News of the College Novemberspring2006

Academic Programs Have Their Own Exams

For the first time at Reed, academic programs are undergoing systematic external evaluation by visiting scholars.

Under a new policy adopted by the faculty, each department and interdisciplinary program will be reviewed every 10 years. English, physics, and religion began the process in 2004–05; Spanish, economics, and music started in 2005–06; humanities will begin in 2006–07. The review includes a departmental self-evaluation, assessment by three visiting colleagues, and a survey of recent graduates.
Dean of Faculty Peter Steinberger says the evaluations conducted so far have been positive. “The visiting scholars are impressed with how hard the faculty works, and with how great morale is, despite the fact that they work so hard,” he says. “They’ve made a series of very useful recommendations. They’re not seeing deeply unhealthy programs.”

In English, for instance, recommendations included introducing an annual lecture series on literary history. The faculty is also offering more prep for standardized tests. “We’re now doing a volunteer no-credit crash course in the GRE, where they read the appropriate sections of the Norton Anthology,” explains Robert Knapp, Reginald F. Arragon Professor of English and Humanities. “There’s some basic knowledge that the standardized tests want you to have, that our students can sometimes be behind on. We sacrifice certain notions of coverage and acquaintance with the canon, but we more than make up for it with the intensity of the education and the way the students take responsibility in discussions.”

Steinberger acknowledges that outside departmental evaluations can sometimes raise tensions among faculty. For the initial round of program reviews, he says, “we’re trying to pick departments that are in a good position, not in deep transition. I’m expecting a lot of tweaking, not a lot of teeth-gnashing. And everyone will be asking for an extra FTE here and there.”