Accreditation team gives University high marks

Kelly Wittman

The University of Minnesota — Twin Cities is a great institution, but might have more on the table right now than it can handle.
That’s what a team from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools concluded after its visit to the campus last May.
The University is evaluated by a team from the college association every 10 years to see if it meets certain basic standards of quality relating to everything from caliber of education to ethics and financial management.
The team, which was made up of 14 professors and administrators from institutions around the country, found that the University met or exceeded all of the criteria for accreditation, but is a school dealing with many complex problems.
Accreditation is required to grant degrees.
The University has quite a few strengths according to the team report. “Whatever may be its problems and challenges (and it has many), the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities is unarguably a great land-grant research university, one of the nation’s best and most distinguished,” the report stated.
In fact, the team said the University ranks among the top 10 American public universities and top 20 or 25 American universities, public or private.
A number of factors keep the University in such good standing, the report said. Among them is the ability to attract high-quality faculty, staff and administrators, as well as a historical commitment to education by the people of Minnesota.
The team also thought the location of the University was an advantage. Not only do the Twin Cities have an unusually large number of Fortune 500 companies, their changing demographics leads to a more cosmopolitan and academically rich environment, the report said.
The team found the University is actively contemplating its future and applauded plans like U2000 –University President Nils Hasselmo’s restructuring plan for the University — and the Initiative for the Improvement of Undergraduate Education.
The team’s report also said the successful completion of changes in the Academic Health Center, including the merger of University Hospital with Fairview Health System, was vital to the AHC and the University as a whole.
But all of these separate attempts to improve the University might pose a problem when taken together.
The University is tackling issues such as reforming the tenure code, preparing its biennial budget to the legislature, re-engineering the AHC, deliberating over the construction of new steam plant facilities and searching for a new president while trying to streamline policies and procedures across campus to implement U2000 and the Undergraduate Initiative.
Three or four of these issues would constitute a full agenda for any university, the report said. But, by the team’s count, the University of Minnesota is trying to deal with two dozen issues.
The University is dealing with such an overwhelming number of issues because it must, Regent Patricia Spence said. However, Spence said she didn’t feel like the University was working fast enough on some issues.
To help work with such a large load of issues Tom Reagan, Board of Regents chairman, is planning a new schedule of committee meetings, Spence said. The new schedule will allow regents to spend more time on policy issues and less time hearing reports, she said.
The University has a full agenda because projects that started out of necessity at different times are all coming together now, Reagan said. Although this makes for a very hectic time for the University, many of these projects are scheduled to be concluded by the end of the year, he said.
Although the team also advised the University to revisit the General College issue to further clarify the role the University must take in educating under-prepared students, administrators agree that closing the college is not an option.
Marvin Marshak, vice president for Academic Affairs said looking at how to better serve under-prepared students was part of the original resolution the regents passed last year, ending discussion of a plan to close General College.
The University is revisiting this issue without focusing strictly on General College, he said. General College is a major part of the University’s attempt to serve such students, Marshak said, but the University also offers a variety of programs outside of General College to help students who do not meet admissions requirements.
Reagan said discussions have been taking place about forming a task force of faculty and staff members who understand the mission of General College to come up with a plan on how to improve the school.