The Faculty Role in Regional Accreditation: Service on Evaluation Teams

Article excerpt

In determining whether an institution should receive initial accreditation or, as is more common, should have its accreditation renewed, the regional commissions typically employ a four-part process: first, an extensive selfstudy performed by the college or university being evaluated; second, a visit to the campus by a team of outside reviewers whose task is to ascertain whether the institution has met the accreditor's standards; third, the visiting team's issuance of a written report of its findings; and fourth, review and final action by the accrediting body. The team report contains observations on strengths and weaknesses in relation to the commission's criteria, suggestions for improvement, and, in some regions, recommendations for commission action. Because of the substantial role played by the visiting team in this "peerreview" process, the quality of an institution's accreditation experience can depend significantly upon the quality of the visiting team.

Given the influence that regional accreditation exerts upon American higher education, the central role that visiting teams play in the accreditation process, and the expert knowledge that faculty members bring to the evaluation of academic programs, we believe that qualified faculty members-particularly those knowledgeable about issues of academic freedom and shared governance-can provide valuable service to the profession and to higher education by participating as members of these teams.

Such service, furthermore, accords with the recommendations contained in the AAUP's 1968 statement The Role of the Faculty in the Accrediting of Colleges and Universities. Of five "standards" recommended to the regional accrediting commissions, the first one states that visiting teams "should include full-time teaching or research faculty members." The third urges that visiting teams "take explicit account of"

* conditions of academic freedom and tenure (including provisions for academic due process);

* conditions of faculty participation in institutional government (including provisions for the orderly handling of grievances and disputes);

* faculty status and morale (including working conditions and total compensation).

One connection between these two recommended standards is obvious: participation of "full-time teaching or research faculty members" on visiting teams should increase the possibility that the teams will take academic freedom, tenure, due process, faculty status and morale, and shared governance into "explicit account" when evaluating institutions for accreditation purposes.

Serving on an Evaluation Team

The purpose of this report is to provide encouragement and practical information to faculty members who might wish to serve on regional accreditation teams. For those interested in such service, several questions will no doubt immediately come to mind: To what extent do the standards employed by the regional accrediting commissions permit consideration of issues of central concern to faculty? How does one secure an appointment to a visiting team? What are the potential disadvantages of participation? And what are the potential benefits?

To what extent do the standards employed by the regional accrediting commissions permit consideration of issues of central concern to faculty?

A review of the accreditation handbooks published by the regional accrediting commissions indicates that several of the topics mentioned in The Role of the Faculty in the Accrediting of Colleges and Universities do not fare well. The system of tenure is rarely mentioned, and never in connection with academic freedom. References to faculty compensation appear within the standards of only three commissions, and references to faculty morale do not appear at all. On the other hand, all of the commissions generally assert the importance of academic freedom and, to a lesser extent, of shared governance (see the accompanying compilation of commission standards related to academic freedom and the faculty role in governance). …