Letter to the Editor: 04.12.13

In response to an Open Records request, Murray State’s Board of Regents has released the ad-hoc report upon which Regents based their decision not to renew President Randy Dunn’s contract.

That report contains some data that is also part of our reaccreditation process, which is entering its most critical period.

If this report is credible and sufficiently negative to justify nonrenewal of the president’s contract, it could have a direct impact on our reaccreditation effort.

Several news outlets have identified gaps and shortcomings in the report. There are additional difficulties with the data that should be noted.

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) website clearly states, “NSSE does not support the use of student engagement results for the purpose of ranking colleges and universities.”

Yet the report includes just such rankings of Kentucky institutions. No longitudinal data or relevant national norms are reported.

The report uses data inappropriately to rank institutions and to influence the University’s most important personnel decision.

One Murray State value in the NSSE, the Level of Academic Challenge value of 54.7, which is 3.3 points below the national median, is, at first blush, the most disturbing number in the entire ad-hoc report. However, deeper exploration alleviates that concern.

The questions summarized in this measure focus heavily on the number of assigned text books and the number of individual written assignments completed in each respondent’s senior year.

Many of our programs, especially our professional programs, use collaborative team-based projects with written reports and oral presentations, often for organizational clients in the community, instead of individually written papers in senior-level courses.

If students in these courses respond accurately to NSSE questions, the values in the Level of Academic Challenge scale will decrease, while the values in the Active and Collaborative Learning and Student-Faculty Interaction scales will increase. And, indeed, Murray State’s values on the latter two scales are above the national medians.

In fact, the magnitude by which our Student-Faculty Interaction score exceeds the national median is the greatest of any score by any institution on any scale in the reported data.

So, taken as a whole, these measures do not indicate lack of academic rigor at Murray State but rather a deliberate shift to more active, collaborative learning grounded in extensive student-faculty interaction.

These measures have significance beyond their academic impact, in that this approach to professional education serves Dr. Dunn’s Strategic Imperatives of Excellence through Quality, Outreach with Partnerships and Innovation for Impact.

These, in turn, support the Board’s Strategic Directions by creating “distinctive academic programming and superior educational … experiences.”

In this context they render questionable the assertion in Part III of the report that Dunn is not committed to pursuing the Board’s Strategic Directions.

The NSSE Student-Faculty Interaction and Supportive Campus Environment measures reflect very positive student perceptions of the Murray State experience.

So does the endorsement of The News the results of the most recently published Senior Survey (2011) in which 96 percent of 727 graduating seniors agree or strongly agree that they “would recommend Murray State to a prospective student.”

Though current students were surveyed on their perceptions of Dunn’s leadership, the results of that survey are not provided in the ad-hoc report.

Nor are any other measures of student assessment of Dunn’s presidency.

The observations above offer no great new insight into the ad hoc report.

Indeed they are exactly the kinds of perceptions that would arise were Regents given the opportunity to discuss their perspectives on the report with each other in public session.

The fact that they did not do so, for whatever reason, weakens the credibility of their individual positions and the validity of their collective decision.

Given the potential impact of this report on our SACS reaccreditation process, Regents would serve the institution well by engaging in this discussion.

Letter from Fred Miller, professor of marketing.