The Notre Dame Department of Anthropology "would be a gem at any university in the country," a trio of outside experts says.
Anthropology professors James M. Calcagno of Loyola University, Timothy K. Earle of Northwestern University, and Judith T. Irvine from the University of Michigan conducted the department's decennial external review in September 2010.
"The level of student involvement in undergraduate research is, frankly, astounding to us," the report continues. "We know of no other institution in the country that produces such an outstanding record in anthropology of student research publications and presentations."
The external reviewers also highlighted the faculty's blend of research and effective teaching, writing that it "epitomizes the teacher-scholar model."
"Clearly, the faculty's intense involvement in undergraduate education has not prevented their engagement in research. For most of the faculty, the two have gone hand in hand," the report says.
Chair Mark Schurr says his department and the entire University emphasize the importance of faculty who are teacher-scholars.
"Sometimes people have this idea that research universities are poor with teaching but great with research and that undergraduate departments are good at teaching but not really much involved in research," he says. "That's definitely not the case for us. We are doing research that's as good as research anywhere—and we're doing that while we deliver a truly excellent undergraduate major. The reviewers agreed that the faculty in our department are as good or better than those at many other excellent departments—even ones that have strong graduate programs."
Indeed, when asked to name the department's chief strength, reviewers say "the entire undergraduate department," adding that it "has characteristics of a high-quality graduate program at the Master's degree level."
The decennial review process is a prime opportunity not just to assess the department's current status, but to consider what changes might take it to the next level, Schurr says.
When reviewed in September 1990, the department was mainly a socio-cultural anthropology department, he says. "In that review, they suggested we add positions to bring in other subfields, especially archeology and bioanthropology. The University gave permission to do that, and it led to an enormous amount of growth."
In fact, the number of anthropology majors grew from 74 in 1992 to 226 in 1999. During that same period, the number of anthropology minors grew from eight to 85.
More majors also meant more teaching, so in the February 1999 assessment, reviewers suggested the department bring in more—and more diverse—faculty.
Now, Schurr reports, about 60 percent of the faculty are women. Of the six most recent faculty hires, 50 percent were minorities and 67 percent were women, in addition to 67 percent being Catholic. "We look more like our students and more like the world at large," he says.
Since that last review, the department has also stabilized its number of majors and minors at about 300 and focused on developing undergraduate research involvement.
"The big question for us now," Schurr says, "is what's the future for our department? What's the next step?"
No matter what innovations or changes the department implements next, he says, this latest peer assessment is a welcome validation.
"We always thought that we had a really outstanding undergraduate anthropology program—one of the best in the nation," Schurr says. "It was really gratifying to have three top scholars from major institutions come in and use words like 'astounding.' It's a reality check that yes—the things we are doing are exceptional."