Stony Brook Looks Ahead to Middle States Visit, March 30 - April 2
As the reaccreditation review process that began in spring 2012 nears its end, a Middle States evaluation team will make its all-important visit to campus. Here’s what you need to know.
From March 30 to April 2, 2014, a team of reviewers from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education will visit our campus as part of Stony Brook University’s decennial reaccreditation process. The evaluation visit is the result of a two-year review process that has involved close to a hundred Stony Brook administrators, faculty, students and staff, culminating in a self-study report that reflects on all aspects of what Stony Brook is, does and aspires to be.
Middle States Planning Committee Co-Chairs Charles Robbins, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of the Undergraduate Colleges, and Dan Davis, Professor and Chair of the Department of Geosciences; and Middle States Coordinator Lauren Tacke-Cushing explain what Middle States is, where we are in the rigorous reaccreditation process, what we can expect when the team visits, and why it should matter to everyone in the SBU community.
Q: What is accreditation, and what is Middle States?
Charles Robbins: In the early 20th century the educational community adopted accreditation as a process of peer review and as a means of self-regulation. It is a voluntary process that was developed to strengthen higher education while still allowing institutions to self-regulate.
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) is a regional accreditor, which covers the region from New York to Washington, DC, and “is a voluntary, non-governmental, peer-based membership organization dedicated to educational excellence and improvement through peer evaluation and accreditation.”
Q: If we are already accredited by Middle States, isn’t reaccreditation just a formality?
Lauren Tacke-Cushing: The University received its initial accreditation in 1957 and is required to conduct an evaluation every 10 years in order to reaffirm accreditation. This is very much more than a formality.
Q: When is the last time Stony Brook underwent this process?
Dan Davis: We are completing a comprehensive review, covering everything Stony Brook University is and does. Ten years ago, the University underwent a much narrower, focused review that emphasized undergraduate education. Every five years, there is an interim evaluation that is based on a Periodic Review Report (PRR) that documents progress toward any recommendations made in the 10-year evaluation report.
Q: Why should students, faculty and staff care about reaccreditation?
Robbins: There are crucial reasons why it is important that Stony Brook remains accredited. The first is that it allows our students to obtain loans and grants from the federal government. It is stated in the Student Assistance Programs in Title IV of the Higher Education Act that an institution must have regional or national accreditation. MSCHE provides the assurance to the federal government that we are complying with federal regulations.
Second, the reaccreditation process provides an opportunity for the University to reflect on the past decade and to review our current educational offerings and research activities, the inclusion of diversity in our curricula and campus life, how we assess institutional effectiveness and student learning, and a wide range of other key issues that shape the future of Stony Brook.
Q: How does the accreditation process work, and what are the possible outcomes?
Tacke-Cushing: The Commission will determine if we meet Middle States’ 14 accreditation standards based on the evidence that we provide in the institutional self-study report and the electronic and physical resource rooms. Our evidence needs to be validated by the peer reviewers during the on-site evaluation. The Commission may require that we submit follow-up reports to ensure we are in compliance with the standards.
Q: Where are we in this process right now?
Tacke-Cushing: The self-study report has been completed and sent to Middle States and the visiting team members. We are currently preparing for the site visit, which will take place from Sunday, March 30, through Wednesday, April 2.
Q: What is a self-study report and how did Stony Brook go about writing one? Were any of the results surprising?
Davis: Over the past two years, about a hundred faculty, staff, students and administrators have worked on various aspects of the report. A half-dozen working groups focused on gathering information and writing first drafts of reports addressing the questions attached to the 14 standards. These range from the nature and quality of the University’s academic offerings and student support services to its budget and governance.
The single biggest surprise was the number of wonderful things various people and programs do across campus that the rest of us don’t know about. From innovative teaching methods and academic assessment to clever ways to make the University run more efficiently, too many of our best practices aren’t widely enough known — but we hope that this self-study will help spread the word. When we started this process, I really didn’t understand how extraordinary SBU is. I challenge anyone reading this self-study document to name any university as young as we are that is as great as we are!
Q: What can we expect on March 30 to April 2, when the Middle States Commission conducts its on-site visit? And will Middle States be visiting all our campuses, even SUNY Korea?
Tacke-Cushing: The 12 visiting team members will be meeting with various groups from campus constituents to validate the information that we provided in our Institutional Self-Study report. During the visit, the team members may request to visit our locations at Manhattan and Southampton but will not be visiting SUNY Korea. A team member recently did visit our most popular study abroad location, at Florence University of the Arts.
Q: Will they be making unannounced classroom visits? Will they chat informally with students, faculty or staff members as they walk around the campus?
Robbins: The team members will be respectful of classes as they are in session but may walk by classrooms and request to visit a class. As the team members walk around campus they will approach students, faculty or staff and ask questions regarding their experiences at Stony Brook.
Q: What kinds of questions might Middle States team members ask us? Do they want our opinions, or will they expect us to know things like what the University’s academic mission is, or what our programs, courses, etc., are?
Davis: The visiting team members may ask about Stony Brook’s five-point mission and ask for you to talk about your experience as a student, faculty or staff member.
Nobody will be expected to recite the mission in any detail. Still, it’s reasonable to expect all members of the SBU community to be aware that the University is dedicated to excellent education, research, health care and economic and cultural contributions to the region — all while embracing diversity and the University’s place in the wider world.
Q: What can any individual do to contribute to Stony Brook’s reaccreditation process?
Tacke-Cushing: There are opportunities for the campus community to be a part of the site visit by participating in the forums below:
- Campus Open Forum – Monday, March 31, 11 am to 12 pm, Wang Center, Room 201
- Undergraduate Student Forum – Monday, March 31, 3 pm to 4 pm, Wang Center, Room 201
- Graduate Campus Form – Tuesday, April 1 at 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm, Wang Center, Room 201
Q: How soon after the last day of Middle States’ on-site visit will we know the team’s findings?
Robbins: Prior to the evaluation team’s departure from campus on April 2, the evaluation team chair will provide an oral summary of the team’s report to the President and Provost. We will officially be informed of the evaluation results after the MSCHE Commissioners meeting in June 2014.
By Patricia Sarica; photo by Anusha Mookherjee/The Statesman