Present: Aase, Cassidy, Deskis, Dillman, Goldenberg, Griffiths, House, Legg, Isabel, Jeris, Miller, Munroe, Payvar, Prawitz, Rintala, Thompson, Wheeler,
Guests: Donna Askins, Research Associate, Office of the Provost; Heather
Hardy, Chair, Department of English; Frederick Kitterle, Dean, College
of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Doris MacDonald, Director of Undergraduate
Studies, Department of English; Bob Self, Director of Graduate Studies,
Department of English; Jamie Rothstein, Assistant to the Dean, College
of Liberal Arts and Sciences
The meeting was called to order at 3:05 p.m. Legg introduced Frederick Kitterle, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Jamie Rothstein, Assistant to the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Heather Hardy, Chair of the Department of English; Doris MacDonald, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of English; and Bob Self, Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of English. Legg announced that Carol Thompson will serve on the University Assessment Panel.
It was moved and seconded to approve the minutes of August 26, 2002, with one revision, and the motion passed unanimously.
Legg turned the meeting over to Prawitz for the discussion of the subcommittee report. Prawitz thanked the subcommittee members for their work in preparing the report on the programs in English and the department and college representatives for their hard work in preparing the program review documents.
Prawitz said that many of the department strengths were noted in the subcommittee’s report and highlighted the increase in the use of instructional technology, the creative curricula, and the increase in focus on technical writing in her remarks. She added that the technical writing focus integrated into the curricula supports the Illinois Commitment. Some of the vacant faculty positions have been filled at the senior level, and all faculty teach at the undergraduate level. Thompson asked if the increase in the focus on technical writing included offering new courses. Hardy responded that the department hired a new faculty member with expertise in this area, and there are some new courses.
Prawitz turned to some of the concerns at the department level and indicated the department’s report of the need for more office space. Hardy explained that the elevator installation to increase accessibility in Reavis had taken some of the department’s space that in the past was used for instructors’ offices. Cassidy asked if the new writing center’s move to Stevenson would alleviate any of the space issues. Hardy replied that this did free up one office and has helped to some extent in meeting the department’s need for offices. Prawitz said another concern was that travel funds have had to be used to pay for network connections, but other funding sources have also been identified for faculty travel. Hardy added that some of the funds from the telefund initiative in the NIU Foundation have been used to support faculty travel. Prawitz stated that the department has made concerted attempts to recruit minority faculty; however, the proportion of faculty from underrepresented groups is small. It was noted that the pool of candidates from racial and ethnic minorities is also small. Hardy added that the department offered a faculty position to a minority candidate last year, but the candidate, who had two other offers for positions, declined the position at NIU for personal reasons.
Prawitz turned to the strengths of the B.A. program in English. Among the numerous strengths identified by the subcommittee were that the demand for the program is strong, the proportion of minority enrollments is high, and the program makes good use of portfolios to assess student learning in the teacher certification curriculum. She added that the required clock hours in clinical experiences prior to student teaching, which are supervised by faculty and paired with required didactic course work, could be used as a benchmark because it is unique to our program. Legg asked if this was a characteristic of all of our certification programs. Hardy said that the having the clinical courses paired with the didactic courses is unique to English.
Prawitz said that the one concern for the undergraduate program is that the assessment plan needs additional evidence to document the attainment of its objectives and added that the department is working on the assessment plans for all of its programs. Payvar asked what is the assessment plan that is going to be implemented in the future. Prawitz replied that the department is working on this now, but they already assess portfolios, writing projects, and other elements of the program. MacDonald added that the assessment plan is under review this year and is being updated to reflect the fact that the curriculum has changed. Cassidy explained that the department does have assessment plans in place and has consistently implemented its assessment plans and reported on learning outcomes. The matter at hand now is that the department is updating the plans.
Prawitz stated that some of the strengths of the M.A. program noted in the subcommittee’s report are that it prepares graduates well for teaching, its curriculum focuses on the sophisticated use of technology, and it provides good service to the university in terms of course work for non-majors. The department generated 1,421 graduate I credit hours by non-majors. Hardy added that this statistic is probably data from last fall. Prawitz said that other strengths of the program are that students are involved in planning and hosting conferences, students publish in professional outlets, and the availability of internships. Griffiths asked if there was a difference in enrollments in the two program tracks, one that prepares students for doctoral study and one that prepares students for teaching in secondary schools or community colleges. Self replied that he didn’t think the department looked at enrollments in that light. Hardy added that the enrollment numbers may not always match because students can move back and forth in the tracks. Askins asked how the department has been using student feedback to improve the program. Self replied that they look at data from surveys, information from graduates, and information gathered when students take their comprehensive exam. He added that obtaining employer feedback is a complicated issue because of the variety of career options available to graduates.
Prawitz said that some of the concerns at the M.A. level are that the assessment objectives are not stated in measurable terms and that students report that the comprehensive exam does not match the content of course work. The department is revising its assessment plan, and the faculty are revising the comprehensive exam to facilitate a better match between what is expected of students in terms of learning outcomes and what questions are included on the exams. Deskis added that this is an unrealistic expectation on the students’ part. The comprehensive exam tests a student’s performance as an intellectual reader and writer. The exam does not test specific knowledge; it is a test of skills. Self added that in the full review the department points out that subsequent feedback from more recent students showed that they did not perceive this to be a problem. Advising and acclimation to the procedures in the department have improved the situation. Hardy said that the earlier negative comments came from the alumni survey, and the department followed up on this concern with surveys of its own. Prawitz said another concern is that off-campus students reported feeling out of touch with the department and left out of study groups. Self said that this is a difficult situation to address and noted that even some on-campus students do not participate in study groups. This comment came from a small group of individuals who do not use email, which is a major method of communicating with department majors; these students are sent information via “snail mail.” Prawitz said that the subcommittee asked about diversity in the student body and indicated that the department is making efforts to recruit minority graduate students. Self added that the M.A. program ranked 3rd in 1998-99, 20th in 1999-2000, and 11th in 2001-2002 in the number of minority graduates nationally. Hardy stated that minority enrollment had dropped and that recruitment in general is an area on which the department would focus.
Prawitz turned to the review of the Ph.D. program. She said that strengths of the program include the program’s redesign to reflect an integrated program encompassing three broad fields of English studies: literature, linguistics, and rhetoric; the support the Ph.D. students provide for the Writing Across the Curriculum program, the University Writing Center, and the Communication Skills Writer’s Workshop; students’ planning and carrying out of the conference; publishing opportunities; and redesign of the program to fit the IBHE recommendations from the review of doctoral programs in its PQP initiative. Kitterle said it costs more to graduate a Ph.D. student in English at the University of Illinois than at NIU. If program costs are too far below the statewide average, the IBHE may feel that the institution does not support the program; during PQP this was a wake-up call. Rothstein added that it was not just the IBHE analysis of the program that stimulated changes in the program. The department also brought in external consultants to review the curriculum, which had two tracks: literature and pedagogy. The external consultants thought this curricular structure might be creating “second-class citizens” in terms of their preparation, and the restructuring of the program to include the three broad fields of English studies addressed this issue. Kitterle added that the consultant also highly commended the Department of English for the quality of its program. Self added that this curricular change also addresses the employability of the graduates and that the department’s graduates are competitive in getting jobs at four-year institutions.
Prawitz said that one of the concerns for the Ph.D. program is that enrollments are below the targeted level. Self replied that the department is working on bringing enrollment numbers back up. Cassidy added that there was a deliberate effort to reduce the size of the program, which was tied into the IBHE recommendations during PQP. Self stated that last year approximately 100 more graduates were produced nationally than there were jobs and that there is still a backlog of graduates from previous years seeking academic positions. The MLA is concerned about the over-production of Ph.D. graduates in English, and the department has tried to address this situation by changing the curriculum to prepare graduates for a variety of employment opportunities. The department also lowered the number of students admitted to the Ph.D. program. Griffiths said that students publishing in journals, serving as student editors, and engaging in other scholarly activities are excellent preparation for students to be successful in their careers. He suggested that this point be emphasized in the review.
Prawitz said that the students learning outcomes need to be stated in more measurable terms. Payvar stated that the department is working on assessment plans for all three programs and asked if more information would be reported in the final report. MacDonald replied that the department is working on the plans, but she did not know the projected date for completing the revisions. Cassidy added that each of the programs has an existing assessment plan in place and that they have been implemented for years. Hardy said that the plans are now out of date and need to be revised. Kitterle added that the college is also looking at ways to maximize effectiveness of assessment activities. MacDonald said that as a result of program review, faculty identified indicators that they will be tracking. Legg asked what are the kinds of indicators that would be tracked for the Ph.D. program. Hardy replied that the department uses the university’s alumni survey and some of their own surveys and looks at how the program helped develop research skills. Legg added that the students are successful in publishing, and this is an assessment tool. Kitterle said that the publication rate among the faculty is also very high, and this value system is transmitted to the students. Legg noted that in the humanities, writing books is an important scholarly pursuit. Deskis said that this varies even within the Department of English. Hardy said that compared to the previous program review period, the number of books written by faculty remained the same, the number of articles increased 33 percent, and the number of edited books increased 100 percent. Cassidy added that the department now has fewer faculty members than it did at the time of the last review.
Cassidy said that the reviews discussed preparing students to work with individuals who are speakers of other languages and asked if there was any collaboration with the Department of Literacy Education in the College of Education. MacDonald said yes there is interaction between the departments. Some English majors take courses offered by the Department of Literacy Education as electives.
Thompson said that the IBHE recommendation to redesign the program and decrease enrollments, while maintaining targeted levels of enrollment, was a difficult position to be in. Hardy concurred that the department had to maintain a delicate balance and that enrollments also had an impact on program costs. She noted that the program costs for the M.A. and Ph.D. programs have decreased since the last review. House said that we are shooting at a moving target in terms of the statewide average. Other programs in the state also had a decrease in graduate enrollments, and that affects the costs of our programs. Hardy added that during this review period the department also lost some of its most highly paid faculty, which was a factor that also impacted program costs.
The meeting adjourned at 3:55 p.m.
Carolyn A. Cradduck