According to an email sent to faculty by SJMC Dean Paul Voakes, the Accrediting Committee met in Chicago this past Sunday. While they awarded the undergraduate program provisional re-accreditation, they voted 7-5 to override the site-team recommendation to re-accredit (provisional) the Master’s Newsgathering Program.
According to Voakes, the committee meeting is the second part in the three-step accreditation process.
“The site team is the first set of recommendations, and then the second set of recommendations is what happened this weekend in Chicago,” Voakes said. “The final set is the ultimate, that’s April 29 in Portland, Oregon.”
This means that going into the ultimate decision on April 29, the council will have both the site-team’s recommendation for provisional accreditation and the committee’s vote to deny accreditation to consider.
Voakes said that everything considered, the university would be satisfied if provisional accreditation was given, and said that the accreditors realize the situation at SJMC this year is far from normal.
“The situation is that here we have a program that’s under review for discontinuance,” Voakes said. “It is unique, it has never happened before. In a way, the accreditors are feeling their way through this.”
The site-team found the Newsgathering sequence out of compliance on three of the nine standards: administration, assessment, and diversity.
Voakes said that while being out of compliance in more than two standards generally puts a program’s accreditation in a precarious situation, the site-team felt the issues were fixable.
“What the site team did… is recommend provisional for Newsgathering,” Voakes said. “That kind of bugs the trend a bit because they are the ones that found us out of compliance on three of the nine and yet they are also the same team that said, ‘we think these are fixable and under the circumstances that the program is in this year, we think that provisional is appropriate.’ ”
The committee, however, disagrees with the site-team, and the accreditation decision now falls on the council.
Kristina Barry, an 18-year-old freshman pre-journalism major, said she has been talking to her Principles of Journalism TA, a graduate student, and this decision is not a surprise.
“From what I understand from my Principles of Journalism TA, she does find it reasonable that the committee was upset that the grad school was not running how it needed to and the standards were not up to par,” Barry said.
The site-team wrote in their report that with Assessment, on the three out-of-compliance standards, there has been a lack of effort.
“Efforts to assess the [newsgathering] program’s curriculum and courses toward those goals have not been productive,” the report said. “… Results of such a minimal assessment effort cannot meaningfully contribute to improving coursework or the curriculum.”
According to Voakes, this means developing a system that determines whether or not students are learning and ready for a professional environment, outside of course grades.
Voakes said that they use alumni to judge samples of students’ professional projects (equivalent to a thesis) and have them assessed. He also said the school understands the site-team’s views, since this assessment program was just put into place one year ago.
However, assessment does not mean the students are not getting the education they need.
“It doesn’t mean that the students are not ready for professional work because they are,” Voakes said. “All it means is that we haven’t fully developed that measuring system.”
While accreditation will not be decided on until April 29, the Board of Regents makes a vote April 8 regarding SJMC discontinuance.
According to Voakes, he is unsure how much the decision this past weekend in Chicago will influence the Board, but he does know the school’s future focus will come from their decision, not the decision of the accreditors.
“Definitely what the regents decide [is most important],” Voakes said. “A group of people came in and said you need to work on this if you want to stay accredited. We know that we are strong on all levels, and we will continue to improve…it is full steam ahead, working on improving. There’s a plan in place, even if discontinuance is the regents decision, there’s a plan in place.”
Contact CU Independent Breaking News Editor Isa Jones at Alexandra.email@example.com.