The Self-Study Process
A primary goal in preparing for our comprehensive self-study was to build an infrastructure that would enhance participation by the campus community, create a positive attitude toward accreditation, and conduct the self-study with the highest integrity. A commitment was made to involve as many faculty, staff, students, and administrators in the process as possible, to ensure that the self-study represented a campus initiative, rather than a small group of individuals charged with writing an institutional report. Creating a positive attitude toward accreditation required an understanding by the campus community of the purpose of accreditation, why it is important to the institution, and how the institution can benefit from engaging in the self-study process. Moving the campus community from a “compliance” mentality regarding accreditation to a belief that the self-study process is an opportunity for institutional reflection and growth was indeed challenging. (See HLC Presentation Paper (2006) in Resource Room)
Hundreds of people in the university community participated in the self-study process that started in fall 2004. Two individuals serving as co-chairs provided overall leadership for the endeavor: Dr. Kate Steffens, Dean of the College of Education, and Dr. Kurt Helgeson, Associate Professor of Environmental and Technological Studies. The Steering Committee, whose 17 members – including faculty, staff, and students – represented many facets of campus life. Another 14 committees plus a committee of committee chairs were responsible for gathering and organizing materials for the self-study. Of the 13 committees, 11 had responsibility for topical areas indicated by their names: Mission and Integrity, Governance and Administrative Structure, Planning, Budget, Assessment, Teaching Effectiveness, General Education, Program Review, Research, Ethical Conduct, and Engagement and Service. Three other committees had support functions: Web/Resource Room, Communications, Writing/Reading. Membership of the committees generally consisted of 10-15 individuals with some overlap.
During summer 2005 the committee chairs participated in three retreats to a build a strong foundation for the self-study. The chairs developed questions that addressed core components that would be the basis of the committees’ work during the coming academic year.
Committees began their work in September 2005 and met regularly through May 2006 to accumulate evidence pertaining to the various criteria for accreditation. To increase participation of the campus community during 2005-2006, the co-chairs of the self-study sponsored four campus gatherings - two breakfasts and two lunches - to discuss key issues around four themes: The Future-Oriented Organization, the Learner-Focused Organization, the Connected Organization, and the Distinctive Organization. Participation was strong with approximately 60 faculty and staff coming together to discuss the various HLC themes. The gatherings served as a positive way to bring the campus together to discuss the university’s performance in different areas. The co-chairs also convened two focus groups, one for undergraduate students and one for graduate students, during spring semester 2006.
In March and April 2006, the committees began posting their work on a website for review and comment by the entire university community. Comments in response to the posted evidence became part of material available for the self-study. Writing of the self-study report began in late spring 2006. After the first draft of the self-study was completed, a draft was posted on the website to allow the campus community to make comments and provide important feedback. A final draft of the self-study report was completed in January 2007.