External Review of the Psychology Department

It is the College’s custom to have an external review of each academic department / program every decade or so. When Professor Tim Keith-Lucas announced his intention to retire at the end of academic 2010-11, the Department requested a review in academic 2009-10 as part of the planning for his replacement. Dean of the College John Gatta concurred.

Over a period of several months, the Department developed a list of eleven “questions of interest” for the External Review Panel. Included were broad areas such as resource allocation and course offerings as well as more specific items, e.g., offering / requiring statistics courses. Also, “What goals, emphases, pædagogic approaches have we overlooked?” The Panel was also provided with a 40-page report containing data on recent practices, divided by the six departmental goals.

The task of recruiting the Panel and arranging the schedule fell to Professor Keith-Lucas. Constance Pilkington, Associate Professor of Psychology and Chair, College of William & Mary; Craig Kinsley, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond; and Karla Murdock, Associate Professor of Psychology, Washington and Lee University arrived Sunday evening, departed mid-morning on Wednesday. They spent a busy two days meeting with faculty: psychologists (all 6 tenure-track, all 3 contingent), an anthropologist, a biologist, and several groups of psychology students. An oral overview of their observations and recommendations was given to the psychology faculty at dinner Tuesday evening, to the administration Wednesday morning.

The 17 February, 2010, written report addressed to the Department included 45 Objectives organized by ten broad goals. “We each are most grateful to receive the report of the Panel,” says Charles Peyser, Professor and Chair. “It is difficult to imagine a more hard-working, more congenial trio of visiting colleagues. I am pleased that they found the Department strong, but even more that they point to possibilities for us. I am confident that we will be absorbing the wisdom in their report over the next five or more years. We are in the early stages of a multi-year transition … Helen Bateman and Karen Yu are on sabbatical leave this spring … Helen Bateman becomes departmental Chair this summer … Nicole Barenbaum will be on sabbatical leave in spring 2011 … Timothy Keith-Lucas retires June 2011 … a tenure-track neuropsychologist will join the Department in August 2011. It is an exciting, challenging time to be a member of this Department!”

The opening paragraph of the External Review Panel report: “Thank you for making our recent visit to Sewanee, the University of the South such a productive and pleasant experience. Our meetings with key stakeholders in your Department revealed a clear sense of mutual respect among your faculty and we were deeply impressed by the student-focused orientation of your team. Further, your Department has a good heart! Our conversations with students made it clear that they have great admiration for each of you and benefit from your academic and personal mentorship. The Department provides a hefty share of teaching service to the University while appearing to quite diplomatically negotiate perennial questions regarding its role in the larger science curriculum. Faculty members approach their scholarship in diverse ways that provide students with a range of topical and methodological options for mentored research experiences. On the whole, the Department appears to be functioning very well.”

The closing paragraph of the External Review Panel report:Summary

"Overall, we found a strong Department integrated well into, and an exemplar of, Sewanee’s Mission Statement. The Department provides its students not only with a fine education but also instills in them a sense of devotion and gratitude that we all found striking and enviable. Our Goals and Objectives are a reflection of our respective points of view and experiences. They should be viewed as suggestions, not mandates, as we feel we are but adding a bit of polish to a large and well-shaped jewel. We encourage the Department to think long and hard about what is in its and its students’ best interests, unique in both desire and application, and to act accordingly. Please feel free to contact us regarding clarification or explication of the points we made and why. Thank you for this opportunity to participate in your forward-thinking review.”