Middle States committee commends College

A five-person committee from the Middle States Association commended the College for its “culture of evaluation” and suggested it develop a specific time frame for completing the curriculum transformation. The association is a nonprofit organization that focuses on peer review as a way to improve educational institutions.

Janet Dudley-Eshbach, president of Salisbury University and head of the committee, presented the findings on Dec. 1 in the Physics Building. The exit report marked the conclusion of the team’s four-day visit to evaluate the College based on the 14 standards outlined in the Middle States’ publication “Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education.”

The Middle States committee, made up of administrators from colleges and universities, reaccredits the College every 10 years based on standards such as administration, integrity, and faculty.

“Our team comes in and sees how well the College is meeting these standards,” Dudley-Eshbach said. The committee then makes suggestions.

This year, the College requested a focus on three standards in particular – planning, resource allocation and institutional renewal, institutional assessment and assessment of student learning.

Responses from the committee seemed largely positive. “Everything has been so nice here, I was beginning to think it didn’t even rain,” Jim Trainer, director of Planning and Assessment at Villanova University said as he walked into the dry lecture hall from the morning shower to attend the exit report.

In the report, Dudley-Eshbach said the transformed curriculum was an improvement and found the faculty’s ability to “embrace and implement change” quite remarkable.

However, she said, “the transformed curriculum is incomplete,” and suggested the College “slow the pace of change.”

Dudley-Eshbach said it is important for the College administration to define priorities and establish a specific time frame to ensure goals are met.

Dudley-Eshbach commended the College for revising its mission statement, saying that “the institution must know who it aspires to become.”

While the resources necessary to fulfill the College’s financial commitments are available, she said the College should increase non-state revenue resources and explore further external fund-raising.

The committee found long-term facilities planning, such as construction of the new library, will put the College in debt, but future funding is available. Overall, the College stands on “sound financial footing,” she said.

On Nov. 30, the day before the exit report, the committee ran an open forum for students, staff and faculty.

Virginia Gregg, vice president of finance and chief financial officer of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, asked the faculty and staff in attendance the key question of the forum – “What impression of the College do you want us to leave with?”

Felicia Steele, assistant professor of English, said it was important for the committee to note the College’s “culture of self-reflection.”

Diane Steinberg, interim director of Writing Assessment and Placement at the College, said the most important components of the College are the small classes, the numerous activities and the mentoring that takes place because of a “real concern for the students.”

Thomas Hagedorn, associate professor of math, said the College is a very dynamic place with enthusiasm and good nature, but noted that last year was more tense because many were arguing over the details of the transformation and evaluation process.

Dudley-Eshbach commented on the “tremendous amounts of energy” put forth by those involved in the evaluation process.

Prior to giving the report at 10 a.m. the following day, Dudley-Eshbach met with Gitenstein to discuss the committee’s findings.

In introducing the report, Gitenstein said the team had already made some “wonderful suggestions that will help us meet our aspirations.” However, Dudley-Eshbach said it was important to note the committee’s suggestions are not prescriptive or required.

According to Gitenstein, typed copies of the committee’s report will be distributed soon, adding that the College will have two opportunities to respond to the report before Middle States decides to reaccredit the College.

In closing, Dudley-Eshbach said she was deeply impressed. “This is an institution of remarkable achievement,” she said.