25 March 1999
Professor David Vander Meulen
Department of English
Bryan Hall

Dear David: I write concerning the task of the committee charged with studying and evaluating our MA program in American Studies. In general it is your job to gather information on the operations of this program during the fairly brief time of its existence, to evaluate its success in terms both of its stated goals and of whatever other goals might seem relevant, and to make recommendations as to what changes, if any, might be advisable in the program. No specific decision is currently scheduled on the future of the program, and there is no clear precedent to guide you as far as inhouse evaluations of our degree programs are concerned. Your report will probably be presented and discussed in several contexts, including the departmental Steering Committee, the Graduate Committee, and the faculty as a whole: it is likely to circulate to appropriate venues outside the Department as well (particularly if your recommendations concern significantly enhanced funding for graduate fellowships, etc.). Many questions concerning your method and the shape of your eventual report are best left up to the committee, on the understanding that you are possibly setting a pattern for future inhouse study of our other programs. I hope for a written report by early in the fall semester, though you should not regard that as any kind of strict deadline.

Program reviews do conventionally ask a series of questions that usually fall within three general categories. The following may be helpful as a guideline.

Inputs:

  1. What is the objective of the program? Is it clearly articulated?
  2. Is the staff of the program professionally qualified and competent?
  3. Are other necessary assets -- library holdings, classroom or laboratory space, financial support for students, courses in the English Department and elsewhere -- appropriate and accessible?
  4. Does the program attract students of a caliber consistent with other programs at the University?
  5. Are the facilities (allocated space, computer hard- and software, and technical support) adequate?

Processes:

  1. Is the curriculum of the program consistent with and adequate to these objectives?
  2. Are the advising and placement supports appropriate and adequate?

Outcomes:

  1. What is the 'yield' of the program: number of students, annual number of degrees, time-to-degree?
  2. What is the student satisfaction with the program?
  3. How successful has the program been meeting its stated goals for placing its graduate and non-academic positions?
  4. What is the reputation of the program, as far as can be measured, among teachers and scholars at the University and at peer institutions?

In general you should also pay particular attention to the program's heavy investment in new electronic technologies for teaching and learning, and try at every stage to judge the utility (and limits) of such technologies, with respect both to this particular program and to their potential use elsewhere. One of the consequences of the use of such technologies is the archiving of a good deal of student work in our electronic databanks; you will want to be sure to include such work in your sources of information.

I will be happy to answer any questions you may have concerning the above, and to meet with you or your committee at any time you feel it would be useful. My thanks again for your willingness to give this assignment your characteristically serious and thorough attention.

Best wishes,

Gordon Braden
Chair