The strength of any college is built on the collaborative effort of its faculty to define both its curriculum and the standards of performance expected of its students. It is through its curriculum that a college defines its unique identity and its educational standards. The curriculum must also reflect the college’s Mission Statement and Strategic Plan. Therefore, curriculum review and approval is one of the most critical sets of procedures at a college.
At the beginning of the process, the individual faculty member, working with peers and administrators, has the responsibility to develop a sound proposal using his or her professional expertise. Next peer reviewers scrutinize the proposal from various perspectives to determine if it is appropriate for the curriculum, considering the substance of the course, its organization, structure, and expectations. The fact that each of the peer review bodies (department, Curriculum Committee, and Faculty Senate) may view the proposal differently ensures that the course or program belongs at the college. At the end of the process, the administrative review attends primarily to considerations of legal and public accountability.
Colleagues may be reluctant to scrutinize the work of their peers, feeling that they may be violating the principles of academic freedom if they question the content or structure of a course. This concern is a misunderstanding of academic freedom. Faculty have freedom in the classroom to discuss subjects within their expertise, to conduct research in their field of special competence, and to publish the results of their research. (See the discussion on Academic Freedom in the current Agreement between the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the Board of Regents of the University of Hawaii.) Academic freedom does not give a faculty member the right to teach or to organize a course without restriction. Whether a course is appropriate to the college and whether it uses appropriate teaching methods, evaluation techniques, grading systems, etc., is the rightful province of colleagues to decide.
Colleagues may also have concerns that they are not experts in subject areas taught by others and therefore have no basis for evaluating proposed courses. This concern may be dealt with in several ways. Responsibility for determining whether the content of a course is current and accurate takes place at the department level where expertise is usually available. However, if only one faculty member has expertise in a field, as is often the case at Windward Community College, it may be appropriate for the department or the Curriculum Committee to ask a faculty member at another institution to review the proposal. A review of a current textbook in the field can also indicate the extent to which the proposed course is up-to-date.
At all stages of this process the intent is to have open dialogue resulting in informed decision making and a strong curriculum meeting the needs of students and the mission of the college.