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October 16, 2008

Changes in structure, academic review process among those recommended in Graduate School review

A new organizational structure and an improvement in academic program reviews are among the recommendations in the final report delivered this week by the Working Group on Graduate School Roles and Responsibilities.


The group was charged by Provost Phyllis Wise to “clarify the goals and aspirations for the UW Graduate School in the context of searching for the next vice provost and dean.” Former Vice Provost and Dean Suzanne Ortega announced last spring that she would leave the UW for the University of New Mexico Aug. 1. The report is the result of a study carried out by the working group over the summer.


“Phyllis [Wise] has determined that when a major administrative appointment is going to be made, that prior to the search, there should be an assessment of the state of the enterprise,” said Arthur Nowell, dean of the College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences and chair of the working group. He said such a study would help the search committee and the provost to better inform candidates about the position and assess whether they are a good fit for it.


The working group solicited input from more than 400 members of the University community and received replies from 120 people representing 51 departments, schools, colleges and all three campuses. Its recommendations stem from the feedback it collected.


Much of that feedback was positive. “Many people had wonderful compliments for the work of individuals in The Graduate School,” the report said. “The working group heard widespread respect for its integrity and thoughtful reflection on many issues that affect graduate departments and graduate students.”


Nonetheless, there were areas where a need for improvement was seen. One was in the school’s organization. The report calls for the new dean to “review all functions in order to simplify the organizational structure and constrain spending.” More specifically, it recommends that organizational overhead be cut by “reducing the number of associate deans and assistant deans from six to two or three.”


“An organization with six associate deans, where some of those people have no staff working for them, seems like either title inflation or too many independent operations,” Nowell said.


Jerry Baldasty, who is serving as interim vice provost and dean of The Graduate School, said the school has already begun to work on restructuring.


“Twice a year The Graduate School has meetings for all of its staff, and on Tuesday [Oct. 7] a staff-led team organized a hands-on workshop where people worked in groups and proposed what the structure should be,” he said. “I’m now trying to digest the 11 suggestions that came from the 11 work teams, and I hope to go back to the staff by the middle of November with either a final proposal or some options to talk about.”


The Graduate School has also begun work on the recommendation that they “reform, restructure and customize academic program review procedures.” (Reviews of each academic program at the University are required by the state every 10 years, and are overseen by The Graduate School.)


Nowell said the school had already begun this task before the working group was formed. “Our recommendation is simply reinforcing what they have already started to do,” he said.


There’s been a lot of concern about academic reviews for three reasons, according to Nowell.

• Their complexity has grown over the years, to the point where answering all the questions becomes a “burden” on the department being reviewed.

• Because they come every 10 years, the reviews are often out of sequence with accreditation reviews that many programs undergo.

• It isn’t clear that anything is accomplished through the reviews.


An effort led by James Antony, The Graduate School’s associate dean for academic programs, is attempting to address those concerns, Baldasty said.


Among the changes proposed are:


• Customizing the reviews — asking everyone the same core questions and then allowing each unit to create useful additional questions for the unit’s particular situation.

• Making it possible for those with an accreditation process to tie the reviews to that process.

• Including a large planning component so that units come out of the review with a viable five-year plan.


“Up to this point, program reviews have focused on the last five to 10 years of activity,” Baldasty said. “So that tells where you are right now, but there hasn’t been as much emphasis on where are you going. Deans told us these reviews would be much more useful to everybody if they had a planning component to them.”


Another recommendation in the report is that The Graduate School should evaluate and specify its role in each of the 18 academic programs that report there. These are interdisciplinary programs, Nowell said, some of which originated in The Graduate School and some of which were transferred there.


“Once a program has been there for a while, one has to ask, could it not be better integrated back to one of the colleges?” he said. “We recommended that all of those programs be looked at with the idea that some of them could go back.”


As it’s stated in the report, “The Graduate School should become an incubator for ideas and a temporary home during the development of new programs, if needed, rather than a home that is isolated from the continuing changes of related academic programs.”


Baldasty said The Graduate School would not be able to address this matter until after the work on the academic review process is completed because it comes under the purview of the same associate dean.


He is, however, already at work on the recommendation that The Graduate School do a better job of communicating what it does. He said he’s been meeting with deans, members of the Graduate Council and with graduate program assistants (staff) and coordinators (faculty).


“We’re also thinking about a broader communication strategy — not in a public relations sense, but information,” he said.


Other matters taken up in the report include evaluating whether particular units belong within it. The working group recommends that the Center for Instructional Development and Research remain within The Graduate School, but that the Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education be moved elsewhere. It also recommended that The Graduate School consider other homes for UW Press.


The working group concludes that the new graduate dean should be four things:


• A determined manager.

• A dedicated, eclectic academic.

• A persuasive professor.

• An embodiment of academic excellence.


It’s a tall order, but one that Nowell and Baldasty think can be fulfilled. Baldasty, who has not declared his candidacy for the permanent deanship, had this to say about the report:


“My sense is that, whoever is dean, what we’re doing now is a constructive agenda for the future of The Graduate School. I think this is a good document. It reasserts the importance of The Graduate School, talks about its special mission on campus, then says that because of its special mission, it should be doing certain things and it should be doing other things at a higher level. I think it’s a very good blueprint.”


The full report is available at http://www.cofs.washington.edu/docs/draft2sept.pdf.


A search committee for the new dean will be named shortly. An internal search is planned, with the goal of having a permanent dean in place at the start of winter quarter.