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U. prepares for NEASC accreditation after decade

University focuses on reinforcing mission, amassing data, identifying areas for improvement

This semester, the University is gearing up for its reaccreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, a process that will extend until spring 2018. Preparing the report for NEASC is a time- and people-intensive process that requires a steering committee and ultimately the entire university’s participation, said Joe Meisel, manager and editor-in-chief of the self-study and deputy provost.

NEASC’s accreditation process involves demonstrating success in the association’s nine standards, which encompass a number of topics including the mission and governance of the University, admission practices, research and educational efficacy. The standards “cover all of the important areas” and apply to all kinds of educational institutions in a “broadly applicable manner,” Meisel said.

Maud Mandel, dean of the College and chair of the College Curriculum Committee, noted that reaccreditation is a “two-fold process,” in that it ensures the University is doing the things it intends to very well, and it provides an opportunity to review newer initiatives and focus their directions.

“One of the things academic institutions do very well is constantly check in with themselves,” Mandel said.

Accreditation processes are a “form of self-governance among institutions,” Meisel said, adding that the process amounts to a “kind of peer-review system.”

After the steering committee compiles an initial report addressing the standards through existing committees on campus this fall, it will reach out to the rest of the campus community for more feedback, Meisel said.

Simultaneously, the Office of Institutional Research is collecting data to supplement the narrative report. OIR ran its first round of data collection this past summer, distributing “forms to key staff (members) in major topic areas” such as admission and financial aid, wrote Tracy Barnes, director of institutional research, in an email to The Herald.

OIR collects “a wide range of required information and then additional information as needed to inform the report,” Barnes wrote.

The final draft of the report will be shared again with the campus as well as NEASC for review and suggestions before final submission, Meisel said.

The entire process concludes with a campus visit from a NEASC committee in spring 2018, Meisel said. The visiting committee members, who are academics from peer institutions, have the opportunity to see the university in action, as well as evaluate the same standards on site.

“It’s hard to see yourself,” Mandel said. “The value of bringing in someone from the outside is they can see things you cannot.” In the 2008 review, NEASC recommended the University reevaluate the tenure process to fit peer institutions’ standards, ensuring its priority remained teaching rather than research.

In preparation for reaccreditation this time around, the College encouraged faculty members to provide syllabi online prior to the semester so that they are more easily accessible for accreditors. In turn, students were able to make “targeted choices” during shopping period, Mandel said.

“In thinking about how to prepare for NEASC, we highlighted an area we thought we could improve before they even got here,” Mandel said.

NEASC also notes the university’s strong suits. “We are building on distinction, after all,” Mandel said, referring to the title of President Christina Paxson’s P’19 strategic plan. “We have some real strengths.”

The accreditation process is especially relevant to this “specific moment at Brown,” Meisel said. “The last several years, we’ve been going through all kinds of planning and processes. We’ve really been engaging in campus-wide, thoughtful discussions. Now we can try to pull all that together.”

He added, “You say the word ‘accreditation,’ and no one gets excited, but it’s exciting to do now.”


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