Submitted by

Dick Sullivan

 

Questions and Concerns Regarding the Draft University Core Assessment Plan

 

 

The General Education Task Force members are to be commended for their excellent work in producing the draft University Core Assessment Plan, especially given the complexity of the task and the relatively short time-frame in which the draft was developed. The general Education Committee also has suggested insightful revisions, again in a very short time frame. The general plan for conducting both course-embedded assessment and institutional assessment of the university core has been generally endorsed by faculty in several venues and organizations across campus. However, substantive questions remain about several elements of the proposal, as written.

1)      The draft plan as written depends on the hiring or appointment of a new Assessment Coordinator, before any other elements of the plan can be implemented. This includes the appointment of the proposed Assessment Advisory Committee membership (the coordinator would solicit applications and consult with the Senate Executive Committee on these appointments) and the completion of the first and successive stages of the course-embedded and institutional-level assessments. However, key elements of the coordinator position remain ambiguous and undefined, and the relationship of this proposed new position to the existing Assessment Coordinator position remains unclear.

2)      The Assessment Advisory Committee, as proposed, has no clear relation to existing Faculty Senate Articles of Organization governing Faculty Senate committees. A primary responsibility of faculty, exercised through faculty governance, is oversight of curriculum. Since the proposed committee would have important influence on curricular decisions – not just the university core curriculum, through assessment, but other curriculum as well, through program review assessment (and other unspecified duties) – any such committee with university-wide curricular responsibilities should be organized under existing Faculty Senate Articles of Organization (i.e., such a committee should not operate independently of the Senate).

 

           

Elaboration on Questions and Concerns:

 

Assessment Coordinator

            The proposed new Assessment Coordinator position seems ambiguous and undefined in a number of ways:

 

            1.         Title and relation of the proposed position to the existing Assessment Coordinator position. The university already has an Assessment Coordinator position (reporting to the Provost). The Task Force Report acknowledges this position (see page 7, under Administration and Reporting Procedures:  “The assessment coordinator has been, and will continue to be responsible for administering the [NSSE] survey, analyzing results, and writing reports to various constituencies” ). The proposal appears to assume that the new proposed assessment coordinator position would absorb this responsibility, as well as similar responsibility for the additional proposed faculty, student, and alumni surveys, and for conducting, analyzing, and reporting results of the proposed “Collegiate Learning Assessment” test, as well as serving in the various capacities specified in the coordinator’s role within the course-embedded assessment processes, and for serving as assessment coordinator for assessment beyond the university core.

            However

            a.         It is unclear whether this new position would replace the current assessment coordinator position or be in addition to it;

            b.         It is unclear whether this new position would exist within the Provost’s Office and report to the Provost, or whether it would be a faculty position or an administrative position;

            c.         It is unspecified who would hire or appoint this position (the proposal recommends that UWL “hire” a coordinator – page 3);

            d.         If the coordinator is to be hired, it is unspecified how a search would be conducted, how applicants would be screened for the position and hired, what chain of approval would exist in the hiring or appointment process, and most importantly, within what timeframe this position would be filled;

            e.         It is unspecified what percent of the whole position would be devoted to assessment (though one would assume, given the responsibilities, it would need to be 100%). If this new position were funded as an administrative position, subject to a national or regional search, housed in the Provost’s Office and reporting to the Provost, then the relationship of the proposed position to the proposed Assessment Advisory Committee, the General Education Committee, and the Faculty Senate may become problematic.

 

            2.         As written, the draft Proposal assumes the existence of the new Assessment Coordinator prior to any other phase of the proposed assessment plan being implemented. The Assessment Coordinator would solicit applications for membership on the proposed Assessment Advisory Committee and would assist or consult with the Senate Executive Committee in making appointments (see Assessment Infrastructure; The Assessment Advisory Committee, page 3). Departments select and submit course-specific learning outcomes to the Assessment Coordinator in the first phase of the assessment plan (currently scheduled for Spring 2008 - see Timetable, page 8). The Assessment Coordinator administers the Collegiate Learning Assessment test and the NSSE during the first phases of the assessment plan (currently scheduled for Fall 2007 & Spring 2008 - see Timetable, page 8). And other consultative functions with departments, the General Education Committee, and the Assessment Advisory Committee are keyed to the existence of an Assessment Coordinator.

            However

            a.         Until the ambiguities about the position are cleared up, and until a proper search and hiring process for the position is completed, the proposed  Assessment Coordinator position remains vacant.

            b.         Would it be possible to implement the assessment plan, as written, without the new Assessment Coordinator?

 

            3.         Part of the charge to the General Education Task Force was to describe “the types of resources needed to implement [an assessment plan for General Education] and [to] estimate the costs,” (Item #7 in the “Charge to the Task Force”). 

            However

            a.         Although the Task Force has recommended that “UWL hire an Assessment Coordinator who is supported by an Assessment Advisory Committee, (Assessment Infrastructure, page 3), the nature and kind of position, as well as the process for hiring, remains unspecified and no cost estimate to the university has been proposed;

            b.         Would this be a full-time administrative or part-time faculty position or some other classification?

            c.         What would the position cost the university? How would this position be included in current or future budgeting and funding plans? Faculty Senate (as well as the Provost) should be apprised of the resources and costs related to this position before being asked to endorse the position.

 

Assessment Advisory Committee

 

1.         The proposed Assessment Advisory committee, as described in the draft Assessment Plan, would “assist the Assessment Coordinator to review assessment processes and make recommendations for changes such that assessment results will be maximally useful in informing decision making.” The committee would also “review and receive assessment plans for university core courses from departments” and “make recommendations about the quality of the plan[s] to the General Education Committee.” The task force draft also acknowledges that “given the large number of proposals and reports . . . and the importance of the recommendation[s] to the General Education Committee, this responsibility should not be given to a single individual, but rather to a committee” (Assessment Infrastructure, The Assessment Advisory Committee, page 3).

            However

            a.         It is unclear from this description how this committee would exist and function in relation to Faculty Senate or existing Faculty Senate committee structures;

            b.         It is unclear what, if any, leadership structure there would be within this committee. Would the committee elect its chair? Would the Assessment Coordinator serve as de facto committee chair? If so, then the coordinator’s position description appears to be in conflict with the committee’s responsibilities, since The Assessment Coordinator as described on the same page, “will not be making recommendations, but rather ensuring proper communications.”

 

2.         The membership of the Assessment Advisory Committee as proposed would consist of five faculty or instructional academic staff (Assessment Infrastructure, The Assessment Advisory Committee, page 3), and these members would “have some experience and expertise in techniques and tools used to assess student learning as well as in using assessment results to guide decision making” (Appendix A, page 9).

            However

            a.         Given the large amount of ongoing work that this committee would undertake, a five-person membership seems small. Would it be more efficient to expand membership to seven or nine members, paralleling other Faculty Senate committees with similar workloads?

            b.         If one goal of expanding assessment infrastructure on campus is to insure regular and ongoing assessment processes, would there be value in having some members of the committee with experience and expertise in assessment, while other members of the committee, with perhaps less experience, develop expertise through service on the committee?

 

3.         The draft plan indicates that “much of the work [of the Assessment Advisory Committee] will be accomplished outside of the academic year” (Assessment Infrastructure, The Assessment Advisory Committee, page 3). This caution is reiterated in the application procedure description: “Much of the work of the committee likely will occur outside of the traditional academic year (i.e., during January or summer months) (Appendix A, page 9).

            However

            a.         The Task Force was charged to report on the resources and estimate costs to the university of the proposed plan. Should faculty and IAS be required to do primary committee work on an ongoing basis beyond the academic year without compensation?

            b.         Would the committee be likely to elicit more applications for membership from disinterested and representative faculty and IAS to take on overload work if some compensation for the work were offered?

            c.         Should some estimate of adequate compensation be included in the proposal?

 

 

Proposed Solutions:

 

Assessment Coordinator Position.

 

            The proposed Assessment Coordinator position should be set aside, in the proposal, until such time as these and other possible questions about the position may he resolved. The overall assessment plan can be adopted, with the General Education Committee charged to begin developmental phases of course-embedded assessment, as outlined in the Timeline. Similarly, the Faculty Senate could recommend that the current Assessment Coordinator take up the processes for institution-wide assessment until the new coordinator position is developed and secured. A motion to this effect could be brought before Faculty Senate or the Senate Executive Committee could bring the tabled motion back to the floor with these modifications.

 

            Should the Faculty Senate decide to endorse a plan to move forward with assessment of the university core, rather than endorsing the proposed Assessment Advisory Committee, an Ad Hoc Assessment Advisory Committee could be formed, pending development of a proposal for a permanent standing committee to advise on General Education and other assessment processes. This committee would work within the regular academic year, similar to other Faculty Senate committees, until the question of compensation could be decided. The Committee on Committees (working, if the Senate so decides, with the Assessment Task Force members consulting) could be charged with soliciting and recommending the ad hoc committee membership. These recommendations would then be subject to Faculty Senate ratification, following standard Senate procedures. The SEC (as in the proposal) should not be charged with ratifying these appointments, any more than it is charged with ratifying any other Senate committee appointments. A motion to create the Ad Hoc committee, detailing its membership and duties, could be brought to the Senate, or the Senate Executive Committee could return the tabled motion to the floor with appropriate modifications.

 

            If these or some similar modifications to the draft Assessment Plan were to be developed, such that Faculty Senate could endorse the plan, then assessment of General Education – the immediate problem to be solved – could begin.