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Presidential Commission on Academic Renewal Focuses on Howard’s Uniqueness

By Grace Virtue, Ph.D.
University News
February 25, 2010

The University’s uniqueness and essence was the focus of the Presidential Commission on Academic Renewal (PCAR) at its meeting on February 19.

A distinguished panel of commissioners presented their perspectives on Howard’s uniqueness. Greg Carr, Ph.D., presented on behalf of the undergraduate work group; Sandra Crewe, Ph.D., on behalf of the Professional Programs-Non Health Sciences; Allan Johnson, Ph.D., on behalf of the Professional Programs-Health Sciences; Joan Payne, Ph.D., on behalf of the Graduate Programs; and Eric Walters, Ph.D., on behalf of the Faculty Senate. Michael Winston, Ph.D., Vice President for Academic Affairs (emeritus), discussed the evolution of the University, major barriers that it overcame, and contemporary academic and administrative issues that it must immediately address. The presentations will be made available to the University community for comment and recommendations.

Carr, in his presentation, urged commissioners to examine the unique characteristics of the Howard Experience that may be difficult to measure using conventional standards. He noted that:

“What we have been attempting to name, qualify and quantify and ultimately affirm, improve and leverage that is ‘unique and irreplaceable” about Howard University are the culturally-grounded, non-race-based modalities which inform teaching and learning dedicated to questions of the human condition. There is a Howard “type” of faculty, student and staff which we must identify and replicate in order to give the word ‘quality’ real meaning,”

He stressed further that Howard’s uniqueness stems in part from “the advocacy positions it has taken on pressing national and international issues and its outreach to the less fortunate measured by activities designed to address such issues as health disparities and discrimination in housing and immigration policies.” He also noted that Howard is unique because “it serves as a repository of the experiences of African Americans and people of the African Diaspora and provides a protective and nurturing environment for teaching, research and creativity among people of African descent.”

Vice President Emeritus Winston cited the need to view Howard from the broadest possible perspective when assessing its uniqueness, contribution to higher education, the nation and the international community. He indicated that:

“What needs to be emphasized are the ideas to which it is committed as priorities, the focus of its programs and the social significance of its provision of education and health services to underserved populations, while not marginalizing those programs that are not tightly or obviously aligned with them or a mission statement.”

Meanwhile, President Sidney Ribeau, Ph.D., reiterated his strong commitment to preserving the uniqueness of Howard as he considers and makes final academic program change recommendations to the Board of Trustees.

The president established PCAR to review the University’s academic programs and make recommendations for strategic changes to ensure that the University is able to offer and sustain nationally competitive academic programs. The Commission is composed primarily of members of the faculty, but includes students, staff, alumni and external nationally recognized experts. Alvin Thornton, Ph.D., chairs the Commission, and Eve Higginbotham, M.D., Senior Vice President for Health Sciences, serves as its vice-chair. A professional staff, coordinated by Ronyelle Ricard, Ph.D., provides support for the Commission.

The Commission is charged with reviewing each of the University’s academic programs, using an evaluation framework, and submitting a report to President Sidney Ribeau. The program review process will be open and transparent, and the Commission will draw on the collective wisdom of the campus community through active, ongoing communication and substantive engagement before making final recommendations to the president. The engagement of faculty, students, staff, alumni and other supporters of the University with the academic renewal process will be facilitated through an interactive Website, periodic reports, meetings with academic departments and schools and colleges and town hall meetings.

Following its appointment, during three meetings in December 2009, the Commissioners reviewed the PCAR Plan and received presentations regarding the University’s mission and the President’s vision, the University’s financial and budgetary status, and physical facilities issues. The Commission resumed its work immediately after the holiday break with a two-day retreat, January 8-9, 2010, focusing on an evaluative framework and criteria that it will use to assess the University’s academic programs.

During the retreat’s plenary sessions, the Commission addressed major issues, including the necessity for the University to remain true to its mission as it engages in academic renewal and adjusts its academic programs; the need to maintain a high-quality undergraduate program while significantly enhancing its graduate and professional programs; and the difficulty of measuring intangible aspects of individual academic programs and the University generally. The Commission is building upon prior departmental, school and college program assessments, program reaccreditation self-studies, and the recently completed two-year Middle States Self-Study

For more information on PCAR visit:


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