna Schultz ’16, and Landon Fischer ’17) (Gustavus Market Place)
1:00-2:00 p.m. Exit interview with Provost Lucy Thomen, Dean Loren Sorenson, and Chair Susan Smith. (Provost’s Office Conference Room)
2:00 p.m. Leave for the airport; Tom Keenan will meet you at the Provost’s Office for departure to the Minneapolis airport

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Last modified: 13 June 2016, by Shanon Nowell