Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

University re-accreditation process picks up steam

Countdown clock

Psychology Professor Janette Benson, director of the Office of Academic Assessment, is helping lead the University's re-accreditation effort. The countdown clock on her iPhone targets the day DU will be visited by representatives of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

 This year, the University of Denver must lay itself out on the proverbial couch for a good dose of self-analysis, asking questions like, “Are we doing all we can for our students?” and “Are we fulfilling our promises?” 

This self-analysis occurs every 10 years and is required for re-accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. It actually takes several years to conduct the analysis and hundreds of people at the University are involved.

At the helm of this titanic endeavor are Associate Provost Jennifer Karas and psychology Professor Janette Benson, director of the Office of Academic Assessment. They launched the efforts in 2007 and are now literally counting down the days to Nov. 8–10, when a team of 10 peer reviewers will visit the University and assess the results of their work.

Over the past three years, Karas and Benson have led a large steering committee comprised of faculty, staff and administration from across the campus, as well as several smaller committees that guide specific areas of inquiry. In the end, Karas and Benson believe that nearly everyone on campus will have contributed facts and information to the effort.

“This process makes us prove that we do what we say we do,” Karas says.

And the proof must be data-driven. Karas and Benson say that each academic unit at the University must evaluate itself based on five criteria set forth by the commission: 1) mission and integrity; 2) preparing for the future; 3) student learning and effective teaching; 4) acquisition, discovery and application of knowledge; and 5) engagement and service.

“The key is that everything flows from the institution’s mission statement,” Benson explains. “So, we ask ourselves, ‘How do all these activities that we’re doing as an institution serve our mission statement and feed into these five criteria?’”

The tangible result of the effort is a 250-page document that includes information from every academic unit on campus. In early May, that document was shared University-wide for review, and Karas and Benson say they have received thoughtful feedback.

Over the next three months, they will continue to work with their committees to refine the report and fill in any holes. Then, they will deliver it to the commission’s peer review team two months prior to the November visit.

During that visit, the 10 reviewers are free to visit any department, ask for any materials and interview anybody on campus.

“Every academic department on campus defines its own set of student learning outcomes, so the site visitors will assess how well those outcomes are met,” Benson says. “They are free to ask us to look at anything and everything. So, they may show up and say, ‘We want to see all the syllabi for all of your first-year seminar classes taught last year,’ and we’ll produce them.”

At the end of the visit, the review team will meet with Chancellor Robert Coombe and Provost Gregg Kvistad to share their preliminary findings. Then, within two to three months, Karas and Benson expect a written report thoroughly outlining the team’s findings. Typically, they say, a university is told what it is doing well and where it can improve.

Karas says that she believes the University will fare well under inspection.

“Thankfully, there’s no hidden pothole, no place where we will take a significant stumble in the review process,” says Karas. “But, for example, an area where we might improve is on reporting the impact of the investment we make toward faculty research. The reporting would make us better in the end, but is that a huge issue? I don’t think so.”

Benson adds that the process naturally inspires the University to make improvements, and she believes those efforts will extend well beyond the November site visit.

“The essence of a true self-study forces you to ask, ‘Where are you now and where do you want to be?’” she says. “When the site visit is over, it’s important to reflect on what we’ve learned and share that with the greater community. This is a big train that’s rolling and you don’t want to stop the momentum.”

Karas and Benson admit that this has been an exhausting endeavor. Benson even has a clock on her cell phone continuously counting down the days to Nov. 8.

But, when they can step back and assess what they’ve accomplished and learned, both believe the University has a lot to be proud of.

“We’re doing a really good job,” says Karas. “Something extraordinary comes together here. It’s the collective power of the community, the fierce intellect of faculty, leaders who work with integrity. We’re a good place to be. There is significant value in a DU education. We should all be very proud.”

Comments are closed.