Collegiality and NCC’s Accreditation Crisis
About a month following the closing of NCC’s 2016 Commencement Ceremonies, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education issued a “Public Disclosure Statement” regarding Nassau Community College’s accreditation: “On June 23, 2016, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education acted to place the institution on probation due to a lack of evidence that the institution is in compliance with Standard 2 (Planning, Resources, and Institutional Renewal), Standard 3 (Institutional Resources), Standard 4 (Leadership and Governance), Standard 5 (Administration), Standard 6 (Integrity), Standard 7 (Institutional Assessment), and Standard 14 (Assessment of Student Learning).” Because the Disclosure Statement arrived in late June, a full month into the season when many professors have, for a spell, put thoughts of their beloved institution aside for a while, the full measure of its devastating meaning has probably not yet sunk in.
Take a Look at Dowling College
We are in trouble. In fact, we should consider ourselves lucky that MSCHE, looking perhaps back to our storied past and feeling merciful, didn’t immediately issue a “Show Cause” statement. Show Cause is that final period of grace before accreditation is fully revoked (or to put it bluntly, it’s the next to last nail in the coffin). If we need a reminder of the dire nature of Show Cause, look at our neighbor, Dowling College. Dowling was required by MSCHE to Show Cause for continued accreditation by March 1, 2016. On June 23, 1016, Dowling lost its accreditation, despite being out of compliance with only three Standards: 3, 7, and 14. NCC failed three of the very same Standards, with the addition of four more.
Where We Failed
Our accreditations’ failures were mainly administrative. MSCHE allots its fourteen accreditation standards evenly into two categories corresponding to institutional responsibilities and capabilities: administrative (under the heading “Institutional Context”) and academic (under the heading “Educational Effectiveness.”) The vast majority of NCC’s accreditation failures, six of seven, were administrative. And they are comprehensive and damning, cutting deep into all layers of administrative responsibility: strategic planning, resource allocation, leadership and governance, institutional assessment, and most egregious of all, institutional integrity. The single, but by no means insignificant failure on the academic side was for Standard 14, assessment of student learning. This is a story of administrative failure, and as we shall see next, academic success.
Where We Succeeded
MSCHE found NCC to be compliant with the vast majority of Educational Effectiveness standards. These standards address matters related to the college curriculum and student support services, areas that fall largely within the purview and expertise of teaching faculty, student support faculty, and affiliated staff. The language of MSCHE’S Educational Effectiveness standards stresses the need for “qualified professionals” (read “faculty”) to develop, devise, monitor, and support the institution’s “instructional, research, and service programs.” Those programs, moreover, should demonstrate a “content, rigor, and coherence” consistent with the higher education mission of the college. And the programs that support that mission must also provide “college-level proficiency in general education and essential skills, including at least oral and written communication, scientific and quantitative reasoning, critical analysis and reading, and technological competency.” Having complied largely with the Educational Effectiveness standards, NCC can tell a story of academic success.
Collegiality as Shared Governance
In its Public Disclosure Statement of June 23, 2016 regarding NCC’s accreditation, MSCHE indicates that NCC must file a monitoring report by November 1, 2016, following which MSCHE will conduct a small team visit to the college to assess our compliance with standards. That team prepares a report which is taken up by a Committee on Follow-Up Activities and then by the actual Commission. Needless to say we have our work cut out for us.
There is no question that we, the various constituencies that make up the community called Nassau Community College, must join together with our new college president and colleague Dr. W. Hubert Keen to bring this accreditation crisis to an end. And as we come together, we must do so in a spirit of collegiality. But let’s pause, first, to ask what a “collegial” spirit means. To be collegial means respecting the abilities of different members of a community to work together toward a common purpose. Collegiality in a college like ours has a framework for making collegiality work: it is called shared governance. Shared governance is the democratic principle that structures the roles and responsibilities of this institution—of administration and faculty—and it is this principle that made Nassau Community College a beacon of success in two-year higher education in the United States. And we would contend, it has been a progressive falling away from this principle that has brought us to our current crisis. Being collegial at this critical time isn’t about being nice; it’s about having respect for the principles of shared governance that once made us a great institution of higher education.
So, let’s join with Dr. Keen and, in a spirit of respect for the democratic principles that have always guided this college, resurrect the genius of the liberal arts at Nassau Community College.
By Dr. Timothy Strode for the NCC AAUP Executive Committee