Accreditation panel visits SLU

For the first time in 10 years, Saint Louis University underwent a comprehensive institutional evaluation by the North Central Accreditation Commission this past Monday and Tuesday.

The accreditation team surveyed all aspects of the University, which will lead to a preliminary report due in the next six weeks and a final one in November. The reports will help the University to examine itself and will give helpful suggestions for improving certain areas.

The team, consisting of eight people from various schools in the Midwest, met with every dean, every vice president, as well as some faculty members, staff, the board of trustees, students and others in the two-day period. NCA accredits schools in 19 states.

Ellen Harshman, associate provost, said the team identified many of the University’s strengths, while not overlooking challenges.

“Overall, my experience with the team was that they were intensely complimentary,” Harshman said. “They were excited about what they saw.”

Each team member had reviewed SLU’s self-study entitled, “A Decade of Renaissance” before visiting the University. Most of the members were seeing SLU for the first time with “fresh eyes and an open mind,” Harshman said.

Harshman said they found significant accomplishments, including how well the University community embraces and understands the values and mission of the Univeristy.

“We have a strong, bold and determined presidential leadership,” Harshman said the team reported. “Over the past decade there has been a huge transformation in the University’s culture and physical facilities.”

The group also found some challenges that SLU faces. They recommended that the University work to create more diversity on campus, such as a more diverse range of students and faculty.

This was a problem that SLU identified as well in the self-study.

The core curriculum was another weakness that the team saw. They recommended that the University understand what it wants from the core curriculum and assess its desired outcome, Harshman said. One positive aspect of the identified challenge was the use of SLU2000 courses to examine the core.

NCA also suggested enhancing channels of communication within various groups of the University community.

In a meeting Wednesday morning, the NCA team told Harshman and others that they found SLU to be a place where people talk about what is going on, are willing to work on issues; they understand the self-study and were prepared to discuss concerns with the team.

The team also commented on how committed and articulate the students are, Harshman said.

While many schools who go under scrutiny for accreditation are usually criticized by the team, that was not the case here, Harshman said. “It couldn’t have been better in terms of outcome,” she said. “It was a wonderful affirmation of what a strong university this is.”

John Pauly, chair of the Communication Department, was one of approximately 100 people who attended the meeting that was held exclusively for faculty members. He thought the faculty members were very candid about some of their concerns such as shared governance and the budget. Three NCA team members acted as listeners during the meeting, allowing faculty members to address questions they had.

“It was a good method for opening discussions,” Pauly said. “The faculty was happy to have a voice and be clearly heard.”

Students also had an opportunity to voice their concerns with two NCA members. Academic Vice President Matt Love attended the meeting along with approximately 15 other students.

Love said the major thing discussed at the meeting was the lack of an athletic center. He said the team members were interested in the fact that SLU does not have an arena. On the other hand, the team was dazzled by the plans for a new student union, Love said, and was interested in hearing about the differences in living on campus and commuting.

Love also said that the small number of students who attended goes to show that students are currently satisfied.

“It tells me people are pretty content right now,” Love said. “It’s a good sign, though things could always be better.”