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A Credit to the Community

It’s that time again: Barnard College is up for review by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), the unit of the Middle States Association that accredits degree-granting colleges and universities in the region. The association dates back to 1887. During its years in formation, several education luminaries such as Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia, and Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton, came together to set requirements for educational standards, admission qualifications, and courses of study. In order to earn accreditation, a college or university must undertake a rigorous self-study where it examines key aspects of its academics and operations.

The process takes two years and began in earnest last spring. Members of the committees are drawn from faculty, administrators, students, and trustees. In all, more than 50 individuals are involved. The entire self-study process is overseen by Provost and Dean of the Faculty Elizabeth Boylan.

“It’s really important that this is a cyclical procedure so institutions are given an opportunity to reflect on the job they are doing, and to think if they might want to do things differently,” says Hilary Link, assistant provost and dean for international programs and co-chair of the accreditation steering committee. The Commission allows institutions to focus on a few key areas in their self-study or undertake a more comprehensive review. Barnard chose to do focused studies the last two cycles. Ten years ago, the accreditation process dovetailed with Barnard’s revision of its strategic plan, so the community used the accreditation to help refine that process. That accreditation study focused on the College’s mission, goals and objectives, long-range capital planning, and financial equilibrium.

Ten years later, many of the recommendations that those committees made during their self-study have been incorporated; administrators believed the time was right for a more comprehensive review. “We’re just one year into a new presidency and the opening of a new building,” Link explained, referring to the appointment of Debora Spar as the school’s president and the much anticipated opening of the Diana Center. “This was a good time to do a more comprehensive model.” Link’s steering committee co-chair Paul E. Hertz, professor of biology, agrees: “As I said to the committee when I met with them, ‘Don’t be embarrassed [to bring] up anything; don’t hold back.’ No topic is off the table.”

In this go-around, the commission has placed special emphasis on assessment and measuring student outcomes. “Our mission statement says we prepare students to do X, Y, and Z,” says Link. “What are the measurements that make sure we are doing that?”

In addition, each institution must demonstrate how it performs on 14 standards of excellence. Among these are: general curriculum, leadership, integrity, and institutional resources. The self-study group is broken up into five sub-committees that will examine various aspects of the College’s functioning to answer these questions. Some overlap is not only expected, but encouraged. The committees will report their findings to the steering committee, which will put together a final report for MSCHE next year.

“This is a way to step back from the business of daily life and ask ourselves what we want to accomplish, are we accomplishing it now, how can we accomplish it better,” Hertz says.

Middle States Steering Committee members: Paul Hertz, Professor of Biological Sciences

Hilary Link, Assistant Provost and Dean for International Programs Gregory Brown, Chief Operating Officer Abigail Feder-Kane, Director of Institutional Support

Lynn Garafola, Professor of Dance Rosalind Rosenberg, Professor of History Anja Santiago, Manager, Academic Information and Curriculum Support Steven Stroessner, Professor of Psychology

Students:

Reni Callister ’11 Sumati Rajput ’11

Trustees:

Eileen L. Moy William Rogers Reid

Ex-Officio:

President Debora Spar Provost and Dean of the Faculty Elizabeth Boylan Anna Quindlen, Chair of the Board of Trustees

Keep up with the accreditation process as it unfolds; log onto www.barnard.edu/ provost/assessment/middlestates.html

-Ilana Polyak