UMB Programs Get Mixed Reviews

J.P. Goodwin

Every program and department on the UMass Boston campus receives a periodic Academic Quality Assessment and Development (AQAD) review. Five UMB programs had their AQAD reviews completed in 2000-2001. These evaluations were released at the UMass Board of Trustee’s Committee on Academic and Student Affairs on October 23.

The UMB programs that had their AQADs on the committee’s agenda were Classics, Hispanic Studies and Latin American Studies, Philosophy, Public Affairs Master’s, and Public Policy Ph.D.

Of the three undergraduate programs reviewed, the Department of Classics and the Department of Philosophy received what were, for the most part, positive reviews. Lack of adequate resources resulted in the Department of Hispanic Studies and Latin American Studies coming under considerable criticism.

Of the two graduate programs reviewed, the Public Affairs Master’s program received a generally positive review, while structural and organizational problems led to a largely negative assessment of the Public Policy program.

“The mission and curriculum of the department conform to the guidelines and philosophy recommended by the American Philological Association and with the programmatic resources at peer universities,” wrote the reviewers of the Classics Department. They commended the department for its “robust growth” and noted that the number of majors has tripled to twenty without grade inflation. They also took note of the positive self-reports of majors in the program and pointed out the high rate of acceptance of graduates during the past two years by top-rated graduate schools, including Chicago, Brown and Tufts. The reviewers did warn “about potential burnout from teaching overload” and referred to “limited resources” – which was consistent with a theme found in all the reviews. The reviewers urged members of the department “to reduce extra departmental service [specifically General Education courses] until the needs of their unit were more adequately met.”

The external reviewers for the Department of Classics were Professor Kenneth Kitchell,Jr., Department of Classics, UMass Amherst; and Professor Jeffrey Henderson, UMass Amherst. Two reviewers from inside the university also participated: Mary Shaner, English Department and Malcolm Smuts, History Department.

In their assessment of the Department of Philosophy, the reviewers praised the research done by several faculty members, singling out “the breadth of research…which embraces Simone Weil, feminism, multiculturalism and race.” They also pointed out the diversity of the faculty and “the positive attitude and rapport” amongst that faculty, including “their “inclusion of part-time faculty in their academic life, the democratic nature of departmental activities, and the department’s regular attention to issues of teaching and learning in its regular meetings.” The fact that the department offers three separate majors, which “are working quite well” was noted.

Philosophy majors who were interviewed expressed interest in the creation of courses that would be exclusive to majors, and in an honors option. In response, the reviewers suggested “a capstone course designed to cover the main areas in philosophy, so that all majors would have a chance to study their favorite area in depth.” The panel also urged that “library resources be increased.”

The external reviewers were Professor Howard McGary, Department of Philosophy, Rutgers University and Professor Bernard R. Boxill, Department of Philosophy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The reviewers from inside the university were Professor Lois Rudnick, American Studies and Professor Paul Bookbinder, History Department.

“Enrollments at all levels of language instruction were too high for students to have a meaningful pedagogical experience in these courses,” wrote the reviewers of the Department of Hispanic Studies and Latin American Studies. They noted that both library resources, and advising resources for study abroad, were “inadequate” to the needs of the department. The panel also found gaps in both the intermediate level of language instruction and in content courses, particularly Modern Spanish literature, and recommended the addition of one new faculty line. The department’s Portuguese instruction was described as being “in a state of crises.”

The reviewers reported being impressed “by the high level of both academic productivity and collegiality among the faculty” and by the “high order of quality” established by departmental leadership. They also focused on the contribution of Cindy Shuster, who coordinates lower-level language courses and strongly recommended her long-term retention. Also receiving praise was the Spanish Resource Center established by the Spanish government.

The two external reviewers were Professor F. William Forbes, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, University of New Hampshire and Professor Nina M. Scott, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, UMass Amherst. The reviewers from UMB were Professor Robert Crossley, English Department and Professor Estelle Disch, Sociology Department.

The Dean of Graduate Studies conducted AQAD reviews for the Master’s in Public Affairs program and the Public Policy Ph.D. program.

The Master’s in Public Policy was “performing far better than could be predicted from its resource base,” according to the review. They cited “the absence of a permanent core faculty” as a program weakness and recommended more frequent program reviews by the faculty and the appointment of a Graduate Program Director.

The panel gave high marks to the development of the curriculum for international students, the systemization of course evaluations and track course quality. They also praised the program’s value for students working in the government, adding that more efforts should be made to secure tuition reimbursement from the Federal government’s Region 1 offices.

Interviews with students, together with a high level of course completion rates (consistently higher than 80 percent), indicated “a very strong sense of cohort solidarity and mutual support among students,” according to the review.

The external reviewers for this program were Professor Eve Spengler, Sociology, Boston College; and Professor Ralph Whitehead, Journalism, UMass Amherst. The internal reviewers were Professor Hans Van Willigen, Chemistry and Professor Paul Bookbinder, History.

A major problem for the Public Policy program, according to the panel of reviewers, was “the lack of a core faculty.” The panel reported that that it had difficulty estimating the true size of the faculty “because of the structure of the program.” It was apparent that the reviewers felt the program needed to be restructured, describing the current structure as “sub-optimal.” They wrote that most faculty “were willing to consider structural alternatives” and that clarification of the existing tenure line was “urgently necessary.”

They recommended that the programs ties with other institutes be strengthened and noted “the loss of Professors Bluestone, Melendez, and Ferguson has had a particularly negative impact” and that “three full time lines” be added. They also urged that the program be given departmental status and that it be moved to either CAS or CPCS.

While calling the success of former and current students in obtaining grants and fellowships “impressive,” the reviewers expressed concern over the large number of students who have failed to finish the program. And while praising the work of the program director, they cautioned against “burnout,” and described the level of scholarly activity by the program as “acceptable.”

The external reviewers were Dr. Eileen Applebaum of the Economic Policy Institute, Washington, D.C.; and Professor John Hird of the Political Science Department, UMass Amherst. The internal reviewers were Professor David Matz, CPCS and Professor Jeffrey Burr, Gerontology.

In response to some of the criticisms contained in the AQAD reviews, Interim Provost Arthur MacEwan stated, “We take seriously the criticisms that were raised. There is no easy answer on how to use the resources we’ve got. In terms of class size, we are in the midst of trying to deal with the particular problem in Hispanic Studies and class size in general. In terms of the language lab, that’s high on our agenda. People say we have a poor language lab. The chancellor and I have been talking about ways of improving it. If you’re going to teach languages, you need a good language lab.”

Speaking about the Public Policy program, the interim provost stated, “It’s a structural problem. It is a graduate program without a home. It is our expectations that we will be able to move it into one of the colleges. This is a good example of the AQAD process giving us an extra push.”