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Princeton University
Office of the Dean of the Faculty

Guidelines for Academic Reviews

Revised February 2013

Purpose of the Academic Review

The academic review process outlined here provides a means by which academic departments and programs can engage in serious periodic self-evaluation, assess program quality and effectiveness, review strategies for development and improvement, and plan for the future.


During the late 1980's, the present academic review process was initiated following a review of the role of the advisory councils by administration and the Trustees. In response to the finding of the Gruen Report that the existing process of combining academic review with other functions of the advisory councils was often unproductive, the Board of Trustees endorsed the concept of separating out the academic review role. The President established the principle that serious academic review of the departments would be undertaken every five to seven years and accomplished through the vehicle of ad hoc committees composed of distinguished academics from outside institutions.
In 1993, the Strategic Planning Committee on Faculty Issues appointed by President Shapiro and chaired by Dean of the Faculty Robert Gunning further reviewed and defined the role of academic reviews. Please refer to appendix 1 for a summary of the Strategic Planning Committee recommendations. The recommendations of the Strategic Planning Committee on Faculty Issues are incorporated into every facet of the academic review process. 
This guidebook has been prepared for department and program heads and department managers to provide them with basic information about the academic review process.


A thorough academic review will be scheduled every five to seven years or as needed. Responsibility for initiating the academic reviews rests with the Dean of the Faculty. The Dean will consult with the Department Chair or Program Director to initiate the review, taking into account any factors that may optimize the review outcomes. 
The academic review requires several months to complete since the self-study process touches the entire department and includes data gathering, discussion and reflection. Departments undergoing a review in the fall of the academic year should plan on completing their self-study during the preceding spring term and summer. Similarly, departments undergoing a review in the spring term should plan to engage in the self-study during the preceding fall term.

Self Study

As the first part of the academic review, the department/program undertakes a serious self-assessment in the form of a self-study. The completed study should be limited to no more than 35 to 40 pages excluding the appendices. A shorter(1-2 pages) executive summary should accompany the self-study and highlight the key issues that arose in the self-study. Since the self-study involves significant work and spans all aspects of a department or program, the chair/director is urged to appoint a team to guide the effort. This team should including both senior and junior faculty, and include representation from undergraduate and graduate students and other staff members as deemed appropriate. The self-study should be shared with all members of the department’s faculty and should represent a consensus, or it should state the nature of any differences if a consensus cannot be reached.
In addition to the basic self-study information discussed in detail below, the Dean of the Faculty will identify any additional issues that the self-study should address. The dean will communicate these additional issues to the department chair/ program director as soon as possible after the academic review has been scheduled. Preliminary drafts of the self-study should be shared with the Dean of Faculty early in the process to be sure that the proper topics are being covered.
The self-study should identify key issues facing the department or program; evaluate current strengths and weaknesses, both in teaching and research; and draft a plan for its development over the next decade or more. The self-study should include the following major sections:
  1. Description: Describe the fields covered by the department or program and its major activities. If appropriate, include a brief history of the department or program. If there is a mission statement this should be included in the self-study. 
  2. Scholarship and Research: Discuss the depth and quality of faculty scholarship. Is the department’s quality relative to the top-rated programs in the discipline improving? What factors contribute to the department's or program's reputation? Examine the external standing of the department or program revealed by such indicators as the NRC rankings; the success of its faculty in competition for research grants, prizes and fellowships; its success in attracting graduate students; its success in student placement; and its role as an innovator and influence in its disciplines. How adaptable are the department’s programs to changes in the discipline?
  3. Faculty: Discuss faculty recruitment and retention. Have there been any significant faculty hires or losses within recent years? Has the department/program successfully recruited and retained top-quality faculty members? What are the prospects for future faculty recruitment? The following issues should be covered as well: 
    • faculty diversity
    • faculty teaching load
    • role of part-time faculty
    • mentoring and promotion of junior faculty
    • quality of department’s intellectual life
    • career stage distribution and tenure flow
  4. Graduate Programs: Discuss the quality of graduate instruction. Discuss graduate student recruitment, time to completion of degree and placement. Discuss the quality and adequacy of graduate student advising. What are the enrollment trends within the department or program? What is the rationale for each graduate program? Is the size of the graduate program appropriate? How are its content and rigor evaluated? 
  5. Undergraduate Programs: Discuss the quality of undergraduate instruction both for concentrators and in service areas. Discuss undergraduate enrollment trends, trends in majors, class and precept size. How do the course offerings meet the needs of the students and the department? Describe the intellectual atmosphere for concentrators.  
  6. Resources: Discuss the adequacy of both the facilities and the financial resources at the disposal of the department/program. 
  7. Goals and Plans: Summarize the goals of the department/program and plans concerning curriculum, facilities, faculty development needs and aspirations for the next five to ten years. Discuss any anticipated changes in staffing. 
  8. Appendices: Please include the following as appendices to the self-study:
    • faculty cv's
    • dissertation topics and advisors
    • graduate student job placement
    • senior thesis titles and advisors
    • undergraduate placement
    • course enrollments
    • faculty grants
In order to provide members of the review committee ample time for its review, the self-study should be completed at least six weeks in advance of the scheduled outside review. Six weeks before the review, the department chair/program director should distribute copies of the self-study to the Dean of the Faculty, the Provost, the Dean of the College, Dean of the Graduate School, and send a copy to each of the external reviewers.

Academic Review Process

The conscientiousness, objectivity and knowledge of the academic review committee is at the very heart of the academic review process. The committee should consist normally of three to four individuals, major figures in the field whose recommendations and advice will be taken seriously both by departmental faculty and by the administration.
The Chair or Director will recommend to the Dean a tentative slate of at least six eminent scholars who would be suitable committee members. From the recommendations, the Dean will solicit three or four of the slate of candidates, to sound them out both about their willingness to undertake the review and also about the composition of the review committee. These discussions may lead to other suggestions for members of the review committee, for better balance or completeness. 
The Dean of the Faculty, after consultation with the Chair or Director, will decide on a proposed time frame for the outside review (usually a period of a month or so within which the review might take place rather than an explicit date). Once the committee has been selected and its members agree to serve, the chair or director is responsible for settling on a particular date that is most suitable for all parties, for making arrangements for the travel and housing of the committee, and for other administrative details of the review. The dates for the review need to be coordinated with Sandra Gillette (, 8-3020). A draft copy of the schedule for the Committee's meeting should be sent to the Dean of the Faculty no later than three weeks prior to the review.
The Dean of the Faculty sends a letter of invitation to each committee member, along with a copy of these Guidelines for Academic Reviews. The Department sends the final schedule for the review along with details concerning accommodations and meeting locations when they are finalized.
Normally the review extends over two days, with the members of the committee arriving the evening before for an informal dinner or post-dinner meeting with members of the department and, if possible, the Dean of the Faculty. The committee meets with the Dean of the Faculty (and the Provost, Dean of the College, Dean of the Graduate School, as available) early the next morning, to receive a detailed charge, and then undertakes a round of meetings with members of the department (senior faculty, junior faculty, and students) and with individuals from other departments or programs as appropriate. These meetings will extend through the remainder of the first day and through the morning of the following day. Please refer to appendix 2 of this document for sample meeting schedule. 
After a private session to discuss initial findings among themselves, the committee concludes the on-site portion of its review with a final interview with the Dean of the Faculty (along with other available senior administrators or their designees) to report in a preliminary and informal way on the results of the review and to answer any questions the administrators might have. 
The chair of the committee writes a confidential report to the Dean of the Faculty, preferably within three weeks after the conclusion of the review. The report should be a single report of the committee and should cover the following areas:
  • Assessment of strengths and weaknesses of the department
  • Review of plans for future development
  • Examination of Graduate Program
  • Examination of Undergraduate Program
  • Faculty issues
  • Recommendations

Response to the Report of the Academic Review Committee

Upon receiving the Committee’s report, the Dean of the Faculty forwards it to the chair or director of the department/program, the President, and the Academic Planning Group (consisting of the Provost; the Deans of the Faculty, Graduate School, College, and School of Engineering; and the Dean for Research). The Dean invites the chair or director to discuss the report with departmental faculty and to submit a formal response, including a plan for implementing the report’s recommendations, within a few months. (The chair or director may invite departmental faculty to read the committee’s report and recommendations in their entirety or at his or her discretion may summarize portions of the report for departmental discussion. The report is confidential and should not be made available to anyone other than regular departmental faculty members.) The Dean and other members of the APG may discuss specifics of the report with the chair or director and other departmental faculty members as necessary.
The Dean of the Faculty will send letters of appreciation for service and honoraria to each Committee member upon receipt of the report of the Committee. Completed W-9 and Acceptance of Honoraria forms are required for every individual receiving an honorarium. Committee members should fill in the forms and return them to the department manager before the end of the session. The completed forms should be forwarded to Sandra Gillette, Assistant to the Dean of the Faculty.

Follow-up to Academic Review

The implementation plan of outside review recommendations will be reviewed annually during the early fall meeting between the Dean and the Department Chair.

Reimbursement of Expenses

The University will reimburse reasonable expenses incurred in connection with the Academic Review Committee members’ work. Committee members should submit all travel-related expenses directly to the department/program for reimbursement.
The department/program should charge all related costs for the Academic Review Committee meetings initially to departmental chartstrings and subsequently initiate a standard journal in Prime to transfer eligible expenses to the Office of the Dean of the Faculty using Department 51100, Fund A0018 and Program GU005. The request must include a summary spreadsheet of travel expenses by review member. 
Departments/programs will be reimbursed for the following items:
Travel Expenses
The department/program will be reimbursed for reasonable travel expenses for Committee members. Reimbursement of airfare expense is limited to economy class fare in accordance with University policy governing travel expenses.
Overnight Accommodations/Meals
The department/program will be reimbursed for up to two nights overnight accommodations, made for a Committee member. Departments are encouraged to use the Nassau Inn, to the extent possible, when arranging accommodations. 
Luncheon or Dinner Meetings
The department/program will be reimbursed for meeting related luncheon or dinner expenses for the committee members only. Departments are encouraged to use Prospect House or the Department of Dining Services for meal planning.
Please call Kuete Gayibor (8-3023 or ) with questions concerning expense reimbursement.

Appendix 1

Report of the Strategic Planning Committee on Faculty Issues 1993

The basic ideas and goals of the academic review procedure were defined in the Report of the Strategic Planning Committee on Faculty Issues (1993) as follows:
1.       All healthy departments and programs plan; all engage in serious periodic self-evaluation. The initiative toward more systematic and more regular departmental review predated the appointment of the strategic planning committee on faculty issues. Recognizing the merits of that initiative, the committee focused its attention on procedures and criteria.
2.       To be effective, any process of review must begin within departments and programs themselves. On a regular five- or six-year cycle, every academic department and major academic program will be asked by the Dean of the Faculty to undertake a serious self-assessment. In the course of that process each will be expected to identify the key issues facing it, to evaluate its current strengths and weaknesses, both in teaching and research, and to draft a plan for its development over the next decade or more. Each department and program will identify and focus on a different set of core concerns; nevertheless, some benchmark concerns should underlie every self-study.
3.       With regard to scholarship and research, the self-study should address, among other issues: the fields covered by the department or program and the depth and quality of its scholarship; anticipated developments in the discipline and closely related areas of inquiry and scholarship; appointment strategies; and comparison of the department or program with those of other institutions. The external standing of the department or program should be examined as it is revealed by such indicators as the success of its faculty in competition for research grants, prizes, and fellowships; its success in attracting graduate students and its record in placing them at the finest colleges and universities; and its role as an innovator and an influence in its disciplines.
4.       With regard to teaching, the self-study should address the coverage of both undergraduate and graduate teaching; the quality of instruction within the department or program; changes in instruction over the last several years, including changes in format (lectures, preceptorials, seminars, etc.) and changes in the faculty (tenured faculty, untenured faculty, visitors, and lecturers) teaching in those formats; the balance among specialized courses, service courses, and general liberal arts courses; effectiveness in attracting and retaining both graduate students and undergraduate concentrators; effectiveness in training both concentrators for advanced study in the field and those who intend to go into less specialized but related careers.
5.       The committee spent considerable time on the question of differential teaching and advising loads among the various departments. The teaching setting differs among disciplines: in some the primary focus is the laboratory, in others the lecture hall, or preceptorial, or seminar room; in still others an important component is the one-on-one relationship between student and advisor. The mix will inevitably vary, and no uniform formula can be prescribed. The committee felt, nonetheless, that departments with particularly large and particularly small ratios of faculty to undergraduate concentrators, to graduate students, and to course enrollments, were a matter of special concern. At both the highest and lowest extremes, it is necessary to reexamine carefully the balance between teaching and research. Particularly for departments at the extremes of these measurements, the issue of teaching load, in the broad sense, will form an essential part of the department's self-evaluation.
6.       The committee examined a number of quantitative measures useful in evaluating teaching efforts: undergraduate course ratings, surveys of graduating seniors, faculty/student ratios, and teaching load studies. The Office of the Dean of the Faculty will provide these data at the beginning of the review process. These data are not transparent; they require interpretation. Nonetheless, it seems clear that no serious self-study can proceed without reference to these statistical and comparative base lines.
7.       The second stage of the review process is external. In conjunction with the internal review, an outside review committee will be appointed by the Dean of the Faculty. External review committees will consist of a select number of leading figures in the field, chosen by the Dean of the Faculty in close collaboration with the department or program under review. In advance of the visit of the review committees, they will be provided with both the department's self-study and a charge from the administration summarizing critical issues for the review. The final agenda for the review committee will be set by the Dean of the Faculty, the chair of the department, and the chair of the review committee. The committee will visit the campus, consult closely with faculty and students, deliberate among themselves, and file their written reports with the President and with the reviewed department.
The Strategic Planning Committee on Faculty Issues underscored the unique nature of the academic review process and emphasized that this process is completely distinct from the business handled by department advisory councils.

Appendix 2

Sample Agenda for Visit of the Academic Review Committee

(this is a suggested outline; alternative combinations are possible)

Academic Review

Arrival Day
Dinner with Review Team and, if possible, Dean of the Faculty
Day One
Opening session with Dean of the Faculty and senior administrators
(charge is given to committee)
Meeting with Department Chair and tour of facilities
Meeting with junior faculty (divide into teams as necessary)
Luncheon meeting with associated faculty, chairs of related departments
Meeting with Graduate Students
Meeting with undergraduates
Meeting with individual senior faculty members  (divide into teams as necessary)
Additional meeting with junior faculty if needed
Private Dinner – Review Team
Day Two
Breakfast with selected group if needed
Continue meetings with faculty members and/or associated faculty
Meeting with department administrators
Meeting with department chair
Closed committee working lunch
Meeting with Dean of the Faculty and senior administrators