AWP Recommendations for External Review of Creative Writing Programs

Periodic external review is essential to the long term success of any creative writing program. The purposes of external review are to identify and assess program strengths and weaknesses in all areas and to make recommendations about the program’s direction. An objective, thorough external review provides compelling evidence that can assist program faculty and staff in planning for the future and in obtaining resources needed to address areas of development or need. External review should inform a creative writing program’s strategic planning process. A thorough review requires a well-organized on-site visit of two to four days, depending on the size and complexity of the program.

Objectives of external review:

AWP recommends that any external review be conducted in a manner consistent with the standards and procedures of the host institution. Beyond this, AWP recommends that external reviews of creative writing include the following objectives:

  1. To provide a comprehensive, unbiased, objective review of the entire program and its place within the department, school, and institution
  2. To identify and examine strengths in teaching and administration
  3. To determine whether the institution is providing resources sufficient for the degree program offered
  4. To recommend how each major component of the program can be maintained or improved

Composition of the on-site review team:

To ensure a thorough and reputable review, the program and institution should assemble an external team of two to four professional educators to serve as on-site evaluators and conduct the review. Members of the team should have a thorough knowledge of creative writing curriculum, program development, pedagogy, and issues related to the hiring, promotion, and retention of creative writing faculty. The on-site team should include experienced creative writing faculty and at least one current or former program director. The team should include at least one man and at least one woman. To the extent size allows, the team should reflect multicultural perspectives.

One member should be appointed (by the institution being reviewed or by the organization providing the review, depending on the circumstances) to serve as chair of the on-site review team. The program director or department head should communicate with the team through its chair.

Recommended materials to be sent to the on-site review team in advance of their visit:

The on-site visit of the review team will be more productive if the team has the opportunity to review the following materials at least two weeks in advance of their visit:

  • Up-to-date CVs of all faculty, including non-tenure-track, who teach creative writing or literature courses that creative writing students are required to take.
  • Department or program handbooks, policies, program mission statements, publicity materials, university catalogs, results of surveys of students, alumni, and faculty, program enrollment and budget reports for at least the last three academic years, and all publications (preferably as electronic links) produced by the program or its students.
  • The program’s written responses to any inquiries or requests for information made by the review team. (Please see the typical list or requests in the section on “Methods and Procedures” on pages 90–93 of this handbook.)

To the extent possible, the program should provide electronic rather than hard copy versions of all documents shared with the review team.

Responsibilities of the on-site review team and its chair:

Prior to the on-site visit:

  • The chair of the on-site review team is the team’s point person for the review. The chair coordinates the participation of all team members and communicates the team’s needs to the program director.
  • Regardless of whether or not AWP is involved in the review, AWP recommends that each member of the team familiarize themselves with the AWP hallmarks of a successful creative writing program of the kind the team is reviewing. AWP hallmarks are divided by category of program (MFA, undergraduate, low-residency, etc.) in the AWP Program Director’s Guide.
  • Each member of the team should read and review all documents provided by program.
  • Each member of the team should form an overall impression of the program, based on the materials it has provided in advance, especially any publicity materials that are shared with potential students. What program strengths do you anticipate finding during the visit? What potential program weaknesses or challenges do you anticipate?
  • Guided by the review team chair, the team should discuss their impressions of and questions about the program in advance of the visit. This discussion may well produce more questions or requests for further information prior to the team’s visit.
  • Prior to the construction of the review team’s schedule, the chair of the review team and the program director or department head should communicate clearly about what the team should observe and whom they should speak with during the visit. In general, the team should be expected to visit classes, inspect facilities, and speak with deans, the department head, the program director or chair, all full-time or core creative writing faculty, a representative sample of adjuncts who teach creative writing, support staff, a large number of students, and any other stakeholders as required by the institution. The team should make specific requests regarding people they wish to interview, classes they wish to observe, and facilities they wish to inspect. Because of logistical considerations, not all requests may be met.
  • The review team should divide up various duties to be performed during the visit, including interviews, observations, and inspections. Many activities can include the entire team; others will require a division of labor. The review team chair should coordinate these efforts.
  • The review team chair should make certain that in addition to being granted access to the necessary people, events, and places, the team’s schedule includes adequate time and opportunities for team members to meet and discuss their findings on-site, make notes, and for the chair to prepare, with the team’s input, a preliminary oral report to the program director and key faculty at the end of the visit.

During the on-site visit:

  • The review team chair communicates the needs of the review team to the program director, including needs or changes that may arise as a result of experiences that occur during the visit.
  • The review team chair coordinates the work of all members of the on-site team, making sure that there are ample opportunities for the team to reflect upon and discuss their experience on-site before delivery of the preliminary oral report.
  • The review team chair delivers the review team’s preliminary oral report to the program chair, other members of the creative writing community, and any other stakeholders requested by the institution. The review is assembled by the program chair on the final day of the on-site visit.

After the on-site visit:

  • In consultation with all members of the review team, the review team chair drafts the official program review within a time frame agreed upon by the team and the host institution.
  • Prior to the official submission of the program review, the review team chair should submit the completed draft of the review to the program director in order to correct errors of fact or interpretation.
  • After corrections have been submitted and addressed, the review team chair submits the official program review to the appropriate official of the host institution (this is usually a dean, a provost, or a vice president).

Responsibilities of the program director and core creative writing faculty of the host institution:

Prior to the on-site visit:

  • Well in advance of the review team’s on-site visit, the program director should educate the institution’s entire creative writing community concerning the nature and importance of external review. The community should regard the review team not as an adversary but as a group of experts that shares the common goals of assessing and helping improve the creative writing program. Individuals and groups should be made aware of their respective roles in the review process.
  • The program director should communicate to the review team chair the distinctive features of this particular creative writing program and what distinguishes it from other programs of its type. With input from faculty, students, and staff, the director should also indicate the particular strengths s/he believes the program has, as well as the most significant challenges it faces. At the same time, the program director should be aware that an external review provides a reality check for those inside the program, as well as objective observations and insights concerning how particular challenges may be met. The general goal of the review should be to help the program improve itself over time.
  • The program director is responsible for providing all information and supporting documents requested by the review team. The program director is also responsible for providing the review team with access to classes, faculty, staff, students, administrators, and facilities that the team has requested or the program director believes is a necessary part of the review.
  • The chair of the review team, the program director is responsible for determining and coordinating the schedule of review team’s visit. The program director should ensure that the team has the opportunity to meet with all core creative writing faculty, with a large sampling of students, with program staff, and with administrators (including deans and provosts) whose decisions have an impact on the program. Stake holders who express a desire—or who should reasonably expect—to meet with the review team should have the opportunity to do so. The program director should make sure that the review team’s on-site schedule includes adequate times for breaks and meetings to reflect upon or discuss what they have observed. The program director is also responsible for the social aspects of the on-site visit, including meals, receptions, etc. A well-planned, well-coordinated on-site visit is most likely to produce a through, accurate, informative, and helpful final review.
  • The program director should make certain that each group and individual scheduled to meet with the program review team knows the purpose and scope of the review, and is ready to discuss her/his own areas of participation in or responsibilities for the creative writing program.
  • The program director is responsible for financial arrangements related to the review, including flight and hotel reservations, reimbursements, transportation to and from the campus and airport, etc. Coordination of these activities is usually delegated to an appropriate staff member.
  • The program director (or in some cases a higher university official) is responsible for negotiating with the review team chair the date by which the final review is due. This date should align with deadlines for program reviews established by the host institution.

During the on-site visit:

  • The program director is the review team’s primary host, though responsibilities for various activities may be delegated to others. The program director’s schedule should be flexible enough to handle unanticipated needs and changes during the time the review team is on campus.
  • All creative writing faculty (including non-tenure-track) and staff should share responsibilities for the review team’s visit, directed by the program chair and coordinated by other appropriate faculty and staff.
  • The program director, core faculty, and staff should provide the review team with any additional documents requested during the on-site visit.
  • A room should be made available on campus where the review team may conveniently hold meetings, conduct interviews, study documents in private, etc.

Following the on-site visit:

  • The program director should stay in touch with the review team chair and answer any questions or provide any further information that might be requested as the review is drafted.
  • When the draft is received, the program director should read the review carefully and note any errors of fact or interpretation of information. These should be communicated to the review team chair as soon as possible. Other core faculty should assist the director in reviewing the draft.
  • Following submission of the review to the appropriate university official(s), the program director will likely be asked to draft an internal response to the review. The program director should regard this response as an opportunity to formulate strategies for building on identified program strengths and addressing identified problems and needs, as well as an opportunity to identify and request resources necessary to accomplish all of these things. The director should consult with core faculty in drafting this response.
  • When the program’s response to the review has been submitted to the dean or provost, the review itself, along with at least a summary of the program’s response, should be made available to the creative writing program’s entire community.

The external review and the program’s response should inform the program’s strategic planning process and open up a dialogue with administration regarding the program’s direction and future needs.

— The AWP Board of Directors