Visiting Committees to Academic Departments

Overarching Goals
Visiting Committees provide an opportunity for reflection and discussion aimed at strengthening our academic program. Departments will benefit from multiple perspectives and receive informed feedback about their curricular objectives. The Visiting Committee process is very much a partnership between the department and the members of the Committee.
The spirit of the visits should be lively and informal – a shared concern for the work of the department will animate the discussions and create a collaborative environment within which the visit can take place.
Visiting Committees serve four primary purposes:

  1. to provide a regular opportunity for self-assessment combined with the fresh perspective of an external review;
  2. to examine the objectives of the department and the effectiveness with which the department’s program is meeting those objectives;
  3. to help the department articulate its strengths and challenges;
  4. to provide a written report following the visit that includes recommendations for departmental development and progress.

Visiting Committees are usually composed of two to three members of the Board of Observers and two faculty members from other liberal arts colleges. The department should provide a list of at least five faculty members from other institutions. Based on the first cycle of Observer Visits, faculty from institutions with comparable resources and similar educational missions make the best team members. The President will select one of the faculty members to serve as the team leader based on recommendations from the department.

The Campus Visit
The Committee prepares for its visit by reviewing briefing materials prepared by the department in consultation with the Provost. During the Committee’s visit to campus, committee members meet with the President, Provost and all department members, as well as with other faculty and staff connected to the department, representative students, and additional administrators if appropriate. These meetings are intended to be collaborative and conversational in tone and format.

Typical Schedule
Day One
Dinner with the President, Provost, and department chair
Day Two
Breakfast: committee meets to plan day, review questions
Morning: meetings with all departmental faculty; review of additional material
Lunch time: working lunch with representative students
Afternoon: meetings with other faculty and staff directly involved with the program
Dinner: informal dinner and discussion with department members

Day Three
Committee breakfast and working session to review and outline the Committee’s findings and recommendations. Drafting assignments are determined and the basic content and structure of the report are agreed upon.
Lunch with Provost and Associate Dean for Institutional Assessment to review the preliminary report

After the visit concludes, the Visiting Committee Team Leader, in cooperation with the other members of the Committee, prepares a report addressing the questions described in the guidelines below. Normally this report is submitted to the President within four weeks of the visit. The President and Provost will share the report with the department. The department then has three weeks to prepare a brief response to the report.

The report and response are then submitted to the Educational Policies and Faculty Affairs Committee (EPFAC) of the Board of Trustees for its comments. Copies are also sent to all Trustees. The Observers who were members of the Visiting Committee and the department chair may join EPFAC for a discussion of the report.

Guidelines for Department Self-Study Reports: Second Cycle

The department should prepare a self-study report for the visiting committee that will give the committee information to help it assess the effectiveness of the department in fulfilling its mission and to allow it to provide suggestions for departmental development. The department should feel free to include material that will highlight issues the department believes will be useful to discuss with the visiting committee. Departments should feel free to use or modify information from their previous self-study report as relevant for the current self-study.

Sample Outline of Self-Study Report

Table of Contents

Executive Summary
Provide a 1-2 page overview of the briefing report.

Provide an introduction to the department summarizing the recent history of the program and any significant changes that occurred in staffing or curriculum in the past six years. Outline the department’s mission, goals, and learning outcomes and how they relate to the mission of the College and to national standards in the discipline (documents outlining national standards could be put in a separate document box).

Progress on Recommendations from Previous Visiting Committee Report
Departments should review the previous visiting committee report and provide a brief update addressing the status of recommendations in the report.

Describe the curriculum and give a brief history and rationale for recent revisions. Include syllabi in a separate document box.

Provide information about each faculty member (education, specialization, what they teach, what research they do, their recent college service). A current vita for each faculty member should go in the document box.

Outline how major/minor advising is managed in the department. You might want to include information on the number of majors/minors for the past 6 years and the average advising load per faculty member in the department.

Department’s contribution to College initiatives and Interdisciplinary programs
Provide evidence of how the department contributes to:
General education requirements
FY Seminars
Writing courses
Service learning initiative
Honors programs (Dana, RJ, Muhlenberg Scholars)
Interdisciplinary majors/minors
June Advising
FY Advising

Describe department resources (budget, classrooms, lab space, equipment, computer labs, library resources) and evaluate their quality in light of the department’s mission, current work, and the College’s overall resources.
Student- Faculty Work and Interaction
Provide information about the type and number of independent studies/research, Honors projects, and internships (Individualized Instruction)
Describe department clubs and other events that foster student-faculty interaction.

Common Data Set (provided by Director of Institutional Research)
Number of majors and minors for the past 6 years compared to % declared majors/minors
Course enrollments for the past 6 years
Total enrollment for the past 6 years compared to % day college enrollment
Please send requests for additional data to Director of Institutional Research and Kathy Harring, Dean of Institutional Assessment & Academic Planning

Program Assessment
Summarize the department’s assessment plan.
Provide results of assessment measures (if available) and interpret these findings in light of the department’s mission and goals. Copies of surveys, rubrics, student work etc. can be put in an Appendix.
Sample measures include:
Student and alumni surveys
Portfolio assessments
Embedded course assessments (exam questions, final papers etc)
Capstone experience work
National exams and/or local exams to assess discipline knowledge
Alumni post-graduate information

Department Goals
Outline the department’s goals for the next 6 years

Summarize the department’s strengths and weakness and note any specific concerns the department has in regard to its ability to fulfill its current mission and goals.



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