When it comes to the relatively new process of cyclical departmental and program reviews, Knox was pretty late in getting on the bandwagon, according to Dean of the College Lawrence Breitborde.
And to Breitborde and Professor of History Penny Gold, who is facilitating the process, it is not only important to take a critical look at its program on a regular basis, but to do so with a pair or fresh perspectives.
The Knox system, which started last year after a prompt from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), is on an eight-year cycle, with three to five programs being reviewed each year. An important part of each review is a visit from reviewers external to the college.
“Could we do it by ourselves? Sure,” Brietborde said. “On the other hand, it’s a good thing to bring some people in from the outside who can look at the situation … think about the issues that we’ve identified and share their wisdom. They have no authority, but they can share their views.”
Departments under review are encouraged to invite reviewers who have no connection to Knox and who either teach at institutions much like Knox or at graduate programs to which Knox aspires to send its graduates.
“It’s helpful to have somebody from the outside look at what you’re doing…” Gold said. “They bring their divergent experience to bear. The reviewers do a report, and we might learn something from it, because they’re not sitting here at Knox all the time. They can see things with a fresh eye.”
Gold is particularly experienced with this type of work. She has served as an external reviewer for other institutions, and she formerly worked as a consultant evaluator for the HLC.
“It’s fun work. The reviewer learns as much from doing the review as the school learns from having the reviewer,” Gold said. “I bring to it that experience that I’ve done this myself and I enjoy the interchange within the department and with other people.”
Gold’s main responsibility as coordinator is to facilitate the process and help departments along by way of deadline reminders.
According to Breitborde, each review is different, and it is best to “tailor” each department’s review. For instance, in the cases of business and journalism, practitioners in those fields were brought in, in addition to the two reviewers from other academic institutions.
Departments reviewed last year included psychology, English and physics, and this year’s reviews are underway for journalism, business, biology and music.