Overview of Academic Program Review. The highlight of the 2001-2002 academic year was the academic program review (APR) of the General Studies Program conducted in the October, 2001. During the 12 months preceding the APR, Drs. Charles Bicak (UNK Biology) and John Anderson (UNK Political Science) collected enrollment data and survey data from current students, faculty, and alumni.
A written self study of the General Studies Program composed by Bicak and Anderson was reviewed by a team composed of two faculty from each UNK undergraduate College, a faculty member from Ryan Library, the Faculty Senate President, and three student representatives. The site visit by external reviewer, David Christiansen of Truman State University, and the on-campus team occurred on October 24-26, 2001. Dr. Christiansen prepared a written evaluative report of the program and presented it to the campus on December 9, 2001. It is summarized below.
Overview of Assessment Strategy. The assessment of the program for the academic program review consisted entirely of survey data. Current students participated in a number of focus groups, alumni were interviewed via telephone, and faculty completed a written survey. Dr. John Anderson and a graduate student (Clayton Thyne) assumed principal responsibility for the data collection and analysis. The details of the assessment protocols and the data are presented in the self-study—available in the institution archives or from the Director of General Studies. The data from the faculty survey are reproduced in Appendix A.
General Observations. To summarize the observations, Dr. Christiansen stated in his report, “The data gathered by Dr. Anderson demonstrates a general satisfaction among the students, post-1995 alumni, and faculty. The alumni seemed especially pleased and credit the GSP with helping to develop many skills they now find useful. The faculty appears to be the group least satisfied with the program, although one may make the argument that even here there is general contentment. According to the survey results, 65% of the faculty respondents assign the GSP a grade of “B” or higher, while 35% assign a grade of “C” or lower. When one analyzes the results of the survey questions and reads the narratives the faculty provided, again a pattern of satisfaction becomes obvious.”
Conclusions and Recommendations. The following are taken from Dr. Christiansen’s written report of December 9, 2001.
Areas of Strength for the General Studies Program
- A single general education program that reflects the mission of the university and serves the needs of the four UNK Colleges
- Strong support among UNK alumni and, to a lesser but still significant degree, among the current student body and UNK faculty
- A high level of participation among the UNK faculty
- Flexibility accorded by the large number of courses and options and by the timetable by which students may meet the requirements of the program.
- Course availability
- A strong emphasis on writing-intensive and cultural diversity courses
- A curriculum that provides a foundation for the depth of work in the major programs
- A breadth of disciplines commensurate with the highest ideals of a liberal education
Areas of Concern for the General Studies Program
- Rationale of the GSP
- Recommendation #1: the University should develop and publicize a more comprehensive rationale for the General Studies Program structure, purpose, and student learning outcomes.
- Structure of the GSP: Modifications
- Recommendation #2: the University should make several immediate modifications to the General Studies Program that will enhance student learning.
- requiring students to complete English 101 and 102 during the first two years.
- adding foreign language as a strand of the Humanities category.
- encouraging departments to limit the size of their classes
- adding upper level courses to the GSP.
- encouraging faculty to make connections between their GSP courses and classes in other academic disciplines.
- Structure of the GSP: Issues to be Studied
- Recommendation #3: the University should engage in a dialogue to consider several elements of the General Studies Program.
- Is a liberal education best achieved via a small number of courses focusing on the most fundamental aspects of academic disciplines? Or is a liberal education more likely to be realized by offering students multiple options to meet the individual GSP requirements?
- Why is philosophy the sole discipline within the Humanities category that students may avoid? Students are currently required to complete Humanities’ course work in literature, aesthetics, and history -- but not in philosophy. What are the justifications for marginalizing philosophy in this manner?
- Why is economics the sole discipline within the Social and Behavioral Sciences category that students may not avoid?
- Why are the structures of the Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences categories different? On a related note to points #2 and 3 above, why are choices in Humanities prescribed, but not so in the Social and Behavioral Sciences category?
- Why are most of the GSP categories arranged according to “perspectives,” but the Natural Sciences category is structured by “department?”
- Why is the historical perspective considered part of the Humanities category when the Department of History is housed in the College of Natural and Social Sciences?
- Why are some areas of the GSP under the control of a specific department while others are not?
- Governance of the GSP: Director
- Recommendation #4: the University should appoint a faculty member as the Director of the General Studies Program. Secondly, the University should provide some funding to this office in order to support initiatives that will benefit the GSP.
- Governance of the GSP: General Studies Council
- Recommendation #5: the University should restructure the membership and procedures of the General Studies Council in order to emphasize faculty ownership of the general education curriculum.
- Governance of the GSP: Approval Process
- Recommendation #6: the University should clarify and publicize the approval process by which changes to the General Studies Program may be proposed and made.
- Assessment of the GSP
- Recommendation #7: the University should design a plan to assess the General Studies Program. Secondly, the University should identify and implement specific instruments by which it will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the General Studies Program.
- Advising in the GSP
- Recommendation #8: the University should emphasize the importance of advising in the General Studies Program.
- Name of the GSP
- Recommendation #9: the University should reconsider the name of the General Studies Program.
Use of Results. The most immediate need for the program was the selection of a Director of General Studies. Upon the conclusion of the academic program review, Senior Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs Jim Roark appointed a search committee to conduct an internal search for a new Director. Dr. William Wozniak (UNK Psychology and 2001-2002 Faculty Senate President) was appointed to a 3-year term as the Director of General Studies in January 2002.
Before the recommendations concerning the rationale, structure, assessment, advising, and the name of the program were addressed, the Director and the SVCAA addressed the issue of governance. In order to preserve the faculty’s ownership of the program, a governance structure, including the formation of a restructured General Studies Council and its rules of operation needed to be composed by the Director and ratified by the four undergraduate Colleges. This process was begun in the spring 2001. The proposed governance document was composed at that time and is attached as Appendix B. The major changes included: (a) increasing faculty representation on the General Studies Council, (b) clarifying the means by which proposals are reviewed and approved, and (c) including other administrative personnel as ex officio non-voting members. (The Colleges approved the document on September 20, 2002.)
Assessment of Process. The academic program review of the General Studies Program, in itself, was a major accomplishment. During the composition of the self-study, the Director of the Program was temporarily assigned since he was already Director of the Honors Program. Unlike departmental academic program reviews, where the Chair assumes prime responsibility for the self study, the General Studies Program had little institutionalized support nor a single full-time person to conduct the APR.
Drs. Bicak and Anderson (along with Dr Richard Jussel, Interim Director of General Studies) stepped forward to carry the bulk of the responsibility to conduct the data collection and analysis and the composition of the self-study document. This is generally indicative of the support that the faculty have for the General Studies Program. While the process does not include the assessment of student outcomes the net result was that that deficiency was pointed out and the need to address it was acknowledged by the administration. Once the governance structure is in place, it will be possible to address some of the more substantive issues highlighted by the academic program review.
Appendix B - General Studies Council Governance