The ACCJC Visiting Team: Details, Details, Details

September
2012
Grimes-Hillman, Michelle, Former Senate Accreditation Committee Chair

In December 2008, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) published a Rostrum article entitled “Behind the Green Curtain: The Accreditation Visit Unveiled, or Where do Those Accreditation Recommendations Come from Anyway?” The authors, Janet Fulks and Richard Mahon, did a great job describing the visiting team’s activities before, during, and after an Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) evaluation visit. The authors also described how the visiting team is comprised of our peers:

It is made up of our peers: presidents, vice presidents and deans, budget officers, trustees, and faculty. Like some of your faculty peers, some members of the team are probably also first-time participants. While the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) seeks to include faculty on every team, many faculty members hesitate to commit to a process that will require them to be away from their colleges and students from a Monday morning to a Thursday afternoon in October or March. To their credit, members of the visiting team will have spent hours reading and reflecting on your self-study before they arrive, and many team chairs ask team members to begin drafting a response to your self-study before the team arrives.

In February 2012, the Academic Senate Accreditation Institute was held in partnership with the ACCJC for the first time. This arrangement allowed both organizations to develop an increased understanding of the complexities that govern each of our processes. The collaboration between the Academic Senate and ACCJC has opened the door to constructive conversations, leading each organization to lend support to the other around issues of mutual concern, including increasing the number of faculty in the ACCJC’s database and recommending faculty who participate on visiting teams. This article will describe two of the ACCJC’s processes. The first process is the placement of faculty and others into their database of potential evaluators. The second process is the selection of evaluation team members for a comprehensive visit. The workload for participants on an accreditation comprehensive team is intense, but the Academic Senate believes that faculty participation is essential and encourages faculty to consider the opportunity (that means YOU!).

The first issue to consider is the process for placement of faculty (and others) into the ACCJC’s database of potential evaluators. Faculty have long been concerned that the ACCJC’s requirement of a letter of recommendation from their college president in order to be included in the commission’s database of evaluators was unnecessarily burdensome for both the faculty and administrators. Faculty have argued that the current selection process for faculty excludes the Academic Senate, which can provide helpful insight into the selection of faculty to be in the database. Faculty contend that the Academic Senate is in a good position to recommend faculty to participate on teams.

In response to some of the concerns of the Academic Senate, we are pleased to note that the ACCJC has implemented a new Bio-Data Form for Evaluators this year. The form has been modified to include a signature line for CEO recommendation in lieu of a letter of recommendation for individuals to be entered into the database of potential evaluators. All individuals are required to have a CEO signature in order to be entered into the ACCJC’s evaluator database. Additionally, the ACCJC encourages recommendations for faculty participation from the Academic Senate, keeping in mind that faculty experience and expertise is the key focus for team member selection.

Following submission of the Bio-Data Form, faculty should receive an email that the information has been received and that they have been placed in the database of potential evaluators. The ACCJC also requires that once an evaluator’s name has been placed into the database, he or she must complete the ACCJC “Accreditation Basics” online course found on the Commission’s website. Mr. Jack Pond, Vice President of Team Operations and Communication, is charged with assembling teams, and he welcomes follow-up email correspondence (jpond [at] acccjc.org) from those who wish to serve.

The next important issue to consider is the process through which teams are assembled. Faculty have suggested that an increased level of scrutiny is placed on faculty team members in comparison to team members who are administrators. However, administrators and faculty alike undergo the same level of scrutiny by ACCJC before being invited to participate on a visiting team. All potential team members have previously submitted the ACCJC’s Bio-Data Form, and team members are expected to have the support of their own districts and colleges. The district or college must allow potential team members to commit to the required timelines and to the time to prepare for a visit to another college, as well as allow the required time away from their campus.

Team members are generally selected to create diverse expertise that will be able to provide a thorough and honest assessment of each college. For example, the ACCJC will include a combination of experienced team members alongside newly appointed team members. If the college being evaluated is in a multi-college district, team members from a similar environment will be included on the visiting team. Each potential team member is selected for a complex set of reasons which vary by need of the institution being visited. Including individuals with similar types of college experience (rural vs. urban; multi-college vs. single campus; private vs. public) is another consideration when building a team. Additionally, colleges are able to request that a team member have specific expertise the college believes is essential to their external evaluation. Teams will almost always have a chief executive officer, a chief financial officer, a chief instructional officer, a chief student services officer, an institutional researcher, a librarian, a trustee, and several faculty members. For example, a chief financial officer is almost always assigned to a visiting team for the external evaluation review for Standard III. D: Financial Resources, as well as other planning and governance issues. A chief executive officer, president/superintendent, or chancellor is almost always chosen as chair of a visiting team. To be considered for a leadership role on the visiting team and act as chair, ACCJC requires great breadth and depth of experience. Chairs are chosen by the President of the ACCJC.

Faculty have lamented that they have offered to serve on a team, provided a letter from their college president, filled out the Bio-Data Form, and yet were not called to participate. Faculty members are chosen both for the type of college they represent and for the expertise they bring to the team. The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the faculty expertise or experience that is sought by the ACCJC when appointing faculty for participation on a visiting team:

  • Distance Education (including an understanding of the technology behind the DE programs)
  • SLO Design and Assessment
  • Program Review
  • Evaluation and Planning
  • Governance
  • Career and Technical Education
  • Basic Skills/Pre-Collegiate
  • Non-Credit

The invitation to be an evaluator is typically mailed in May (for fall teams) and October (for spring teams) with a request that each potential member respond quickly (within 5 days) to ensure that a commitment is made. The ACCJC has suggested to the Academic Senate that when faculty members are unable to keep their commitment to participate on the team visit, it is often because they do not have the support from the college to be away for most of a week. The ACCJC reports that replacing team members who need to withdraw after the team training and shortly before the evaluation visit is to occur can create a difficult challenge. The ACCJC then must seek alternate members who may be given a short time frame to respond to the invitation.

The visiting team must have credibility in the eyes of the college being evaluated, so the team composition must be carefully considered. The Academic Senate wishes to thank ACCJC Vice Presidents Susan Clifford and Jack Pond for the opportunity to have open dialogue about the ACCJC processes. We are also pleased that the Academic Senate is encouraged to provide recommendations to the ACCJC for faculty participation.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.