By Monica Chapman
This is one in a series of stories on new university initiatives aimed at ensuring a quality academic experience for students by improving service, increasing efficiency or identifying new resources or savings. The initiatives were profiled at an Oct. 7 Vision OHIO Information Session.
The new Academic Support Unit Program Review process will benchmark the effectiveness, efficiency and continuous improvement of Ohio University's nonacademic units over the course of the next several years.
Under the program, all of the university's academic support units -- which include every functional area that does not undergo an academic program review -- will participate in an 18- to 24-month review every eight years. Eight to 10 units will be reviewed each year, with the first of 54 scheduled reviews to begin this year.
For a list of units covered by program review and the current schedule, click here.
The Academic Support Unit Program Review (ASUPR) process, called for in the Five Year Vision OHIO Implementation Plan, is aimed at ensuring that support units' work aligns with the university's academic mission, said Gary Neiman, dean of the College of Health and Human Services and head of the ASUPR committee.
"Through this process, units will have an opportunity to articulate their goals and have a preliminary assessment of where they're at relative to their goals and mission," Neiman said. "Then the university will be able to weigh whether the scope of a unit's mission is appropriate within the university's mission.
"It's all about getting buy-in as a community on what the various units' objectives should be, working with them to ensure their resources match their mission, encouraging the journey toward continuous quality improvement and efficiency, and then assessing how well they have achieved that mission."
Reviews will include an assessment of the departments' current operations by internal and external teams, followed within two years by an assessment by faculty, staff and students who use the units' services. A 17-member committee, representing an array of academic support units, was charged with developing the review process.
"This is all about improvement; it's not about finding fault with people or being critical in an unproductive way," said committee member Terry Conry, associate vice president for finance and administration. "The new process gets the academic support units linked up tightly with the people they serve here on campus, and it clearly points out areas for the greatest improvement. It's a tremendous opportunity to move the university forward in a significant way."
Step 1: Self-Assessment
The first phase is a self-study based upon Brent Ruben's Excellence in Higher Education framework. Ruben applies the principles of Malcolm Baldrige -- a former U.S. secretary of commerce and namesake of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award -- to higher education using a set of critical characteristics.
"Our goal is to take this well-regarded framework for understanding organizational performance and talk about it in words that make sense to Ohio University," said Mark Kesler, senior director of the university's Center for Organization Development and Effectiveness, which will provide leadership for the self-assessments. "We want to do something that fits -- something that sounds like, smells like, feels like Ohio University."
Each unit's leaders will guide the self-assessments, which will solicit input from all unit staff members. Though the assessments will be tailored to the unique needs of each unit, a broad structure will guide the process. For instance, prior to the assessment, leaders from all of the units coming under review will convene for an orientation to the process. Next, a representative from the Kesler's area will meet with the department to discuss how to use the self-study to best benefit.
During a two-day workshop that will follow, the academic support unit's staff will identify department strengths, areas where gains can be made and a series of improvement projects. A half-day follow-up meeting will take place within two weeks, giving staff members an opportunity to discuss the projects.
"This is not a prescription that says, 'You must do this.' What we want to have is conversations," Kesler said. "The idea is to see yourself clearly as an organization and come up with how you're planning to improve."
Doug Franklin, assistant dean of recreation and wellness in the College of Health and Human Services, believes that self-assessments have contributed to a strong sense of purpose in his department.
"We know exactly why we're here. It's about student development," Franklin said. "The assessment piece makes sure we don't stray and makes sure everyone else understands.
"If we can't review where we are and how we align with the university mission, someone has to ask the question, 'Why do we exist?'"
Campus Recreation was one of three academic support units to undergo a self-assessment during 2007-08. Dining Services and the Kennedy Museum also underwent reviews, which were largely geared toward the criteria of their respective professional organizations. These units will meet with the ASUPR committee this fall to aid in developing the broad-based self-assessment process.
Step 2: External Review
An external review will follow the self-assessment. Each review team will consist of one representative from the ASUPR committee and one to two experts from outside Ohio University who serve in roles related to the departments' work. Teams will meet with unit leaders and staff as well as faculty and others who are stakeholders of the academic support unit's services.
"This is a unique feature," Conry said. "Some universities are doing self-study. Some are doing peer reviews. Ohio University has combined those. And then we go further to add a review by internal stakeholders -- our faculty, staff and students."
Upon completion of the external review, the unit will combine results of the self-study and external review into a final report that will summarize the findings and make recommendations.
Step 3: Internal Stakeholder Review
This final phase will take place within two years of the external review, allowing the unit time to implement recommended changes. The internal stakeholder review will focus on program quality, costs and alignment with Vision OHIO.
A six-member internal stakeholder team will include two representatives from the executive leadership team of deans and vice presidents, a representative from the ASUPR committee, a student representative and two key stakeholders appointed by the executive vice president and provost.
Based on the first round of recommendations and budgetary issues, the team will compile a list of performance indicators and interest areas upon which to focus the review. The internal stakeholder report will identify program strengths and weaknesses and make specific recommendations for improvement.
"This entire process represents an opportunity for the academic support units to reach consensus about their mission and scope and solicit input about their effectiveness and efficiency," Neiman said. "And then there will be a period of time during which they can evolve and make adjustments to move their outcomes in the desired direction in a comfortable environment that encourages progress and excellence."
Neiman said a one-year break to assess and adjust the overall ASUPR process will occur midway through the eight-year cycle.