The committee endorses the principle of self-assessment as an antecedent to formal appraisal of the performances of academic departments and individual faculty members. This chapter discusses in further detail the processes of self-assessment at the levels of both the institution and the research unit (at the level of the department, the research group, and the individual investigator), and it offers some initial steps that might be taken in the application of self-assessment to evaluation of the environment for integrity in research.
State and federal governments mandate accreditation of institutions of higher education as a requirement for the recognition of the degrees they grant, but a process of peer review is used almost exclusively to grant accreditation. Many different accrediting bodies exist, and these are based either on geography or, for professional schools, on the degree granted. In virtually every case, the heart of the accreditation process is self-assessment (Borden and Owens, 2001; Ewell and Lisensky, 1988; Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 2000).
Self-assessment begins with instructions from the accrediting body regarding the criteria for evaluation. These instructions generally provide a template for self-assessment that enables the institution to respond to a series of “must” and “should” standards. The issues and questions posed are usually of a general nature so that institutions can present their solutions in different ways. These responses are then judged by external reviewers and provide the basis of an institution’s case for accreditation. Because institutions of higher education vary markedly in their histories, cultures, curricula, and human and physical resources, accreditation is not based on presumptions as to particular “right” answers. In fact, within very broad boundaries, institutional diversity is valued and encouraged.
The process of self-assessment in institutions of higher education is lengthy, costly, and difficult (Ewell, 1991; Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 2000). In the process, institutions critically evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and consequently develop new ideas for self-improvement. Continuous quality improvement is the goal. The intent is to accomplish this by associating the process of self-assessment with anticipated improvements in the desired output (e.g., better-educated students). Periodic reaccreditation provides a formal process for evaluation of the results. It cannot be accomplished by simple completion