"it seems to me that the provost's comments as reported by the Blade make much more of this benchmarking/round-table reports than the substance of the proceedings will support.
we should beware , for in this fog they will see what they want to see--at the expense of the quality of the university"
Oh, how right you are. Something about the Independent Collegian's report below gave me even more of that funny feeling in my tummy about this whole roundtable business, especially the benchmarking. Oldster's wise words of caution are also expressed quite eloquently by Brian Patrick in the article.
The Independent Collegian > News
Provost presents study results
Friday, March 27, 2009
Six months after an outside academic consulting firm was hired to assess the College of Arts and Sciences, its strategic assessment and benchmarking study was presented to the UT Board of Trustees.
On Monday, Main Campus Provost Rosemary Haggett presented The Learning Alliance summary of the CAS roundtable discussions that highlighted five "Action Areas of Focus," including issues surrounding the definition of scholarship, reconsideration of curriculum, improvements to advising, updating teaching methods, finding better uses for space and strengthening the college’s graduate education.
The other component of the TLA assessment was a benchmarking study that compared the CAS to "peer sets" of other universities with arts and sciences programs in Ohio and across the country. The study focused on several aspects of CAS including faculty ranks, the percentage of different levels of degrees obtained by graduates, high school GPAs of freshmen within the college and CAS retention and graduation rates.
Trustee William Koester asked Haggett if she had looked at whether schools that had their arts and sciences departments separated had reduced the out-migration of students from the college.
Haggett said that of the 25 institutions used in the study, 14 organized their arts and sciences disciplines in more than one college or school while 11 universities’ arts and sciences programs were organized within a single school or college. Furthermore, 11 institutions separate specifically their fine arts, music and/or theater programs from their natural sciences or life sciences disciplines, but Haggett said there has been no discussion of splitting those disciplines within the CAS at UT.
"By far the greatest number of split cases has the fine arts in a separate school, which appeared at the board meeting to terminate the discussion," said Lawrence Anderson-Huang, chairman of the Arts and Sciences Council and professor of astronomy, who attended the BOT meeting. "I don’t think that’s advisable for our college because I don’t think our fine arts program is at a position at this point to stand alone. ... I may be mistaken."
At an ASC meeting on Tuesday, Anderson-Huang relayed Haggett’s presentation to the members. One of the concerns discussed among ASC members was the normalization of data within the benchmarking study.
"The benchmarking data is difficult; I think that she had to present it because it was a requested part of the report, but it certainly will take a more detailed analysis to determine what it really means," Anderson-Huang said.
Anderson-Huang said the peer sets need to be re-evaluated to take into consideration the validity or relevance of the data presented in the study.
"We need to look at all of them and make sure they’re consistent, so that’s another question; are we comparing apples to oranges?" he said.
Brian Patrick, an associate professor of communication, said the consensus among many faculty members was that the report was "nebulous," meaning the data is vague and difficult to understand.
Patrick said the vagueness of the report is similar to the messages received in fortune cookies.
"These things are so vague they’re almost meaningless," he said. "I’m afraid they are going to take these very vague, almost fortune-cookie-like recommendations or futures, and try to make [and] justify very specific programs with them, doing what they wanted to do with them already."
TLA was paid $79,500 to complete the CAS assessment, money Patrick said could have been better spent. In addition to issues surrounding the data, Patrick said many faculty members are concerned about the representation of the roundtable.
"We’re afraid of this thing being represented like this is some kind of product of the faculty, when it’s really a product of a very small group that was very carefully selected, and then it looks like we endorsed this somehow," he said.
President Lloyd Jacobs and Haggett are planning to meet with the roundtable on April 6 to discuss the report more thoroughly, and Jacobs referred the issue to the academic and student affairs committee, chaired by Trustee Tom Brady.
"[Jacobs] would like the academic and student affairs committee to continue to be engaged and interested in this process," Haggett said.
Haggett said there are a number of possibilities when considering the future of the roundtable.
"This is their idea; this is what came out of their discussion, and so therefore it would make perfect sense for these individuals to remain engaged in this discussion whether as a roundtable or as working groups or as individual faculty," she said.
Anderson-Huang said the roundtable group needs to come to its own conclusion regarding whether it will continue to exist, but he said he hopes there will be a broader effort to include more people with differing opinions within the discussion. If the CAS can "get its act together" and "better itself," Anderson-Huang said he thinks the BOT will listen to the college’s faculty.
"I do think that the board is prepared to listen to the college rather than demand something of the college," he said. "I don’t think we as a college right now are in their spotlight. I think the board is ready to move on and say let the college determine its own future. Again, that’s my interpretation."