Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Accreditation SWAT Teams

I don’t know if regional accrediting agencies have the equivalent of SWAT teams.  I don’t mean cops rappelling down buildings yelling “hup!” like in The Blues Brothers -- though that would be cool -- but rapid-response teams.  If they do, I’d recommend dispatching one to Long Island University.

LIU is almost two weeks into a lockout of its faculty.  According to the reports I’ve seen at IHE and the Chronicle, it’s dispatching administrators to classrooms just to have warm bodies there.  (I’d like to be wrong on that, but I haven’t seen anything to suggest the reports are incorrect.)  According to students in the various reports, some of the subs are just taking attendance and then sending students on their way.

I won’t address the substance of the contract dispute; that’s up to the parties involved.  It’s obviously frustrating for the faculty, who are suddenly without pay and benefits, and who are facing the prospect of having to undo significant pedagogical damage when they return.  It must be frustrating to the students, as well; they’re paying significant tuition -- often borrowed -- and getting amateur hour.  

But that’s relatively predictable.  The part that I can’t figure out is the role of Middle States.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education is the regional accreditor that covers New York State, along with several mid-Atlantic states.  (New Jersey is one.)  It’s the accreditor whose standards LIU has to meet in order to maintain its eligibility for federal financial aid, and the transferability of its credits.

MSCHE has several requirements of affiliation, and seven standards of accreditation.  Institutions that want its seal of approval have to meet those requirements and standards.  I’m wondering about requirement number 15 and standard number 3.  

Requirement 15 states:

The institution has a core of faculty (full-time or part-time) and/or other appropriate professionals with sufficient responsibility to the institution to assure the continuity and coherence of the institution’s educational programs.

Standard 3, Criterion 2, subsection b refers to “faculty (full-time or part-time) and/or other professionals who are…”

Qualified for the positions they hold and the work they do.

If the media reports are true, and classes are being staffed by people with no background in the fields they’re teaching, then I have a hard time imagining the university passing any reasonable reading of requirement 15 and/or standard 3.  

Obviously, this is contingent on the length of the standoff.  A once-a-week class may have only met once at this point; a single meeting could be canceled, or relegated to attendance-taking, without imperiling accreditation.  But this is across the institution, and it may go on for a while.  This isn’t a case of one professor calling in sick for a day.  

I’ve been on accreditation visiting teams for NEASC, when I worked in Massachusetts.  They were pre-announced and scheduled well in advance.  They weren’t cold calls.  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a cold call from an accreditor.  If they don’t already exist, this would be the right time to start.  If the reports are materially false, then let’s dispel the reputational damage.  If the reports are substantially true, then LIU has some serious questions to answer.  I’ve never seen a clearer case for an accreditation SWAT team.