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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Ramping up to reaccreditation

In less than a month, the UA will be the subject of a site visit that may determine whether the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools reaccredits the university.

This site visit, from Dec. 6 to 8, represents the culmination of over two and a half years of work by the co-chairs for the North Central Association 2010 accreditation process: Beth Mitchneck, a geography professor and associate dean in the College of Letters, Arts and Science, and Randy Richardson, a geosciences professor.

In the past years Richardson and Mitchneck have presided over the UA’s self-study process, creating a report that details the institution’s strengths and areas it needs to improve. If the UA were to be denied accreditation, then the institution would no longer be allowed to offer federal financial aid to students.

Specifically, the report cites four areas where the UA needs to improve: faculty diversity, planning and budgeting for the future, assessment and decision support, and student and community engagement.

Richardson said assessment and decision support means reexamining all facets of UA instruction to ensure what is being taught in the classroom translates as a lesson to be used outside of it.

“”It’s not just classes,”” Richardson said. “”Classes are an important part, but it’s the integration of the whole student experience that’s the important part.””

Richardson said faculty diversity was an issue that was raised during the UA’s last accreditation process in 2000. As Richardson puts it, UA faculty is still “”far whiter and far more male”” than its increasingly diverse student body.

Richardson also thinks student experience is tantamount to the UA’s mission.  

“”The institution takes seriously its mission of serving the students,”” Richardson said. “”There are always kinds of pendulum-like swings where some students might say, ‘It’s a big institution. They don’t care about students,’ but I think what we’ve really found is that the student experience is essential to the university. It really is. It’s not just lip service.””

Mitchneck stressed the importance of planning and budgeting for the future, especially in the face of lingering uncertainties over the UA’s budget allotment from the state.

Each of these suggestions carry particular importance for Richardson, who expressed frustration at how some issues raised during the last accreditation process went unaddressed.

Despite some reservations, Mitchneck and Richardson both said they are confident UA administrators, namely UA President Robert Shelton and Provost Meredith Hay, will take their suggestions to heart.

“”At the time, President Shelton made a commitment to us, but it was really a commitment to the institution that we would look for a small number of high-impact changes that could be made on this campus,”” Mitchneck said. “”And he committed to following through.””

Richardson and Mitchneck also voiced their hope that students will become more involved in the accreditation process in the weeks leading up to the site visit.

“”Students should care because this is ultimately about the quality of the experience they have at this university and what their degree from the University of Arizona means, both to them and to the greater community at large.”” Mitchneck said.  

Mitchneck said that without student feedback it is difficult to determine the quality of UA student life.

“”Are the students as successful as we hope they are, and what can we do to improve that experience?”” Mitchneck asked.

Richardson and Mitchneck both said students should attend the next reaccreditation open forum that will be held on Dec. 6 at the outset of the university site visit. The exact time and location of that forum will be announced at a later date.  

An official decision on accreditation will be made by spring 2011.

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