Updates on the SACS Reaffirmation, the On-Site Team Visit, and the QEP

Reaffirmation of accreditation involves two stages, the first of which is an “off-site” committee review.  We received that report in late November and I’ll have more to say about it in a moment.  Our next step is the on-site committee visit, scheduled for April 15-17, 2013.  The on-site team will review our focused report replying to the off-site team’s conclusions and will also evaluate our proposed Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP).

As our assigned Vice President at the Commission on Colleges at SACS observed, the off-site committee gave us a generally “good report” and there were not many issues requiring additional follow up work from us.  Some of the areas where we were critiqued required very simple responses (we did not define what we mean when we say “terminal degree,” for example).  And in a few cases, we were asked for additional evidence (for example, to prove that we really do not charge anything extra to students enrolled in on-line courses).  Those matters were easily addressed in our focused report.

Our major challenge was in the five institutional effectiveness items (under standard 3.3.1) that were found to be in non-compliance.  In our attempt to address the committee’s concerns, we have spent considerable time engaging in reviews of our procedures and documents and in gathering new evidence in an effort to respond in ways that we hope the on-site committee will find favorable.

Many of you – especially department chairs, program directors, and assessment coordinators – were asked to review your assessment plans and to write a report of that review and, in some cases, to make alterations in your approaches. In some cases, you were asked to contribute new materials to help us substantiate the focused report.  The requests came at a challenging time of the year, as we were entering exams, semester break, and the launch of new courses in the spring semester.

It would surprise me if there wasn’t some considerable grumbling, gnashing of teeth, or worse as all this went on.  But in the end, we received replies from all 43 academic programs and the 24 academic and student support units.  Every administrative and community service unit replied as well.  Being able to report that each unit undertook the reviews required, and did so in a compressed time period, helps us show that UMW is serious about institutional effectiveness.  We fashioned responses to each of the specific concerns raised, bolstered by the materials and the documents you submitted.  The focused report is finished, and now we wait to see if the on-site committee finds it persuasive.

The lion’s share of the work for developing the Focused Report fell to Tim O’Donnell, Professor of Communication, who has ably led us through the SACS compliance process.  It is hard to thank him adequately for everything he has done, and for the amount of time and effort he has dedicated to an exhaustive and largely invisible task.  Taiwo Ande, Assistant Provost for Institutional Effectiveness and Analysis, has also been a key part of developing our focused report, particularly on the institutional effectiveness items. John Morello helped considerably as well.  I commend all three for their efforts. 

The QEP proposal is finished and ready for the on-site committee’s review.  You can see the final QEP document at the new QEP website, which is: http://www.umw.edu/qep/.  Please note that this site is under construction; new materials will be added to it in the near future.

Alan Griffith, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, has served effectively as the QEP Project Director.  Committee meetings, proposal drafts, reevaluations, new drafts, further revisions, and so on – all that’s behind us.  Through it all, Alan has given us the efforts necessary to get us to a finished a QEP document.  Along with Alan, the following persons contributed to writing and editing the final QEP document, all of whom deserve our thanks for their contributions and efforts: Terry Kennedy, Rosemary Arneson, Mary Kayler, Anand Rao, Tim O’Donnell, and Taiwo Ande.  A.J. Newell, Director of Design Services, deserves the credit for the QEP logos and cover design.  Thanks also to Anna Billingsley, Associate Vice President of University Relations, for advice regarding the overall packaging of the final QEP report.

Now that the final proposal is ready to be reviewed, Alan’s attention turns to the “pilot” project underway this semester. The purpose of the pilot is to test the first of the online modules that will be designed to support first-year seminars in the accomplishment of their revised student learning outcomes. Alan reports to me that five faculty members are involved in the pilot – I congratulate them for agreeing to experiment with the first online module.  They are:

  • Cristina Turdean (Historic Preservation)
  • Melanie Szulczewski (Environmental Sciences)
  • Holly Schiffrin (Psychology)
  • Leslie Martin (Sociology)
  • Helen Housley (Theatre)
  • Mary Kayler (Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation)

This is an excellent mix of different FSEM courses that will help us evaluate the first module.  Faculty and students participating will be surveyed about their reactions to the module.  In addition, the module has built-in assessments designed to gauge the impact of this approach in producing accomplishment of the student learning objective in information literacy.

As part of the plan to heighten awareness about the QEP, and the pilot, sometime after spring break we hope to give everyone an opportunity to see what this module is and how it works.  We can’t do that until the module is deployed in the courses and the data it is designed to gather is compiled.  Look for an announcement in the coming weeks.

Developing this initial module for the pilot was a big job that fell to a dedicated group who took on this task on top of all their other activities and duties.  Without their selflessness and professionalism, the pilot project would not have occurred.  So, many thanks to the following who were responsible for developing and creating the initial online module:

  • Rosemary Arneson, University Librarian
  • Martha Burtis, Special Projects Coordinator, DTLT
  • Peter Catlin, Reference Librarian and Coordinator of First-Year Programs
  • Laura Berberian, Reference and Social Sciences Librarian
  • P. Anand Rao, Associate Professor of Communication and Speaking Intensive Program Director
  • Tim Owens, Instructional Technology Specialist, DTLT

In the coming weeks you’ll hear more and more about the QEP.  And, someday soon, you’ll see QEP banners on campus.  As we wait to hear if SACS thinks we have an acceptable QEP, we need to be prepared to start full implementation.  Obtaining results of the pilot, along with getting the word out on campus about the QEP, are two key pieces of the groundwork necessary.  So look to be hearing more and more about the QEP as the semester progresses.

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