Department and Program Reviews


A department or program review provides an occasion to review curricular offerings, identify strengths and weaknesses, envision the future shape of the curriculum, articulate goals and aspirations, and consider the implications of intellectual, technological, and pedagogical developments in a discipline.  One of the central values of the review process comes from extended, collective reflection which results in a self-study.  Respected colleagues in the appropriate field, invited by the Dean for Academic Affairs as a consulting committee of reviewers, also help the department/program review these issues.  The reviewers read materials provided by the department/program and meet with faculty, students, and administrators during a two- to three-day campus visit.  Typically, reviews of academic departments and programs are conducted approximately every 10 years; the specific timing will be arranged by the Dean for Academic Affairs office, in concert with the department/program.

Once the semester of the review has been determined, the process begins approximately nine months prior to the anticipated campus visit, with the department chair or program director meeting with all members of the department/program to discuss their overall goals for the review, looking at past reviews and thinking about current and future issues.  Subsequently, the chair/director and coordinator meet with the Associate Dean to outline the process and specific schedule for the review. 

The Associate Dean will ask the department/program to recommend colleagues from other institutions to be considered for the external Review Committee.  This list should include individuals who have expertise in relevant fields within the discipline and have demonstrated experience in a distinguished academic setting.  Normally, review committees consist of three members and include tenured faculty from liberal arts colleges and larger research universities who have attained some prominence in their discipline and, together, represent a variety of disciplinary orientations and viewpoints.  Review Committees are requested to act as consultants to the department/program and the deans, offering critical and empathetic counsel rather than evaluation. The Review Committee is formally appointed by the Dean for Academic Affairs; many details of their campus visit will be arranged by the dean’s office, but the itinerary of meetings will be developed by the department in coordination with the Associate Dean.

Schedule Overview

Before the Review Committee visit

  1. Associate Dean and Chair/Director determine desired semester for the review (1 year ahead).
  2. Department/program members meet to discuss goals and issues (9 months ahead).
  3. Chair/Director and Coordinator meet with Associate Dean about preparation timeline and process (9 months ahead).
  4. Department/program suggests possible reviewers to Associate Dean (9 months ahead).
  5. Dean invites and appoints members of the Review Committee.
  6. Department/program analyzes data and develops a draft of the Self-Study (beginning 6 months ahead).
  7. Narrative section of Self-Study due to Dean (6 weeks ahead).
  8. Eight (8) double-sided copies of final Self-Study narrative and supporting data and materials, bound and labeled, due to Dean (4 weeks ahead).
  9. Dean sends binders and instructions to Review Committee.
After the Review Committee visit
  1. Review Committee submits report to the Dean (4-6 weeks following).
  2. Dean checks report for completeness and shares final report with department and President (normally within two weeks of receiving report).
  3. Department/Program meets to discuss the Committee’s report and prepare a written response for the Dean.
  4. Department/Program meets with Associate Dean and Dean to discuss Committee report and departmental response (within 6 months of visit).

Self-Study (Narrative & Supporting Materials)

To prepare for the Review Committee's visit, the chair/director should convene the department or program members to write a statement (usually of 10-20 pages) that will be given to members of the committee before its visit.  This narrative should assess the strengths, weaknesses and needs of the department/program and outline a vision for the department/program’s future.  It should provide comprehensive background for the Review Committee as well as identify key issues for discussion.  Typically, a series of meetings is needed to prepare the narrative and to make the best use of the review process.  This can begin with a summer retreat to discuss the important issues in depth, to review historic data on the department/program’s curriculum and teaching and to frame a vision for the department/program that will be included in the Self-Study.  A draft of the narrative is shared with Associate Dean, who then submits the complete Self-Study report, including the narrative and supporting materials to the Review Committee in advance of the campus visit.  The dean’s office will also provide the Review Committee with College-wide information, e.g., catalogue, viewbook, and campus map.


The narrative report of the Self-Study should summarize the department’s or program’s perspective on all aspects of the department/program and on the historic data collected.  It should frame for the Review Committee the questions and issues the department/program is or will be grappling with or would like help in addressing.  

The narrative should describe and assess the following general topics:


  • Goals and rationale for the structure of the curriculum, including expectations and learning goals for majors and minors
  • Relationships between the major and minor curricula
  • Teaching areas and strengths of the faculty
  • Curricular planning
  • Independent studies and honors work
  • Courses that serve broader College needs, including college-wide requirements
  • Recent innovations or changes in the curriculum and/or teaching methods
  • How the areas of teaching reflect the state of the discipline and, if appropriate, how that might be unusual in comparison with departments or programs at similar colleges
  • New or emerging aspects of the discipline, methodologies, and/or modes of dissemination and how the department/program is considering them in relation to the existing curriculum


  • The range of pedagogy represented in the department or program
  • How aspects of campus resources are employed, e.g., the Library, technology, and/or Museums
  • Issues of diversity in student experience and learning styles
  • Mechanisms within the department/program for providing support for student needs, e.g., tutoring, study groups

Student Experience

  • The department’s/program’s learning goals for its students (majors, minors, and non-majors), e.g., what students are expected to know or be able to do upon completion of the major
  • A description of the department's/program's current process for assessing achievement of learning goals
  • The role of upper level courses, independent studies and honors projects, writing, quantitative reasoning, off-campus study, and other opportunities (e.g., research fellowships, research assistantships, lab assistantships, tutoring or teaching assistantships, etc.)


  • The role of intellectual engagement within the department or program
  • Department’s or program’s efforts at supporting the intellectual engagement and professional development of its faculty and instructional staff
  • Department's or program's efforts to engage with the effect of new modes of publication, including digital or non-static formats, on existing understandings of rigor, scholarship, and evaluation
  • Communication and support among faculty, especially for new members, e.g., efforts to mentor junior colleagues, regular departmental meetings

Cross-campus Initiatives and Programs

  • Curricular relationships between the department/program and other departments/programs
  • Potential for further strengthening interdisciplinary relationships
  • Cross-listing courses
  • Patterns of double majors
  • Constraints that may limit the development or effectiveness of such relationships
  • Events (lectures, speakers, symposia, etc.) that connect the department/program to a broader college audience

Vision for the Department’s Future

  • Where the department/program is moving in each of the above areas  
  • Specific and general questions the department/program would like the Review Committee to address

Supporting Material

In the course of preparing the Self-Study, chairs/directors will gather information from a variety of sources, all of which should be summarized for the external Review Committee.  The Dean’s office, in conjunction with the Office of Institutional Research, will provide a set of historic data for the department/program.  Other materials should be available in the department/program, to be collected by the chair/director or coordinator. 

The supporting material should include, but is not limited to, the following.

To be supplied by the Dean for Academic Affairs office:

  • A preamble about Bowdoin College
  • A snapshot of the department’s or program’s curriculum, staffing, and projected personnel actions
  • Numbers of majors and minors (declared and graduated) in the last five years listed by academic year
  • Information on double majors
  • Course offerings and enrollments for the last five years
  • Cross-listed courses for the last five years
  • A summary of the current department or program budget
To be supplied by the department or program:
  • A list of present faculty indicating dates of employment at Bowdoin (indicating visiting status where applicable), Ph. D. institutions and dates, and principal research and teaching interests
  • Curricula Vitae of current faculty and instructional staff
  • The department's or program's requirements for the major and minor, its honors requirements and policies concerning off-campus study for majors
  • The department's or program's published learning goals
  • Numbers of independent studies and honors projects, to include titles and supervisors, for the last five years, by year
  • Syllabi of all courses offered over the last two years, in both pdf and hard copy (only one syllabus needs to be included for courses repeated by the same instructor)
  • Report from the most recent external review and any responses to it
  • Copies of the department's/program’s end-of-year reports to the Dean
  • Career paths of graduates
  • Invited guests (lecturers, performers, in-class speakers) for the last five years

Finalizing and Submitting the Self-Study

A near-final draft of the narrative and a table of contents for the entire Self-Study should be submitted to the Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs six weeks before the committee's visit. Within the following two weeks, the Associate Dean reviews this with the chair/director, sometimes suggesting revision or clarification.  The department will submit nine binders to the Dean's office approximately four weeks before the Committee's visit:  eight to include double-sided copies of the final Self-Study including all supporting material except the syllabi; and one to include a double-sided copy of all the syllabi. Syllabi should also be saved electronically in pdf format and sent to  These materials will be made available to reviewers by the Dean’s office.

Structure of Review Committee Visits

The visit by the external Review Committee typically takes place over a two-day period. The scheduling of times for individual faculty and staff is put together by the dean's office in consultation with the department chair or program director, who shares it with departmental or program colleagues.  The schedule will include the following minimum set of opportunities for the committee:

  • Meetings with all faculty members in the department - ideally on an individual basis. While it may be necessary that meetings include more than one faculty member, individual meetings with tenure-track (junior) faculty are a priority.
  • Meetings (if possible) or phone conversations with faculty on leave
  • Group or individual consultations with other members of the instructional staff
  • Consultation with students (majors and minors).
  • Meetings with relevant faculty from other departments or programs
  • (Optional) Meeting(s) with department/program faculty about new or emerging modes of publication/dissemination, new or emerging methodologies in the discipline, ways to assess and evaluate such work, and other challenges related to integrating new scholarly methods into existing practices
  • Exit interview with the department as a group
  • Discussions with the Dean and the President
  • Adequate time for the committee to discuss their visit, formulate their conclusions and begin to prepare their final report


Following the on-campus visit, the Review Committee prepares a written report, usually within four to six weeks. The report is submitted to the Dean for Academic Affairs, who checks the report for completeness and occasionally requests clarification before sharing a copy with the President and the chair/director for distribution to members of the department or program.  Normally, the report is provided to the department/program within two weeks of receipt.  The department/program will then meet to discuss the report’s findings and begin to formulate plans in response to its recommendations.  A written response to the recommendations should be prepared by the department/program and submitted to the Dean.  Finally, the report and the written response form the focus of at least one meeting between the Dean, Associate Dean and the faculty of the department/program to discuss the report and its implications for the future.  This meeting normally takes place within six months of the campus visit.  Departments and the Dean’s office will maintain an archive of these reports that will serve as formal records for College planning.  This is an important record that will guide and inform future decisions about the department, its curriculum, and its staffing.