College officials examine past decade

By Timothy Bearden

Columbia is preparing for the Higher Learning Commission’s site visit on March 30 with the completion of its self-study, which will be the first component in the college’s accreditation renewal process.

The Office of Research, Evaluation and Planning finished its self-study and sent it electronically to the commission on Feb. 6. Anne Foley, vice president of Administration, Research and Planning in the Office of Research, Evaluation and Planning, and her staff organized town hall meetings on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3 for students, faculty and staff to weigh in on the second draft of the study.

Foley acted as the coordinator for the self-study and said it is a standard part of the accreditation process. In order to be eligible for federal funding and student financial aid, institutions such as Columbia must go through the process of accreditation every 10 years, she said.

“In the United States there are five different regional accrediting associations that are recognized by the federal government,” she said. “Each one of those five organizations has slightly different processes, but all of them involve some form of a self-study and a peer-based site visit.”

She said the final document will be made available to the Columbia community the week of Feb. 9, and documents of the second draft are available through Iris, the college’s intranetworking system, for faculty and sent out to students’ Loop e-mail accounts.

The self-study organized by Foley and her colleagues this academic year is a 203-page document specifically detailing how each of these criteria had been assessed; Foley said the college is on track to meet the standards of the Higher Learning Commission.

There are five criteria outlined by the commission: mission and integrity, preparing for the future, student learning and effective teaching, application and knowledge, and engagement and service.

One section of interest for faculty members at the meeting was the “application of knowledge.” The criterion, which places emphasis on faculty expectations, details how the college can demonstrate its skills to the at-large and Columbia communities.

At the self-study meeting, Bob Thall, Chair of the Photography Department, voiced his concerns about the issue of faculty having difficulty balancing both “scholarly and creative work” not being included in the report.

“That struggle was made more difficult by growth, rising standards and all kinds of teaching processes,” he said at the town hall meeting on Feb. 3.

Thall said while all the positive aspects of Columbia outlined in the report are true, it’s still a struggle every teacher faces. He said the main appeal and “uniqueness” is the emphasis on teachers to do work both at and outside the classroom.

“We’re trying to be both a teaching and a researching institution,” Thall said. “I love the school for what’s a noble kind of challenge, but this is a simple fact of life here. To find this isn’t highlighted in those sections is not only inaccurate, but sort of diminishes the challenges people have really decided to take on.”

Michelle Citron, chair of the Interactive Arts and Media Department, and Dave Berner, a full-time faculty member in the Radio Department, both said many instructors have the same complaint.

Provost and senior vice president Steve Kapelke said he supports the statements from the faculty regarding the concern.

“If the faculty is feeling this as one of the two most important constituents within the college, it should be more forcibly noted,” Kapelke said at the meeting.

Members of the commission will visit Columbia from March 30 to April 1. Foley said they will be able to speak with anyone from the college and have freedom to tour the campus as necessary.

She said the site visit shouldn’t be an issue, and Columbia should receive its accreditation once the process is finished later this year. But administrators should know how the college fared shortly after the site visit.

“We are just fine,” she said. “We are going to get our accreditation affirmed.”