Yale pursues reaccreditation

Eleven faculty members and administrators from universities across the country will meet on Yale’s campus this Sunday to take a comprehensive look at how well Yale functions as an educational institution as part of the University’s reaccreditation process.

Though Associate Dean for Assessment Judith Hackman said there is no doubt that Yale College and the Graduate School of Arts and Science will be reaccredited, the University is still going to great lengths to prepare for the Sunday arrival of the campus visitation team, which represents the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, and which will decide if Yale meets the commission’s educational and administrative standards.

The team will spend the bulk of its time on campus in meetings with Yale’s steering committee and 11 self-study committees comprised of administrators, faculty and students.

The accreditation process began in summer 2008 with the formation of the 11 self-study committees. Each committee has spent the past year poring over its corresponding NEASC-mandated standard, and their final product was a comprehensive self-report on Yale’s priorities in these areas for coming years. Standards examined by NEASC include education, faculty and development and growth. Such self-reflection is central to the reaccreditation process, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said.

“The accreditation visit offers the University a chance to think about itself,” Butler said.

Though this week’s visit, along with the self-report, are the biggest hurdles Yale must overcome en route to reaccreditation, the process will not end with the team’s visit. The NEASC committee will give Yale one set of preliminary recommendations before leaving campus in a general meeting slated for Wednesday morning, and another in a second meeting next month. Accreditation is not complete until the NEASC committee releases its final list of recommendations this May.

While reaccreditation represents an opportunity for Yale to evaluate its progress, the process also provides the highly diverse visiting team, which represents a variety of academic institutions, from small liberal arts colleges and large research universities, a chance to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of their own intuitions, Yale College Dean Mary Miller said.

Miller pointed to Morton Schapiro, the chair of Yale’s visiting team, who has served as the president of Northwestern University for less than two months since leaving his post as president of Williams College, as a prime example of members of the visiting group who can benefit from the experience.

“Yale is much more like Northwestern than Williams,” Miller said, noting that Northwestern has several professional schools and a large student population like Yale, whereas Williams is a small liberal arts college. “This visit should be a useful foil and set of comparanda as [Schapiro] charts his mission at Northwestern.”

Both Miller and Hackman said next Tuesday afternoon’s “Large Undergraduate Majors” meeting would be an important example of NEASC’s focus during the accreditation process, in which the educational standards committee will discuss academic success in the context of Yale’s six largest majors — English, history, political science, economics, psychology, and molecular and cellular biology — and the engineering major.

“We’re asked what claims we make about what success is for students,” Hackman said of the meeting on majors. “How do you manage that, who looks at that information and what changes have you made based on what you’ve learned?”

The visiting team will also attend open meetings for Yale students and faculty on Monday, and will spend Tuesday working on a preliminary set of observations to be presented at a meeting Wednesday morning with administrators before leaving campus that afternoon.

“We’ll be there to listen, not to debate,” Hackman said.

In the meantime, administrators are working to ensure the team’s visit goes smoothly. A number of Yale’s peer institutions are currently in the process of renewing their accreditation, and the visits have not been without hitches, Hackman and Miller said.

“Harvard held an open meeting for faculty,” Hackman said. “They had double rows of chairs, microphones, bottles of water. Only one professor showed up. And no one came to the open student meeting.”

According to the Office of Institutional Research, Yale University is currently accredited by 22 independent agencies.

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