In an effort to prepare for the University’s reaccreditation in 2014, faculty and staff have begun preliminary procedures in order to facilitate the difficult process.
Jay Morgan, associate vice president of academic affairs, is heading up a task force of 175 faculty and staff members responsible for completing a near 50,000-page document to be submitted for review to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).
“We get accredited by SACS once every 10 years,” Morgan said. “2014 is the year for our reaffirmation, and it takes two to three years for the University to prepare for the long and in-depth process.”
Morgan said the document will contain research and analysis of 96 standards created by SACS used to evaluate the education plan and its overall implementation at a postsecondary institution.
“Saying that this is our thesis is a good way of putting it,” Morgan said.
The 96 standards include 16 core requirement areas (such as institutional mission and effectiveness, financial resources and general education), 69 comprehensive standards (such as university governance, student affairs and services and educational programs) and 11 federal requirements (such as Title IX, student achievement and program curriculum).
The document must contain proof of these standards being met on a regular basis, Morgan said. One example of proof, he said, is the newly established Racer Writing Center.
“The writing center is part of the long-term, in-house initiative to improve quality of learning,” Morgan said. “In Spring 2012, we’ll continue to emphasize strengthening writing, but we’ll research and push a new focus in the coming years.”
Each week a new task is assigned to the writing team in order to maintain operations and meet upcoming deadlines.
“This week, we’re having to (create PDFs for) every single faculty transcript and upload them to show that they have credentials in their area,” Morgan said.
Josh Jacobs, chief of staff and one of the lead writers of the document, stressed the importance of it and the years of work ahead.
“Reaffirmation by SACS is critical to the University,” Jacobs said. “We cannot continue to operate as an institution if we are not reaffirmed. All campus units are evaluating their procedures and policies and their strategic planning processes as individual units in relation to the lager institutional plan.”
Don Robertson, vice president of student affairs, expressed an even stronger emphasis on the importance of accreditation.
“There is nothing more important than having that accreditation,” Robertson said. “It’s critical for the value of your degree, and the process provides a good opportunity to continually review what you are doing and make sure you have everything in place and doing things the way they should be done.”
On Sept. 10, 2013, the 50,000-page document must be completed and sent to SACS headquarters in Decatur, Ga., for an offsite review of the document.
“They’ll spend the better part of three months going page by page checking over our facts and figures,” Morgan said.
Following the submission of the document, faculty and staff will create and deliver to SACS a Quality Enhancement Plan in December 2013, which is an introspection describing where improvements and adjustments can be made, Morgan said.
In Spring 2014, an on-site review team from SACS will stay briefly on campus in order to validate the claims of the University-prepared document and bring questions created by the off-site reviewers, Morgan said.
“If they have a question about our accounting process, they’ll be over in accounting going through and making sure our process is correct,” Morgan said. “If they have questions about a program, they’ll go and visit that department and investigate.”
The process reaches its end when SACS drafts a report based on the experiences and findings of the on-campus visit. Morgan said the University will receive the report card in December 2014.
“It could say we are top notch or here are two or three things you need to work on, or it could say here are more than two or three things you need to work on,” Morgan said.
Even though Murray State will be under the microscope come 2014, Morgan said he believes the University has little to worry about.
“I’m optimistic, but I’m realistic,” Morgan said. “I’m optimistic that we’re going to have a good process, but they will probably find a handful of things that we can improve upon. Murray State has good people, and good people can get things done. The health of our University is in our people; it’s not always in the bricks and mortar or the nice classrooms that you see or the flowers on campus. I’m putting stock in our people.”