Accreditation and the Academic Senate: An Ongoing Relationship

September
2013
Dolores Davison, Accreditation Committee Chair 2012 - 13
Phil Smith, Accreditation Committee Chair, 2013-14

The relationship between the Academic Senate (both locally and statewide) and accreditation is a unique one. At the local level, academic senates have a legal role in the accreditation process as outlined in Title 5 Regulation’s list of academic and professional matters designated to senates (“the 10+1”), an official responsibility in the accreditation process that no other faculty constituent group is afforded. At the state level, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) has supported faculty’s accreditation work since its founding, with even more pronounced involvement in accreditation training and assistance over the past 10 years. Since the senate-accreditation relationship continues to evolve, the current roles of both local senates and the ASCCC with respect to the accreditation process may not be immediately familiar to new faculty leaders or regular faculty experiencing accreditation for the first time. This article is intended as a quick refresher.

For local senates, the role of faculty in accreditation processes is defined by Title 5 Regulation as one of the 10+1 academic and professional matters. As Title 5 makes clear, local senates make recommendations regarding “faculty roles and involvement in accreditation processes, including self-study and annual reports.” Just as with other academic and professional matters in the 10+1, district governing boards must either rely primarily upon or mutually agree with the academic senate on faculty accreditation roles and involvement. (Note the determination of whether a board will rely primarily upon or mutually agree with the academic senate with respect to faculty roles on accreditation belongs to the interpretation of the local college or district and is typically defined in board policy.) In a day-to-day sense, academic senates are responsible for ensuring effective and meaningful faculty participation in accreditation by participating in accreditation planning, confirming faculty to serve on accreditation committees, and interacting with evaluation teams during the team’s visit. It is not unusual to have the academic senate president of a college serving as chair or co-chair of an accreditation committee, particularly the college-wide accreditation coordinating committee or one of the two standards committees which most relate to academic and professional matters, namely Standard II (instruction) or Standard IV (governance). At the 2013 ASCCC Accreditation Institute, keynote speaker Nathan Tharp, who wrote a doctoral dissertation on accreditation in the California community colleges, noted that the faculty member with the most accreditation information on virtually every campus he studied was the academic senate president. Because the academic senate president is required to sign all of the reports sent to the Accrediting Commission, including annual reports, it is essential that local academic senates be involved and familiar with accreditation and all that it entails.

The ASCCC has become increasingly active in its efforts to help local senates with accreditation over the past 10 years although the statewide senate has been an advocate for effective faculty participation and inclusion in accreditation processes for the past five decades. For example, a resolution from 1970 urged local senates to “…support increased participation by ethnic minorities …on accreditation teams," while others through the 1990s and early 2000s addressed issues ranging from granting accreditation to Western Governors University (the body urged that accreditation not be offered to the school; see Resolution 02.05 (S98) and Rostrum October 1998) to concerns regarding the restructuring of the accreditation standards (Resolution 02.05 S02). If you enter the search term “Accreditation” in the ASCCC website’s search engine, you will see 43 pages of results with papers, Rostrum articles, and resolutions, many of them predating ASCCC’s first Accreditation Institute in 2007.

While the ASCCC had been an active proponent of faculty inclusion and participation in the accreditation process dating basically from its formation, by the mid-2000s it became apparent that the range of concerns being expressed by the colleges could not be addressed solely at the ASCCC’s plenary sessions. That realization led to the formation of a standing Accreditation Committee of the ASCCC and the creation of an annual Accreditation Institute. As a result of these two changes, the ASCCC is devoting more resources than ever to accreditation support for member senates, and its accreditation efforts have become much more visible.

The Accreditation Committee, comprised of 5-7 faculty members from across the state and chaired by a member of the Executive Committee, is responsible for implementing resolutions passed by the body at the plenary sessions that are deemed by the Executive Committee as relating to accreditation. In addition, the Accreditation Committee is responsible for the creation of the program for the Accreditation Institute, for participating in breakouts during that Institute, and for presenting materials through breakout sessions at the plenary sessions and other institutes or events as warranted. The Accreditation Institute, held each year since 2007 (and for the past two years in collaboration with the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges [ACCJC]), provides faculty and others around the state with resources to assist colleges in the accreditation process. The Institute is designed to assist anyone involved in accreditation, from brand new volunteers to seasoned veterans, with information about accreditation processes and procedures. This assistance has come in a variety of forms, both during the Institute and throughout the academic year. For example, for several years one of the most pressing concerns regarding accreditation was the issue of student learning outcomes and assessment (SLOA). In response to that concern, the Academic Senate voted to create a standing committee dedicated entirely to that subject. The SLOA committee led breakouts at both the Accreditation Institute and plenary, and was involved in planning a separate session at the Curriculum Institute for Student Learning Outcomes coordinators. In 2012, when it appeared that most colleges were at least comfortable with the process and had moved on to other areas of concern, the SLOA committee was folded back into regular work of the ASCCC.

In recent years, as the focus of many colleges’ accreditation processes has turned from student learning outcomes and assessment to fiscal policy, integrated planning, governance boards, and other matters of concern, the ASCCC has addressed these emerging issues through the Accreditation Institute, breakouts at the plenary sessions in the fall and spring, senate papers, and Rostrum articles. The involvement of the ACCJC in the Accreditation Institute over the past two years has given faculty leaders an opportunity to speak directly with the commissioners regarding concerns and questions about the accreditation process, and reciprocally, for the ACCJC to hear from senate leaders and others about the challenges their colleges are experiencing with various accreditation reports and processes.

In addition to these resources, the ASCCC also provides assistance through its Accreditation Resource Teams. The teams, which consist of faculty experienced in a variety of areas of accreditation, “consider the problem statement developed by the local senate regarding an issue, and then create training and potential solution options adapted to the requesting college culture and student populations based upon Academic Senate positions and papers.” These visits are designed to assist colleges facing sanction or which are otherwise concerned with the processes and roles of the faculty within their own college governance structures.

From its inception, the ASCCC has taken its role as an accreditation support resource for faculty seriously. In recent years, ASCCC support for accreditation work has increased and become operationalized through the ASCCC’s standing Accreditation Committee and its yearly Accreditation Institute. This year, the ASCCC plans to refine and enhance the Accreditation Resource Teams to provide tailored service and support to colleges who need specific accreditation advice and assistance. In conclusion, we believe that the effective involvement of the Academic Senate (both local and statewide) is crucial to meaningful accreditation processes and outcomes. More information about the ASCCC ‘s work and positions related to accreditation can be found at ASCCC.org.

Note: A version of this article appeared earlier in the August FACCC Newsletter.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.