THE ACCREDITATION PROCESS IN higher education has
undergone dramatic changes in the past twenty years (Ewell 2005;
Volkwein 2010; Wolff 2005), having substantive impact on the nature of
institutional research, the creation of a culture of continuous
improvement, and the proliferation of resources—both personnel and
technology—to assist institutions. Meeting accreditation standards, with
their emphasis on student and program outcomes and accountability, has
spawned accreditation coordinators who use software such as Compliance
AssistTM to streamline their focused accreditation work.
Increasingly, the knowledge of the ever-changing accreditation process
is the purview of a select few who are assigned this work on their
campuses, attend highly specific conferences and workshops designed for
them, and participate as reviewers on other campuses to have the “inside
track” on what passes muster. Consolidating the process within the
ranks of a knowledgeable few can ensure accuracy, commitment to a
high-quality product, and adherence to a strict, yet often shorter,
timeline; but at the cost of limited input, lack of understanding by
many, and little ownership of institutional performance and change. Who
is the group most likely to be on the fringe of the accreditation
process? The faculty are often the outsiders.
Perley and Tanguay (2008), representing the American
Association of University Professors (AAUP), in a report on the
participation of faculty in accreditation, maintained that “greater
involvement of faculty members can increase the likelihood that teaching
and learning are maintained at a high level of quality. To leave this
process primarily in the hands of administrators and other staff members
is to abdicate a portion of our responsibility to our students, to our
institutions, to our profession, and to our society” (89). Greenberg
(2012), in his support of faculty’s being more involved in the
accreditation process, describes a political and educational benefit:
“Support for voluntary accreditation among the entire academic community
would make for a potent political force to resist unfriendly
governmental efforts to control academic programs and research,” and “a
faculty more engaged with the accreditation process would be more aware
of how excellence throughout a campus is as vital as excellence in their
own departments” (3). Yet, on many campuses, accreditation is shunned
by faculty as administrative work, while administrators panic at the
thought of faculty wreaking havoc with their well-organized
Is faculty participation a boon or a bane? Part of the
answer rests with the accrediting bodies and their requirements for
faculty involvement, particularly in the self-study process that
typically initiates accreditation and reaccreditation efforts.
Professional program accreditors, such as the Commission on Collegiate
Nursing Education, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of
Business, and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation,
require full faculty participation and its documentation as necessary
for meeting their standards. The Council for Higher Education
Accreditation (1968) likewise assumes faculty involvement as integral to
institutional effectiveness and transformative change. So why is there
the siloed effect on most campuses, where specialized personnel in
administrative positions orchestrate the process instead of
faculty-based committees? The answer to whether increased faculty
involvement is beneficial, desirable, and necessary rests with a faculty
Faculty need “developing” with regard to the intricacies
of accreditation, and they need affirmation that this service is
integral to the well-being of their academic mission and that of the
institution. Bringing faculty into the “fold” has numerous benefits to
both faculty and the institution:
Faculty involvement in improving instructional quality
will show accreditors that faculty actually care about the quality of
students’ experiences, rather than being disinterested or distrustful of
administrators’ monopoly of the accreditation process. When an
accreditation team comes to campus, each faculty member should feel as
though he or she is the host. Faculty should be able to look at the
accreditation report and see their input and evaluation, as well as
understand the feedback from the accreditor. This requires a more
holistic view of accreditation by the institution, an opening-up of the
process to multiple constituents, and a commitment to developing faculty
so that their talents are used constructively in the process. With
increasing use of software systems, departmental or school committees
can more easily contribute data and narrative explanation to
accreditation responses and exhibits. Faculty begin to appreciate data
collection and analysis more when they are intimately involved in the
assessments and evaluation and have a better conception of what truly is
working rather than assuming effectiveness.
What are the negative aspects of faculty participation?
There is more input to process from a broader group of participants and
less control over that input. Institutional policies and practices may
become more transparent, which, in turn, may evoke more faculty
response. There may be an increased need for editing for consistency and
accuracy. Collaboration can have its ups and downs, with more people
having their own ideas and ways of structuring them and unique
perspectives to contribute.
Yet collaboration with faculty as integral participants
can add an authenticity to the process that is lacking when only
administrators are the primary authors. Faculty are often motivated to
contribute when they believe their input is not only valued but used.
One approach is to divide faculty strategically into work teams, each
with a chair or designated leader—who then functions as the primary
participant in a broader accreditation leadership team. The team chair
functions as the “developer” in the sense that he or she has more
experience with the accreditation process and with the institution.
Regular work sessions of teams within a well-defined time frame keep the
accreditation work on track. Teams can “peer edit” their work, cutting
down on the amount of final editing. The team leaders serve as
communication conduits between the faculty and the administrators
assigned to complete the final report and prepare for the on-site visit.
During on-site visits, faculty teams can become prime interview
candidates, having been involved in fundamental ways. The administration
has the satisfaction of knowing that interviewees are well informed and
prepared to field questions. Faculty participants can take pride in
their accomplishment of having contributed to a crucial component of
ensuring quality experiences at their institution. Accreditation becomes
less of a “dreaded” and onerous task and more of the continuous road to
improvement that it is designed to be. Perhaps the greatest benefit is
to newer faculty, who do not have the history and background of the
institution and who are drawn more quickly into its inner workings
through participation in accreditation.
An informed faculty is an empowered faculty, and an
empowered faculty can have a very positive impact on academic quality
when the work of accreditation is done collaboratively. If an
institution expects faculty to be fruitful contributors to the
accreditation process and paves the way for them to be integrally
involved, they will rise to that expectation, and the institution and
the students it serves will be strengthened.
Council for Higher Education Accreditation. 1968, April.
“The Role of Faculty in the Accrediting of Colleges and Universities.
Retrieved from http://www.chea.org/pdf/RoleoftheFacultyintheAccreditingofCollegesandUniversities.pdf
Ewell, P. T. 2005. “Can Assessment Serve Accountability? It Depends on the Question.” In Achieving Accountability in Higher Education: Balancing Public, Academic, and Market Demands, edited by J. C. Burke. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Greenberg, M. 2012, April 19. “Accreditation and Faculty.” Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/article-content/131577/
Perley, J. E., and Tanguay, D. M. 2008. “Institutional Accreditation: A Call for Greater Faculty Involvement.” Academe, March–April, 89–91. Retrieved from http://www.aaup.org/report/call-for-greater-faculty-involvement
Volkwein, J. F. 2010. “The Assessment Context: Accreditation, Accountability, and Performance.” New Directions for Institutional Research, Wiley Online Library, 3–12. doi: 10.1002/ir.327
Wolff, R. A. 2005. “Accountability and Accreditation: Can Reforms Match Increasing Demands?” In Achieving Accountability in Higher Education: Balancing Public, Academic, and Market Demands, edited by J. C. Burke. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Anne B. Bucalos is director of faculty development at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky.
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