Please see below for a list of frequently asked questions on the Program Review process. Any additional questions that are not answered below may be directed to Megan Blackwelder, Associate Vice President of Program Review.
What is the primary purpose of Program Review?Northwestern University’s Program Review began in 1985 as a faculty initiative to review every academic and administrative unit at the University in the pursuit of continued excellence and achievement. The purpose of Program Review is further articulated here, and has many benefits to units and the University more broadly, some of which are described here. Northwestern has completed a full Program Review Cycle of the entire University three times, and is now in its Fourth Cycle. Ultimately, Northwestern chooses to continue the Program Review process because it facilitates better planning and fosters a culture of continuous improvement.
Does Program Review duplicate other assessment efforts?While Program Review is distinct from accreditation and other types of assessments, it can (and should) incorporate outputs from these processes. Other assessment efforts may be particularly helpful to a unit in developing a key issues list and self-study when undergoing Program Review. Ultimately, the Program Review process is unique as an internal quality initiative that results in specific implementation agreements between the unit and the central administration.
How is Program Review of a school different from the Dean's Review Process?These are related, but separate processes with different timing, scope and objectives. A School’s Program Review occurs once approximately every ten years, and examines the School’s overall quality and effectiveness. The Dean’s review is conducted by the Provost’s Office, approximately once every five years, and assesses the strengths and areas of opportunity of the dean’s leadership. The focus for the Dean’s review is on the Dean’s performance. Where possible, the timing for these separate processes is coordinated to maximize the flow of information and minimize duplication in engaging stakeholders for input.
|Review Element||Program Review||Dean's Review|
|Timing||Once every 10 years||About once every 5 years|
|Scope||School (including administration effectiveness in support of scholarly output, faculty and student caliber, etc.)||Dean's leadership|
|Purpose||Assess School's quality and effectiveness, to stimulate planning||Assess Dean’s performance
Ensure that school strategies are aligned to University priorities and carried out effectively to further enhance Northwestern’s growing prominence and impact
|Facilitated By||Office of Administration and Planning||Provost's Office|
Can Program Review really be effective given the length of time between reviews?
Given the length of time between reviews, Program Review is most effectively used as a long-term planning tool that engages line administration and University leadership on the unit’s strategy. Program Review is not intended to be the sole strategic planning, data gathering, or change management mechanism for any unit; units at Northwestern are strongest when their leadership continuously engages in these activities. Program Review is most effective when these elements are already in place and can support a more in-depth analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for the unit. When a unit is lacking a strategic plan/roadmap or performance indicators, Program Review may serve as a catalyst for developing them.
Can I access Program Review results or data?Much of the Program Review process is confidential. In order to get the most honest feedback from members or constituents of a unit, we have to ensure that the information will not be personally identifiable. Likewise, in order for a unit to candidly assess itself, it is critical that the self-analyses and results are not available to the public. Program Review information is obtained from and shared with the members of the unit and those participating in the review (internal reviewers, external reviewers, the Dean/line Vice President, central administration, and the Program Review Council) solely for the benefit of the unit. A final follow-up with the unit and summary of the review is shared with the Board of Trustees. Units may choose to share results with collaborating internal partners, or key external stakeholders, such as an advisory board, at their own discretion.
Is Program Review tied to the budgeting process?The program review process should focus on improvements that can be made using resources that currently are available to the unit. However, the Program Review process does consider improvements and expansions that would require additional resources; in such cases, the need and priority for additional resources should be clearly specified.
How is the schedule set?The Office of Administration and Planning sets the schedule with the Provost, with consultation from the Deans and Vice Presidents. Prior to the start of each review cycle, the Office of Administration and Planning consults with Deans and Vice Presidents to create a schedule that accommodates as many preferences as possible. The timing of previous reviews or accreditations is taken into consideration, although each area may have a different preference with regard to how the Program Review lines up with these other assessments (simultaneous, sequential, or staggered). When possible, related units are reviewed in the same year in order to help identify cross-cutting issues. Each year, the Office of Administration and Planning reaches out to units to confirm the planned reviews for the upcoming year, and sometimes reschedules a unit due to exceptional circumstances.
Please access the Program Review Schedule (Fourth Cycle) here to determine when a unit is scheduled for review.
How does the Program Review process support diversity and inclusion efforts at Northwestern?
The Program Review team demonstrates its commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts throughout the review process.
Review Team Composition: As the review team has a key role in carrying out the review visit interviews and final report writing, we pay special attention to team composition in order to ensure that our experts represent a diverse set of identities, as well as areas of expertise within their fields.
Unit Self-Assessment: Each unit is required to write a self-study narrative outlining its mission/vision, history, and plans for the future. The full guidelines can be found here. Units are asked to discuss their goals for gender, racial, and ethnic diversity for faculty, staff and students. Units are also asked to explain how they monitor and assess progress in achieving these goals.
Stakeholder Input: The Program Review process at Northwestern is also unique in that we do our best to engage as many staff, faculty and students as possible in the review process, to ensure that review visit participants have a confidential, safe space to provide feedback on their affiliated unit or department. Key stakeholders are also invited to provide their confidential feedback via survey; survey results are provided in full to the review team, and to senior leadership at Northwestern University. Surveys include specific questions on unit diversity and culture.
How are external reviewers selected?The department chair or head of the unit provides nominations of candidates from outside Northwestern to serve as external reviewers to the Office of Administration and Planning. These nominees should be leaders from distinguished programs in the field or industry. Both central administration (President, Provost, Vice President of Administration and Planning, Vice President for Research, Dean of The Graduate School, Vice Provost for Academics, and Vice Provost for Administration) as well as the respective Dean or Vice President that manages the unit are then given an opportunity for additional input.
How are internal reviewers selected?The Office of Administration and Planning solicits nominations from Deans and Vice Presidents for senior faculty and administrators from Northwestern to serve as internal reviewers. The department chair or unit head has the opportunity provide feedback on candidates that may be particularly well-suited for the review of their unit. Internal reviewers cannot be members of the unit under review, but should be familiar with the unit under review to provide relevant context. Internal reviewers for academic units typically include at least one faculty member from a related field, and internal reviewers for administrative units include at least one administrator.