University community embarks on comprehensive self-study to identify strengths and set goals for further improvement
The day-to-day bustle of academic, administrative and extracurricular activities at Western Connecticut State University often leaves too little time to focus on the necessary tasks of self-examination and self-improvement in fulfillment of our educational mission. So it is especially important that Western has embarked on a university-wide journey of institutional reflection and renewal to achieve re-accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
For nearly six decades, Western’s success in providing generations of students with a well-rounded college education built on the foundations of an outstanding faculty, committed staff and solid infrastructure has received validation from NEASC, whose Commission on Institutions of Higher Education serves as the regional accreditation agency for colleges and universities in the New England region. WCSU received its most recent reaccreditation in 2003, and last year initiated a comprehensive and inclusive self-study in preparation for the next NEASC evaluation team visit to campus in fall 2013.
As a public university, WCSU must certify every 10 years that it meets the prevailing professional standards for excellence in education at the university level. The NEASC reaccreditation process affords an invaluable opportunity for members of the university community to measure Western’s accomplishments and shortcomings against the 11 basic standards established by the association to evaluate higher education institutions across the region.
One of the most significant developments in NEASC priorities for self-study in recent years has been the heightened emphasis on student outcomes and institutional effectiveness in all areas of evaluation. Rather than judging the quality of academic instruction solely by curriculum offerings, or a college library’s usefulness solely by quantity of volumes, NEASC evaluation teams are challenging universities to apply assessment tools to determine how well students have mastered core knowledge and skills in their field, and how effectively the library’s information resources have been used to enrich the learning experience. Similar measurements of outcomes will be applied to evaluate performance in diverse areas ranging from faculty development and student life to university governance and planning.
Over the past decade, Western has made significant strides toward establishing a continuing process of self-evaluation and strategic planning to guide every aspect of the university’s development. The Values and Visions Strategic Planning Initiative from 2004 to 2007 brought together stakeholders from all areas of the university community to participate in a wide-ranging process of self-assessment and long-range planning. The groundwork laid in that initiative has provided a powerful impetus for introduction of ongoing assessment tools in academic and administrative departments across the university to evaluate progress in implementing the goals set in the strategic plan.
The example set in the Strategic Planning Initiative for inclusive participation has offered a useful model for structuring the self-study process now under way to prepare Western’s report to the NEASC reaccreditation team. President James W. Schmotter last year appointed a 12-member steering committee drawn from the university administration and faculty to plan and manage the reaccreditation process.
Committees formed in fall 2011 have taken up the important tasks of gathering statistical and survey data, conducting analyses, and drafting reports evaluating the university’s performance measured by each of the 11 standards established by the NEASC. Membership of the standards committees includes faculty from the university’s four academic schools as well as Western students and administrators, underscoring the emphasis on inclusiveness in the self-study process. Committee members participated in a NEASC workshop in October to familiarize themselves with current accreditation standards, and have met on a regular basis during the spring semester as they work to meet the June 15 deadline for submission of standards report drafts to the steering committee. The committees also have received valuable input from followup reviews conducted at President Schmotter’s request by participants in the Values and Vision process to evaluate progress in fulfilling Strategic Plan objectives.
This first stage in the university’s self-study process has benefited from the leadership of these standards committee chairs:
- Dr. Karen Koza, associate professor of marketing — chair of the Mission and Purpose (Standard 1), Planning and Evaluation (Standard 2) and Organization and Governance (Standard 3) committees.
- Dr. Shane Murphy, professor of psychology — chair of the Academic Program (Standard 4) Committee.
- Dr. William Petkanas, professor of communication — chair of the Faculty (Standard 5) Committee.
- Dr. Walter Cramer, dean of student affairs — chair of the Students (Standard 6) Committee.
- Dr. Linda Forbes, associate professor of management, and Dr. Kit Hinga, assistant professor of social work — co-chairs of the Library and Other Information Resources (Standard 7) Committee.
- Veronica Kenausis, university librarian, and Dr. Mitch Wagener, professor of biological and environmental sciences — co-chairs of the Physical and Technological Resources (Standard 8) Committee.
- Dr. Frederick Maidment, professor of management — chair of the Financial Resources (Standard 9) Committee.
- Carolyn Lanier, chief diversity officer — chair of the Public Disclosure (Standard 10) and Integrity (Standard 11) committees.
Following submission of the initial standards reports, each draft will be reviewed this summer by the steering committee and by Professor of Writing, Linguistics and Creative Process Dr. Oscar De Los Santos, the committee member who will serve as chief editor of the NEASC Self-Study report. Standards committee chairs will receive feedback from the steering committee and editor by Aug. 15, and will be asked to submit revised drafts to the steering committee by Nov. 1. De Los Santos will then work in collaboration with the steering committee to bring together the 11 standards reports into a single document that will serve as the university’s unified report to NEASC.
The entire university community will have the opportunity to review and comment on the NEASC Self-Study report when the editor’s draft of the unified document is posted on the WCSU website, currently scheduled for February 2013. Public feedback will be invited online, and the NEASC steering committee will hold forums on the Midtown and Westside campuses to present a summary of the report and receive suggestions and comments. The editor will complete revisions and the university will submit the final report to NEASC in May 2013.
Submission of the NEASC Self-Study report will complete the first stage in the reaccreditation process, providing the preparatory material for a team of higher education administrators and faculty selected by NEASC to conduct an on-site visit to WCSU in fall 2013. The chair of the visiting NEASC reaccreditation team will coordinate with Western in advance to schedule an intensive round of meetings designed to gather further information and insights into diverse areas of university programs and activities.
The NEASC reaccreditation process provides an invaluable opportunity for every member of the Western community to pause from our everyday tasks to ask how well the university fulfills its educational mission. We will continue to share periodic updates as work on NEASC reaccreditation moves forward, and we are committed to ensuring a transparent and inclusive self-study effort that provides guidance on how Western can achieve its objectives even more effectively in the future.
Submitted by NEASC Self-Study Steering Committee Co-chairs:
Dr. Jane McBride Gates, provost and vice president for academic affairs
Dr. Walter Bernstein, vice president for student affairs
Other members of the steering committee:
Dr. Carol Hawkes, dean emerita of the School of Visual and Performing Arts and senior advisor to the committee
Dr. Oscar De Los Santos, professor and chair of the department of writing, linguistics and creative process
Paul Reis, vice president for finance and administration
Dr. Jerome Wilcox, director of institutional research and assessment
Dr. Marcia Delcourt. professor of education and educational psychology
Dr. Josie Hamer, professor of mathematics
Dr. Kathryn Wiss, professor and chair of the department of communication
Dr. Daniel Goble, dean of the School of Visual and Performing Arts
Charles Mullaney, professor and chair of the department of justice and law administration
Elizabeth McDonough, presidential assistant
For additional background on the NEASC reaccreditation process, visit www.wcsu.edu/neasc and www.neasc.org.