Academic Departments and Programs

Faculty Legislation

The faculty endorses the inauguration of a regular schedule of departmental and program reviews. Each review will include an internal self-study and an evaluation by an outside committee, the appropriate form of which will be determined conjointly by the provost and dean of the faculty and the department. The evaluation will be sent to the president, provost, and to the department (voted by the faculty, March 1993).

Why Do a Review?

All departments* at Amherst College should undergo external reviews on a ten-year cycle or as warranted by special circumstances. External reviews are intended to allow departments to review and assess their work periodically and systematically, and to help departments and the college plan for the near- and long-term future within the context of staffing and budgetary realities. These reviews, which are structured to be independent and comprehensive, have proven to be very informative. They aid departments in identifying and assessing curricular needs and directions. Requests for FTEs that have been informed by external reviews are often strengthened as a result.

Scheduling and Preparing for the Review

The schedule for the review is set by the provost and dean of the faculty in consultation with department chairs and the president. Each summer, the provost names those departments to be reviewed during the next academic year, as well as those departments tentatively scheduled for review over the next two years. Each year, the provost will inform the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) of the departments that will be reviewed. Preparation for the review should normally begin at least three semesters prior to the visit by the outside committee. The associate provosts in the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty who are responsible for the review will meet with the department chair to discuss the review, outline the steps involved and the chair’s responsibilities, and suggest topics and forms of evidence-gathering for the department to consider in its self-study.

A review is usually a two-semester process, with the first semester (which can be either in the fall or the spring) devoted to preparation of the self-study and the second semester to the visit of the outside committee. Members of the outside committee should be invited as early in the process as possible and should receive the department self-study at least a month in advance of its visit. Department members hold a series of meetings to discuss what issues they want to address, what evidence they need, and how they will organize the self-study report. The department indicates what subfields the outside committee should represent. After the department has met, the chair will meet with the associate provost to formulate a list of objectives for the review. The CEP may suggest additional questions for the department to consider.

Outside Reviewers

The provost and the department work collaboratively to assemble a team of outside reviewers, with the final decision about the composition of the team resting with the provost. The team typically consists of three or four reviewers, with the aim of covering desired subfields. The department proposes up to eight reviewers, indicating the subfields they represent. If a close professional or personal relationship exists between anyone who is participating in the review process and an outside reviewer, that relationship should be disclosed. Together, the provost and the department choose two reviewers, occasionally three, from among the department’s proposed individuals. Through consultation with provosts, and faculty members at other institutions, the provost assembles a list of proposed reviewers, from which one or two evaluation team members will be drawn. The provost will seek the input of the department before making final selections. The final list of reviewers should include at least one representative from an undergraduate liberal arts institution and one from a research university. The provost appoints the chair of the evaluation team.

The Self-Study Report

After consulting with the provost and dean of the faculty about particular areas of emphasis, the department determines the scope and content of its self-study. Amherst prescribes no rigid format for self-studies, but proposes that departments consider the questions that follow:

  1. What is the context for the review? Have there been significant shifts in the field or discipline to which the department is responding? Is the department anticipating retirements, requesting new positions, etc?
  2. What are the department’s goals with respect both to the education of its majors (i.e., the learning goals posted on the departmental website) and the general education of all Amherst students and the education of its majors? How do departmental goals relate to the broader mission of the college? How do they relate to the recommendations of the Committee on Academic Priorities (CAP). Please visit for information about formulating and assessing learning goals. 
  3. How are the department’s curriculum and pedagogy designed to achieve these goals? How does the department’s program compare with those of peer institutions? What is the department’s relationship to other Amherst College departments?
  4. How does the department assess its success in achieving these goals? The self-study report should provide data and evidence, with particular attention to the assessment of student learning.
  5. What are the department’s aspirations for program development? What steps and/or resources would be required to meet those goals?
  6. What steps has the department taken to enhance diversity and equity? How have these efforts been integrated into the department’s pedagogy, curriculum, formulation of new positions, and planning?
  7. What are the research interests of the department’s faculty?  What factors led to the department’s current array of interests? What factors do you anticipate will shape the interests represented in the department in the future?
  8. How does the research of the department’s faculty relate to the kinds of research typically undertaken in the discipline? How does research of the department’s faculty intersect with developments in other disciplines?  In what ways are the faculty’s fields of expertise reflected in the department’s curriculum and in research opportunities offered to students?

The self-study report should include faculty CVs, course syllabi, and enrollment statistics, as well as reports on the various professional activities of graduates (to the degree known).

A department may find it useful to consider the history, design, structure, and intents of its curriculum, including courses for non-majors as well as majors, honors, advising, pedagogy, and enrollment trends. Outside committees often wish to understand connections between the department and related Amherst or Five-College departments, and how the department sees itself in relation to excellent departments elsewhere and to the present state of the discipline. Those preparing the self-study will naturally consult with colleagues in their department, senior and junior, so that the document reflects as broad a discussion and consensus as possible. They may also wish to consult students, alumni, Amherst faculty members in other departments, and faculty from the Five Colleges or other institutions who know the department. Departments are encouraged to share their self-study reports with the CEP.

The Visit

The provost’s office will work with the department to create a detailed schedule that includes individual meetings with the provost and dean of the faculty and possibly the president, members of the CEP, all department members (including visiting faculty, lecturers, and lab instructors), students (majors and non-majors), and colleagues from affiliated departments and programs. A department may decide whether it would like to have a final meeting. An exit interview will be held with the provost and dean of the faculty. The outside committee will receive a draft of the schedule and will be given an opportunity to suggest additional meetings before it is finalized. The outside committee should submit its final report within four weeks of the review to the provost and dean of the faculty, who will distribute it to the president, the department, and the CEP. If the final report or the exit interview includes confidential information regarding personnel or other matters, the department and the CEP will receive a redacted version of the report.


Departments should carefully weigh, but are not obliged to accept, all the recommendations of an external review.  Within two months of receiving the report from the external committee, the provost and a designated associate provost will meet with all available members of the department to discuss the report and to begin formulating recommendations about the next steps the department will take. In this initial conversation, the department will share its assessment of the review, identify recommendations that it will implement, explain its reasons for not implementing recommendations, and discuss the impact of the review on the department’s plans for the future. The provost’s office will have responsibility for creating a written record of the conversation, which will be shared with all members of the department. The department should submit a written report to the provost and dean of the faculty one year after the review, focusing on the impact that the review has had on shaping its curriculum, faculty hiring, and plans for the future. Three years after the external review, the department once again will report to the provost in writing on the impact that the review has had on shaping its curriculum, faculty hiring, and plans for the future.

*In this document, the term department will be used to indicate an academic department or program.

These guidelines were approved by the Committee on Educational Policy on November 7, 2008.