February 8, 2001
Mr. Ralph A. Wolff, Executive Director
Western Association of Schools and Colleges
985 Atlantic Avenue Suite 100
Alameda, CA 94501
I appreciate very much all the hard work and insights reflected in the WASC Visitation Teams Report and believe that many of the collegial suggestions and recommendations the team offers will help Cal Poly Pomona continue its success into the future. We are gratified by the many commendations the reviewers have included in their report and are pleased that they found that (page 24) the University has developed "into an impressive, forward-looking institution." Our comments in this response mainly address the five principal needs and recommendations contained in the Conclusion to the report (pages 23-25).
We agree with the recommendation (page 4) that "the campus needs to devote considerable energy to bringing all segments of the university together in a shared vision of what the University has become and where it is headed" and concur with the statement (page 24) that "The time now seems ripe to review, reconsider, regroup, and plan together for the next developmental stage." In this regard, we would like to emphasize the following:
Two cycles of strategic planning resulted in the development of widely accepted strategic goals along with mission and vision statements. This institution undertook these planning efforts when it was undergoing considerable change and a major economic downturn. These factors have "fostered some mistrust and counterproductive conflicts" and impinged negatively on planning. We acknowledge that the efforts we have made toward resolving the tensions among staff, faculty, and administrators have not lived up to our hopes, but we plan to devote our utmost attention to this vital challenge. The campus is examining existing models for inclusive planning to select the most appropriate based on results of studies such as the Campus Climate Survey project and additional research that is about to be conducted.
The campus has attempted to work on the development of a shared vision partially through implementing a broad-based plan to improve communications among people to get them to listen genuinely to one another. We intend to implement a shared vision within two academic years.
Consistent with the traditions of this campus, the plan is to use technology, focus groups, open forums, and other forms of "structured but open dialogue to understand what the university has become and envision its future." We will use internal and external consultants to facilitate some of the most sensitive discussions such as that of shared governance. The Presidents Cabinet, as an advisory body that includes representatives of all campus constituencies, including the Academic Senate Chair and the ASI President, can play an important role in mitigating the "understanding gap" and developing consensus about an academic master plan "objectively considering such factors as context, data, trends, strengths, limitations, and opportunities."
Regarding institutional research, the "Action Plan for Implementation" drawn up by the Self-Study Committee in October proposes a number of assessment actions at the university level that would contribute to an expanded awareness of our effectiveness in teaching and learning, and hence to an improved capability to make measured, open judgments about allocating resources. Self-knowledge is clearly related to the collection of many kinds of data and to its analysis, promulgation and discussion. We feel the university has made great strides in the past five years or so, and giant steps since the last WASC review, and will definitely profit from the teams suggestions.
We concur with the need to strengthen the "institutional research" function at Cal Poly Pomona. The need to enhance and expand the assessment capabilities of the campus is well documented. The vision of "coordinated, comprehensive, cohesive, and flexible institutional research capabilities" is both appealing and necessary. These enhanced capabilities are expected to provide the type of assistance that is desired by all campus constituencies concerning strategic planning, establishment of priorities, linking assessment to resource allocations, performance improvements, facilities operation, and other human resource management issues. Faculty, academic departments, programs, and co-curricular offices will be able to evaluate the effectiveness of university efforts to accomplish stipulated goals and objectives, especially as they relate to the shift from a teaching-centered to a learning-centered environment.
We agree that the five planning recommendations in the report are sensible and urgent. We have been attempting to accomplish some of them; for instance, achieving consensus about priorities and alignment of budgeting, planning, assessment, and review during the last few years. We plan to improve that process through the kind of inclusive, collaborative, trust-based approach described in the report. As mentioned in the Self-Study, specific models that have worked elsewhere are under consideration. We are engaged in developing campus goals for accountability indicators based on historical trends and an articulated vision for the future. These accountability goals will be linked to the campus strategic plan and to priorities established through a collaborative process. That will include the development of corresponding accountability goals for various divisions, units, colleges and departments. To accomplish this, general data sets are being developed so that they can be used for annual reports, program reviews, accreditation, and continuous self-study.
An enrollment plan has been under construction for several months. The components of a comprehensive enrollment plan and a series of reports describing historical enrollment trends are currently being prepared by Enrollment Services and Institutional Research and Planning. The campus is currently reviewing a proposal to implement an umbrella enrollment advisory body whose function it would be to affect, coordinate, align, and integrate enrollment planning and management efforts on campus.
Assessment of non-academic programs is proceeding ahead in an organized fashion. Under the rubric of institutional effectiveness assessment, there are several initiatives underway to expand our efforts to evaluate our non-academic policies, practices, and programs. Over the last three years approximately 15 surveys have been administered (including the Campus Climate project, library, and International Center program surveys). Two additional studies are about to be conducted; an alumni survey and a calling program for students who have left the university or stopped out with the goal of improving student retention and graduation rates. An employer survey is also planned. In addition, the Administrative Affairs Division is planning to implement the "Phantom Shopper" methodology used for several years in the Student Affairs Division in assessing the quality of its services. We welcome, and plan to implement, the recommendation to provide training in assessment and to reward contributions.
Cal Poly Pomona has already begun efforts to align planning, budgeting, assessment, and program review. Eight departments in the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences, all of the College of Business, and a department in the College of Science have opted to develop five-year assessment plans in lieu of one cycle of program review. Accredited programs in the Colleges of Engineering, Environmental Design, and Science already have assessment built into the accreditation process. We expect that within three years all academic program reviews will be assessment-based. The guiding principle in the implementation of this plan is improved student learning.
Evidence for the growth of learning-centeredness on our campus is to be found in the changed behavior of many instructors, the re-organization of administrative infrastructure of the Schools and Colleges, and the high level of participation in and excellent evaluations of programs and workshops offered by the academic support units focusing on learning-centered approaches to teaching. Some early impact studies have been carried out by several departments that have participated in the Student Outcomes Assessment Program (SOAP) program and presented at follow-up meetings. These preliminary pieces of evidence were not included in the Self-Study because of their exploratory nature. The concept of learning-centeredness is yet a subject of debate, but not as to its value. Rather, the debate concerns purposes and methods.
As we implement the new, recently-adopted General Education Program, discussions about improving its management are underway. The General Education (GE) Committee, well aware of the "need for a more integrated program designed for a polytechnic university," has designed the new program so as to integrate the lower division general education courses into four upper division syntheses areas: the humanities, social sciences, science and technology, and interdisciplinary studies. These four syntheses areas will serve also as an element in the assessment portfolio of the new GE program. It is our goal to make the quality of the general education equal, at least, to that of our major programs, of which we are extremely proud. Aware of the failure of the prior effort to create such a program because of the existence of a less-restrictive track, we plan to phase out the current program. The new program has received the financial commitment of the deans and the administration. The GE Committee has been expanded by many faculty volunteers to install the new program, creating guidelines for the syntheses areas and developing model courses.
As with the five general needs and recommendations, many of the specific suggestions and recommendations stem from the various themes of the self-study, but add practical ideas for actions. We are developing an internal detailed action plan in connection with these specific issues, which will prioritize and sequence their implementation within the framework of a comprehensive academic master plan. Our impression is that the thematic approach we adopted in our self-study was found to be productive by the visiting team, so much so that their team organization and research process were patterned along the same lines. We experienced some amount of difficulty in moving forward with the experimental self-study while still addressing the traditional nine standards in our assessment. It is reassuring to find no criticisms of the university in terms of specific standards. We plan to continue our self-reflection and engagement to instill new vigor into the educational process and our growth as a learning-centered university.
I look forward to our continued engagement with the Commission and to meeting with you soon.
Bob H. Suzuki
cc: Greg Scott