I was in Chicago last weekend for a meeting of the provosts of US Jesuit colleges and universities. It’s a chance to compare notes and share ideas for new ways of improving our institutions for the faculty, students, and staff on campus.
All of us are grappling with similar issues – how to simultaneously improve the academic quality of our institutions while constraining the cost increases inherent in our educational model; how to create the optimal environment for both tenure-line and non-tenure-line faculty; how to fulfill the mission of access to the institution for the best students; how to contribute to the communities around us; how to propel forward the research productivity of our campuses.
The meeting also highlighted the great variation in the Jesuit colleges around the country — in size, elaboration of different schools, and relative roles of teaching and research. On the other hand, the feature that unites the schools is their Jesuit heritage and the mission of service to others that is animated by that identity. Thus, we spent time in the meeting on how best to live that mission in a very complicated and dynamic world of higher education in the United States.
As chief academic officers, we are quite comfortable with the value of periodic departmental and school reviews. We know how useful is the regimen of a self-study, a visit from peers, a report that is shared with the unit and the administration. (Indeed, at Georgetown we have extended these reviews to Centers and Institutes as well as departments.) These visits almost always lead to renewed energy and focus of the university on the reviewed unit.
Several of the provosts reported on a new process that is being piloted now, a review of how the Jesuit and Catholic nature of the college is lived day-to-day. It greatly resembles that kind of voluntary periodic academic reviews that universities conduct each year, but it’s focused on a different feature of the institution. It begins with a self-study informed by faculty, mission and ministry leaders, students, and staff. A small team of visitors from other Jesuit universities spends time at the institution, and a short report is delivered.
Those who had experienced this reported real utility in having a chance to reflect on this aspect of the institution, and learned through the interaction of ways to improve. It reminded me of exactly what occurs with departmental reviews – the value of stopping to focus on a feature of the institution, to give it special attention, and thereby to reintegrate our overall vision of the institution in new ways that incorporate new opportunities for the unit.
Georgetown will probably have a chance for such a review in the coming fall term. I look forward to the chance for all of us to participate in thinking about these matters for the betterment of the university.