AAPT: SPIN-UP Report 2003

Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics

Highlights from the report (pages 14-17):

Before going into the details of the analysis, we make several important general comments: Most of the crucial features do not require major external funding. The critical resource is personnel--dedicated and energetic and persevering—with a vision for a thriving undergraduate physics program. This vision is understood and clearly articulated, not only within the department, but in the institution's administration.
Leadership:
Sustained leadership with a focus on undergraduate physics within the department. Most faculty members in the department places a high value on undergraduate education. A clearly articulated undergraduate mission and a vision of how that mission supports the mission of the institution. The vision is shared among the faculty and communicated to the students.
It should come as no surprise that department leadership is important. In most colleges and university, faculty members work as fairly independent entrepreneurs, teaching their courses alone and developing their own research programs. They are evaluated and promoted based on their individual teaching and research efforts. In thriving physics departments, however, there is a strong sense that the department collectively has the responsibility for shaping…the program for the students that the institution brings to campus (not the students the dpearmtnet wishes it had)> Often the chair or a group of faculty has taken the lead in helping the department matinain a focus on improving the undergraduate program. In larger research deparments, it is often the chair for undergraduate studies. Furthermore, there is a tradition of keeping that focus even when leadership changes.
We should emphasize that good leadership is not dictatorial. The leader(s) engages the entire department (or a good fraction of the department) in developing and sustaining the undergraduate program. The leadership is exercised more often by talking, persuading, cajoling, and more talking than by laying down fiats. And perseverance is primary.