Peer Visitors

Peer Visitors are an indispensable part of the Mission Priority Examen (MPE) process. Often, they are among the busiest people on their campuses, precisely because their input is so appreciated by others. Through their work on a Peer Visitor Team, they volunteer their time and expertise to enrich Jesuit higher education and forge bonds between schools. Peer Visitors consistently comment on how energizing it is to immerse themselves in the Mission Priorities of another Jesuit school, and how the MPE experience strengthens their relationships with colleagues. They often return home with fresh ideas for their own schools.

Peer Visitors should have a deep understanding of the Jesuit, Catholic mission of Jesuit higher education, and complement each other’s skills and experiences. The Peer Visitor Team will be more effective if some members bring strengths in the focus areas agreed upon by the school’s President and regional Provincial. Further, if the Self-study Committee recognizes that a particular area for institutional improvement is likely to arise in focus groups (e.g., developing faculty formation programs or linking the College’s or University’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to its mission), then including at least one Peer Visitor with expertise in that area would be wise. It is strongly recommended, but not required, that each Peer Visitor Team include at least one Jesuit.

Peer Visitors are formally nominated by the school’s President (advised by the Self-study Chair) and the Provincial Assistant for Higher Education (PAHE), and approved by the President of AJCU and theregional Jesuit Provincial. Once the list is approved, the PAHE extends invitations to all Peer Visitors, including the Chair. Peer Visitors are asked to refrain from taking part in more than one Peer Team in a single academic year, and should feel free to decline if their schedule does not permit them to serve.

The Peer Team Chair

Once confirmed, AJCU will contact all Peer Visitor Team Chairs to offer an orientation to their work. Peer Visitor Team Chairs from earlier MPEs will be available to new Chairs for consultation. The Peer Visitor Team Chair works with the Chair of the Self-study Committee, in advance of the visit, to arrange a schedule that (a) provides a comprehensive view of the institution (dividing the team among meetings, as needed), and (b) offers time for the Team to meet and write most or all of the draft report before they depart campus.

The Chair coordinates the work of the Peer Visitors and takes responsibility for the timely completion of the Peer Visitor Report. The deadline for the Peer Visitor Team Chair to submit the draft Peer Visitors’ Report is February 1 of the year in which an MPE is being completed. This is followed by up to one week of discussion with the Self-study Chair on any needed changes to the Self-study or Peer Report. Both reports must be finalized before the Self-study Chair submits all MPE materials to the Province and AJCU, on or before February 15.

Before the Campus Visit

Orient and prepare the Peer Visitor Team: Convene Peer Visitor Team members at least twice, virtually, to:

  • Get to know each other;
  • Review the Characteristics document and focus areas recommended by the President and Provincial;
  • Discuss the visit schedule and division of tasks;
  • Develop a strategy for writing the report; and
  • Clarify logistics such as travel and accommodations (the MPE-related expenses of Peer Visitor Teams, such as air/ground travel and meals) are the responsibility of the host campus and should be covered directly by the school).

Establish, with the Self-study Chair, a Peer Visit Schedule: The Sample Peer Visit Schedule provides a rough guide for constructing a campus visit. Each school’s circumstances are different, and thus the schedule should be adapted to address the local situation. If the goals of the Self-study warrant meetings with additional colleagues (e.g., the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Sustainability Coordinator, Core Curriculum Director, etc.), then the schedule can be modified to include them. The Self-study Chair and Peer Visitor Team Chair mutually confirm the final schedule. Larger or more complex institutions will require a longer visit. It is also important to preserve time for the Peer Visitors to meet and write while together on campus.

Communicate with the campus: With the assistance of the Self-study Chair, send a letter to the campus community, introducing yourself and the members of the Peer Visitor Team, in advance of the visit. (See the Letter from Peer Visitor Team Chair to the Campus Community, to use as a guide.)

During the Campus Visit

Meet on the evening before the campus visit to connect as a team: Gather over dinner to confirm the division of tasks and to review final visit logistics. Doing this ahead of time will make for a cohesive group and effective teamwork.

Keep the process collegial: The spirit of the interviews and focus groups should be friendly and collegial, keeping in mind the goal of understanding and affirming and improving the Self-study. This positive approach should always be at the forefront of the process, given that interviewees may naturally feel as though they and their work are being evaluated in a critical manner.

Interview as a full team and in sub-groups: In order to visit with as many people and groups as possible, schedule pairs or even individuals as interviewers. Let the Self-study Committee Chair know that you would like to do this, so that they are able to organize the schedule accordingly. Make assignments based on one of the themes in the Characteristics document, or Jesuit Mission Priority to be addressed, and the expertise of individual Peer Visitors. The entire Peer Visitor Team should meet with members of the full Self-study Committee and with the President, Provost/Chief Academic Officer, Rector, Chief Mission Officer, and one or more representatives of the Board of Trustees (ideally, the Board Chair).

Meet on the evening of the first day of the visit: Gather team members to review first-day impressions. Make or re-adjust plans for the second day to check expectations, gather information, and/or offer helpful, interim advice to the Self-study Committee on accomplishing their Jesuit Mission Priorities. Some team members may choose to begin to write their sections of the draft report.

Offer interim comments to the President and Self-study Chair(s) in an exit meeting: While it is by no means mandatory, and may not be practical at every school, many Presidents and Self-study Chairs appreciate hearing some of the thoughts of the Peer Visitor Team at the end of their visit, before they finalize their report.

Writing the Peer Team Report

The Peer Team may wish to begin writing sections of their report that respond directly to the Self-study before arriving on campus. If possible, they should complete a first draft before leaving campus. Find a space off-campus for all to congregate after the final interviews, and write and re-write, consulting with each other at all times. Peer Teams that have not completed a draft while at the College or University, have been amazed at how quickly the details are forgotten. It is extremely difficult to collaborate with the team to finish the report, once everyone is back to work at their home institutions.

Keep it concise: Affirm the strengths of the school and its Jesuit Mission Priorities with evidence from the interviews, focus groups, and other sources. Offer impressions and recommendations (again, with evidence) that the school may not have noted in its Self-study. Use the Peer Visitor Team Report Outline to guide the length and organization of the report. The Team should agree on consistent vocabulary for seamless transitions throughout the document.

Be helpful: Offer advice as to how the school might advance the Jesuit Mission Priorities that it identified in ways that fit the campus culture, resources, and situation. Use the wisdom of the Peer Visitor Team to help the campus reach its stated goals and desires.

Send the final draft to the Chair of the Self-study Committee: The Peer Visitor Team Chair should polish and send the draft to the Self-study Committee by February 1 of the year in which the MPE is being completed, with a request for a review on errors of (a) fact (i.e., names, titles, and other specifics) and (b) opinion (impressions or recommendations). Request a conversation with the Self-study Chair within a few days, to keep the process running smoothly.

Make any changes of fact needed, based on the Self-study Committee’s feedback: It is not necessary to consult with the Team for the Peer Visitor Chair to make factual adjustments.

Consult with the Peer Visitor Team (by e-mail) about making any changes of opinion, based on the Self-study Committee’s feedback: This is normally a quick and easy process, but e-mail is necessary, in order to document all input and decisions in a timely fashion.

Submit the final Peer Visitor Team’s Report: E-mail the final report, on or before February 7, as a PDF to the Self-study Chair, copying:

If you would like to nominate yourself or a colleague to serve as a Peer Visitor, please contact AJCU’s Vice President for Mission Integration or your regional Provincial Assistant for Higher Education.

  • President of the College or University
  • Peer Visitor Team Members
  • AJCU President and AJCU Vice President for Mission Integration
  • Provincial Assistant for Higher Education (who will forward it to the Provincial)

Sending the Peer Visitor Team Report directly to these recipients safeguards the independent work of the Peer Visitor Team.

Additional Tools

Planning
Sample Peer Visit Schedule
Year-by-Year List of Schools Participating in the Mission Priority Examen

Communication
Letter from Peer Visitor Team Chair to the Campus Community

Writing Reports
Peer Visitor Team Report Outline
Characteristics of Jesuit Higher Education: A Guide for Mission Reflection