There and Back Again: Serving on an ACCJC Accreditation Evaluation Team
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Policy on Commission Good Practices in Relations with Member Institutions states that the Commission will “include faculty members among the academic representatives on comprehensive evaluation teams” (p. 48). The commission solicits recommendations regarding faculty to serve on evaluation teams from college presidents and college accreditation liaison officers (ALOs). The commission has at times had difficulty finding enough faculty members who are able to serve on evaluation teams. Yet, some faculty have reported an apparent disconnect between expressing an interest to serve on an accreditation evaluation team to their college president and actually being chosen as potential team members. Faculty who are interested in serving on an accreditation evaluation team may employ certain strategies to maximize their chances of being appointed and might also benefit from a sense of what it is like to serve on a team.
To serve on an accreditation evaluation team, a faculty member must be recommended by his or her college president. An ALO may recommend a faculty member to serve, but ultimately the college president must approve the faculty member being appointed. This requirement is both to ensure that the college president feels that the faculty member would be appropriate to serve on a team and to ensure that the college will provide the resources to allow that faculty member to serve, such as release time from classes and substitute instructors to cover the missed days. A first strategy to maximize a faculty member’s opportunity to be appointed to a team is to make certain that the college president actually supports him or her as a potential team member. If the college president agrees to recommend a faculty member, the next step is to get that recommendation officially submitted to the ACCJC.
An official recommendation could take the form of a college president emailing the commission; however, a more efficient way of submitting that recommendation is to use the ACCJC’s Bio-data form, available at: http://bit.ly/1nbfNuv. The form includes sections on the current position held, professional education, professional experience, and special qualifications and requires a “CEO Recommendation” signature. The biographical information provided on this form is what the commission uses to develop “the peer evaluation team from a roster of experienced educators who have exhibited leadership and balanced judgment” (ACCJC, 2012, p. 4). A faculty member who is interested in serving on an accreditation evaluation team should fill out the Bio-data form, get his or her president’s signature (which serves as an official recommendation), and then send the form directly to the commission.
After a faculty member submits his or her Bio-data Form, the next step should be to take the ACCJC Accreditation Basics Course. This course is an online training developed by the ACCJC and is available at http://bit.ly/1sQRO2N. The commission expects that new team members will have completed this course prior to serving on an accreditation evaluation team (ACCJC, 2012, p. 4). Completion of the course provides a potential team member with a certificate of completion and puts him or her into the list of “course completers” that the commission may search when looking for faculty to serve on teams.
Considering the Appointment
If the commission selects a faculty member to serve on an evaluation team, the commission will send an Invitation to Serve on an Evaluation Team email. This email provides information on which college team the applicant is being considered for, who the team chair will be, and when the team training will occur. The potential team member will be asked to review potential conflicts of interest which could compromise his or her ability to be impartial in a review of the institution and the expectation of evaluators. The potential conflicts and the commission’s expectations are enumerated in the ACCJC Team Evaluator Manual (p. 6-7). The faculty member will be responsible for arranging any travel to training and the team visit. The college being evaluated will organize the reservation for the hotel rooms for the team, but team members pay for their own rooms. Team members will be reimbursed by the commission but will be responsible for the upfront costs of their travel and hotel stay.
The commission has had some difficulty in keeping faculty members on evaluator teams. When one is considering serving on a team six months ahead of a visit, reading large quantities of material, missing a day of classes for the training, and then missing three or four more days for the campus visit may sound feasible. However, when faculty are in the middle of the semester, the loss of an entire week of instruction can appear far more daunting. An ACCJC Commissioner confided that some issues have arisen with faculty withdrawing from teams after they had been appointed and agreed to serve, sometimes at the last minute before a team visit was to occur, leaving the commission to scramble and find a replacement. Therefore, faculty members must be honest with themselves when signing up. The faculty member’s college should provide substitute instructors for his or her classes during the visit, which is part of what the CEO agrees to when submitting the faculty name, but substitute instructors are not always feasible depending on when the visit will fall in the semester. While on the team visit, working on team business will be all that a faculty member will have time for. The three days of the team visit will be packed with individual meetings, meetings with groups, all-college sessions, intensive scrutiny of the provided evidence, and writing. While on site for the college visit, team members will have little time for anything else, so all should plan on being 100% present for those three days. Before accepting a role on an accreditation evaluation team, a potential team member should carefully consider the timing of the training and visit, the potential impact on his or her students, and the upfront cost of serving on a team. On the invitation to serve email, the commission has the following request: “If for any reason you feel you will not be able complete the entire process, please decline the invitation to serve by completing the enclosed [Reply to Invitation to Serve on ACCJC Evaluation Team] form.”
Serving on the Team
Two to three months prior to the scheduled visit, the college to be evaluated will send the team its Self Evaluation Report, College Catalog, Class schedules, a thumb-drive containing all evidence cited in the Self Evaluation Report, and information on accessing online courses. Evaluators are expected to thoroughly read and evaluate the documents and evidence in the context of the Accreditation Standards and Policies. Before the college visit, the evaluation team will come together for an ACCJC team training session. This session provides general training on the accreditation standards and what is expected of team members. In preparation for the college visit, the team chair will assign team members specific standards and policies to focus their evaluation on. Each team member’s job is to evaluate the institution in regards to those standards and policies as thoroughly as possible. This process will include coming up with additional questions which may need to be asked, people or groups that each team member would like to speak with while on the visit, and additional data that may be needed to evaluate how well the college is complying with Accreditation Policies and Standards.
Serving on the team provides a unique experience of digging deep into the operations of another college and seeing how others have chosen to meet the accreditation standards. Once one is able to get past the “that’s not how we do it!” reaction, it is often fascinating to see how smart colleagues from another college have come at similar problems in completely different ways. The California community college faculty voice has to be a part of the accreditation process: it is not a peer evaluation if no faculty members are on the team. If a faculty member wants to understand accreditation, to really dig deep into the standards, policies, and the mechanisms accreditation, the best way to do that is be on an evaluation team.
For faculty interested in serving on an accreditation evaluation team, the following summary offers some proactive steps that may increase an applicant’s likelihood of being appointed:
- Discuss your interest in being appointed with your college president or ALO.
- Complete the Bio-data Form, get your college president to sign the form, and then send the form to the commission.
- Take the ACCJC Accreditation Basics Course to get yourself on the “course completers” list.
- Be honest with yourself about your ability to pay the upfront costs, make it to the training session, do the prep-work, and miss at least four days of classes.
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. (2012). Team Evaluator Manual. Retrieved from http://www.accjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Team-Evaluator-Manual_2012.pdf
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. (2014). Accreditation Reference Handbook. Retrieved from http://www.accjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Accreditation_Reference_Handbook_July_2014.pdf
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