U to be examined by accreditation team

Kelly Wittman

Students aren’t the only ones to face a mid-quarter test. The University is up for accreditation inspection this week.
The University will have an opportunity in the next few days to show off the improvements it has made in the 10 years since it was last evaluated. Administrators will also learn which areas need work after the evaluation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Fourteen visitors — faculty and administrators — from institutions such as Johns Hopkins University, Wayne State University, the University of California-Davis and Purdue University will review the University. The group will be on campus today through Wednesday.
The visit could result in several possible outcomes, said Darwin Hendel, who is coordinating the University’s self-evaluation process and preparing for the site visit. The University could be accredited for another 10 years, it could lose accreditation, its accreditation could be renewed for a shorter period of time and then re-evaluated, or it could be accredited but required to submit progress reports on issues the visit team sees as problems, he said.
Regional accreditation associations such as the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools rarely choose not to renew an institution’s accreditation, Hendel said.
“I don’t think there’s any danger the University will not be re-accredited,” said Thomas Scott, chairman of the University’s North Central Advisory Committee, which compiled an internal study in preparation for the visit. “This process is an opportunity to step back and take a look at what we’ve done.”
The University’s study highlights changes made in the last 10 years. Since the last review in 1986, the University has lowered its undergraduate enrollment by 8,500 students and its total budget has increased more than $200 million.
In addition, the report addresses how the University dealt with issues raised in the 1986 review, such as the need for improved communication and organizational structures and the need to increase the number of women and minority faculty and staff.
The site visit team will see improvements in undergraduate education through visits with members of programs such as Residential College, which didn’t exist 10 years ago, Hendel said. He added that the visitors will see changes in teaching when they visit with faculty members involved in the Bush Faculty Development Program, which is a program to improve the quality of classroom instruction at the University.
A demonstration of the registrar’s website that can help students find everything from when they will graduate to the price of texts will illustrate developments the University has made in making the latest information and technology available to students, Hendel said.
The site visit team is not here to find shortcomings, said David Grossman, a member of the University’s internal study team and a continuing education specialist. They are more concerned with determining if the study is accurate and if the University is delivering the goods, he said.
However, the visitors may have some concerns about changes in the Academic Health Center, including restructuring costs and proposed tenure revisions.
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Jim Infante said team members may be concerned with recent problems in the ALG drug program and the University’s failures in managing grants from the National Institutes of Health.
There will be a lot of discussion about improving the University’s emphasis on undergraduates during the visit, Scott said. Projects to reorganize the way the University handles federal research funds will be given a careful going-over as well, he said.
Infante said although the University has some challenges ahead of it, the institution should be recognized for its strengths.
“The University is strong in many arenas,” Infante said. “Perhaps our greatest weakness is that we don’t have as good a self-image as we should.”
An important source for the visiting committee to learn about on-going problems at the University will be the open forums the committee will hold, Hendel said. Students and staff will have the opportunity to have their concerns taken into account by the accreditation team. Students and staff can also use the e-mail address [email protected] to reach the team.
Grossman said he has been a part of site visit teams to other schools and that the biggest disappointment is that so few staff and students take the opportunity to express their views at the open forums.
The site visit and its recommendations will apply only to the Twin Cities campus, Scott said. The University’s satellite campuses and its professional schools are on a different schedule and have a different process for accreditation, he said.
After the group is finished with its visit, the University will receive a draft of the visit team’s report sometime around the second week in June, Hendel said. The University will have an opportunity to make factual corrections to the draft and return it to the committee, which will then finish the report.
The process of evaluation can be a burden, Scott said, but is a valuable process because it provides the University with an outside perspective.
“When we talk about accreditation by North Central, we’re talking about accreditation by our peers,” Hendel said. “It is a process by which faculty and administrators from other institutions get an overview of campus.”