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Departmental Review Guide

School of Humanities & Sciences Departmental External Review Guide


External academic reviews provide an opportunity for each academic department to reflect, self-assess, and plan; they generate in-depth useful communication between the department and the school leadership, thus offering a vehicle to inform planning and decision-making; and they invite candid assessment by external experts, that can generate new directions in scholarship and teaching.  


All departments, degree-granting graduate fields, and centers are reviewed once every 8 years. Whenever possible, programs and centers that can be associated with a department are reviewed with the department.

A department external review consists of three phases: a self-study by the department faculty in consultation with their departmental constituents, an evaluation by an external review team, and finally the external review report submission and response.

The review process is designed to:

  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of the department as well as the opportunities available and challenges and vulnerabilities faced by the department.
  • Engage faculty expertise (both internal and external) in the review.
  • Focus how to improve (without necessarily adding additional faculty resources) the research and teaching missions of departments. The review will also consider how to improve departments diversity, climate, and mentoring, and identify best practices that might be adopted.


Phase 1: Department Self-Study


Overview of the Self-Study


The self-study is the department’s portrait of itself and a plan for its future. The report should highlight key issues with the potential to have a significant impact on the department within the next 3-5 years and/or with which the department must contend in order to improve. It should be informative to both internal and external readers. Gathering the materials and reaching consensus on how to portray the department and its future should be a constructive activity for engaging all members of the department. Departments should seek broad input and discussion among all the faculty. The study should be thorough, but compact. The self-study should address the broad areas described below. Typically, the self-study also includes a number of appendices with relevant department data.


The self-study addresses any specific issue raised by the Dean and the unit/s under review and will include the following elements:

  • A description of the fundamental questions that organize and motivate the current teaching, research, outreach and other scholarly activities of the department
  • A critical analysis of the current state of the work of the department, including graduate and undergraduate teaching (with attention to the purpose and coherence of the curriculum), research, and outreach, along with any other quantitative information required by the Dean
  • An outline of the specific issues, if any, the department wishes the ad-hoc evaluation committee to address, and any other expectations the department has of the evaluation committee
  • A plan for the next 5 years taking into account a sense of where the field is going


Elements of Self-Study


Department Profile

  • Provide a statement outlining the department’s mission.
  • Describe the major areas of scholarly inquiry (within and across the disciplines) represented in the department. Call attention to any past conditions or events that are critical to understanding the department’s present situation and future development.


Strategic Direction

  • Describe how the relevant academic fields are projected to change nationally and internationally in the next 15 years, and how the department plans to respond to these changes to enhance or achieve academic distinction and leadership.
  • Given constant resources, outline the strategic plans to enhance the quality and stature of the department for the future.
  • Describe three to five opportunities or threats the department will face in the next 10 years and how the department hopes to address each one.


Faculty Excellence in Research, Scholarship, and Creativity

  • Recruiting
    • Have there been significant recent hires or losses in the last 5 years?
    • Has the department been successful in recruiting and retaining top faculty members? If not, What have been the major challenges and barriers to success?
    • How does the department mentor junior faculty?
    • What are the prospects for the future in terms of attracting the best scholars to the department?
  • Diversity
    • What efforts have been made to recruit a diverse faculty with regard to ethnicity and gender?
    • How are faculty from under-represented groups mentored and retained?
    • What are the retention patterns?
  • Research
    • What are the research strengths of the department? How do they support the curriculum?
    • How do the faculty engage undergraduates in the research activities of the unit?
    • Are there new research areas that need to be developed or phased out?
    • Is research support adequate?
  • Teaching
    • What is the typical teaching load of the department’s faculty?
    • How are teaching assignments made, and how are they distributed among the different levels of faculty?
    • What percentage of undergraduate courses are taught by tenured faculty?
    • How does the department promote an inclusive learning environment?
  • Advising & Mentoring
    • What is the distribution of advising and mentoring responsibilities to faculty, and what methods are used to evaluate their effectiveness?
    • How do the faculty serve as role models in mentoring and creating research opportunities for under-represented students to encourage them to continue in the discipline?
    • What is the departments advising and mentoring structure and philosophy?
    • How is the job environment changing and how does the department prepare students for this?
  • Collaborations & Partnerships
    • Do faculty actively seek partnerships with faculty in related departments? How does this contribute to the intellectual life of the department? Are there new strategic partnerships that should be pursued?
    • Describe any collaborative centers or programs that play a significant role in the department’s scholarly endeavors.
    • Describe current efforts made to foster and promote intellectually rewarding collaborations among faculty within and across the department(s).


Undergraduate program

  • Goals & Mission
    • How does your major contribute to the overall mission of liberal arts learning at Stanford?
    • How does the structure of requirements ensure that students acquire a deep and rigorous understanding of the methods and substance of your discipline?
    • What evidence do you have that students are achieving your major goals?
    • Describe your goals—for the undergraduate program—for gender, racial, and ethnic diversity, and how you monitor and assess your progress.
  • Quality
    • How do you balance the need to provide service courses for non-majors with the need to provide courses for majors?
    • What opportunities are available to majors for a capstone experience?
    • How many students pursue honors or research opportunities?
    • Describe the support mechanisms you have in place to facilitate and promote the academic success and retention of students who may be struggling.
  • Weaknesses
    • Describe any weaknesses or limitations of your current undergraduate program?


Graduate program

  • Goals & Mission
    • What are the objectives of the graduate program(s) affiliated with the department and how are they being met?
    • What is your process for determining how many students are admitted?
    • Describe your goals—at the graduate level—for gender, racial, and ethnic diversity, and how you monitor and assess your progress.
  • Quality
    • What opportunities are there for training grants and for individual fellowships?
    • How successful are you in recruiting, and competing with other institutions for, graduate students?
    • How do you pay specific attention to recruiting and retaining graduate students from under-represented groups?
    • How does the training of graduate students affect the undergraduate curriculum?
    • Describe the support mechanisms you have in place to facilitate and promote the academic success and retention of students who may be struggling.
    • What is the average time to degree?
    • What has been the job placement record for the department?
  • Weaknesses
    • Describe any weaknesses and limitations of your current graduate program.


Governance and Administration

  • Describe the departments academic leadership and oversight structure?
  • Describe the role of the chair and the department’s standing committees.
  • Is the current structure effective or are changes needed?
  • How is the work of the department distributed among the faculty?
  • How effective is the administrative structure of the department?



Phase 2:  External Review Committee Site Visit


External Review Visit Overview


The external review team consists of at least three specialists in the field from outside Stanford. The Dean forms the committee after consultation with the chair of the department under review. The committee will consist of scholars whose expertise matches the work of the department being reviewed, whose accomplishments and perspective are widely respected both nationally and internationally, and who have sufficient distance from the department to enable them to give a frank and unbiased assessment.

The committee then evaluates the department’s principal activities as compared with leading departments in other universities, to assess its trajectory, and to recommend whatever changes the committee believes are appropriate, under the assumption of constant resources.

Schedule of External Review


External review teams are charged with assessing the present state of the department or program and whether future plans will be sufficient to maintain or improve quality, and must also respond to issues and questions from the Dean. Given that materials from the Self-Study will be provided to the reviewers in advance the majority of time in each meeting during their visit should allow the team to ask questions and engage in discussions.


Phase 3: External Review Report and Response


The External Review Report

The external review team will submit a written report of their findings to the Dean and Department Chair. Distribution of this report will be limited further at the discretion of the Dean. The report will be watermarked “Confidential – Do Not Copy.” External review teams may, if they wish, attach a confidential annex for the benefit of the Dean to the review report that will be removed before further distribution beyond the Dean.

Department Response to the External Review Report

Upon receipt of the external review team’s written report, the department prepares a written response to their findings and recommendations.

The length of the Department’s Response depends on the department’s level of agreement with the report. When the department agrees with the report, intends to implement its recommendations, and urges the Dean to do likewise, a short acknowledgement is sufficient. On the other hand, when the department disagrees with some of the findings or recommendations of the report, a fuller response to each significant finding or recommendation is required.