Wednesday, March 11, 2015

23. A good reputation is much to be desired.

1. We became Associate Members of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in June 2012, just as we were graduating our first batch of MDIV students. We immediately went to work on the next step--full accreditation. We would have had five years to start the process but we had been waiting to go through each next step as quickly as possible.

The first step was an "Internal Readiness Study," in which we were to go through the basic categories of the ATS standards and indicate our readiness to be evaluated for accreditation. I put together a relatively brief 16 page study by November 1. It was relatively short for such things, but covered all the bases and my impression was that the brevity was appreciated. Tom Tanner from ATS was then on our campus two weeks later (Nov. 14-15) and recommended us for candidacy status.

2. We then had two years to do a fuller Self-Study, basically a majorly elongated version of the readiness report. The document Dr. Tanner left us expected to see the study by December 1, 2014.

Not wanting to dally, we submitted the Self-Study in December of 2013. The goal was to have a site visit in good time for the Board of Accreditation to vote on us in June. The main part of the study was 85 pages with 97 pages of appendices. It covered our story, our infrastructure, our degrees, our venues.

Most of the time, this sort of work should be done by faculty. There would ideally be a single voice editing the piece, but nothing would prevent the first draft of various sections being distributed. Since we are so young and I had the longest view of things, it seemed appropriate for me to put it together. I do like to write, if you haven't noticed.

But the faculty gave feedback and editorial suggestions on the pieces as they came together. The broader infrastructure of the university gave the needed data for their pieces of the puzzle. Several of the faculty (Safiyah, Colleen, Kwasi, principally) helped with some last minute assessment data crunching.

Few will be surprised that the assessment piece was the piece I most procrastinated. Here the Chalk & Wire training Lenny and I had done in January 2011 had provided an excellent framework for how to set it up.

In what will not be surprising to anyone who knows me and most of academia, there was about four years' worth of assessment work that had accumulated. We had been saying forever that we were going to set up Chalk & Wire, and then the university decided in the Spring of 2013 to switch to a different learning platform that would have its own assessment system, thus postponing an automated assessment two more years.

As the university was slowly phasing out Blackboard, our own LMS (Learning Management System), I suddenly found that data from the past, which I had assumed would always be there to cull from, was slowly disappearing into a data abyss. We were nevertheless able to recover enough data to give across the board results which indicated that, yes, our courses were pretty much achieving the stated outcomes of our degree programs.

(Since I have no shame, I'll admit to using such tactics as contacting some students from the first couple cohorts to recover artifacts of certain assignments, as well as some professors. I even pulled some documents off the temporary internet files part of my own hard drive.)

3. The site visit went well. The team was especially impressed with the fact that whether they spoke to students, faculty, board members, broader university personnel, or administration, everyone had the same vision, the same enthusiasm, the same optimism. They did give some good long term advice.

They were concerned that our infrastructure grow to meet our volume. We needed to shift from start up mode to long term sustainability. They were concerned that our faculty were overloaded, that we needed to continue to add faculty (they'll check up on this in October 2016). And of course they would like to see in February 2017 that we have not only implemented the Learning Outcomes Management (LOM) system we said we were going to, but that we have gathered data and revised curriculum accordingly.

But they recommended seven years of accreditation (the maximum). They approved our three degrees (MA in Ministry, MDIV, and MPTh). They approved Indy North as a complete degree site. They approved 12Stone® and Instituto Biblico Wesleyano in Bogota as extension sites.

We were fully accredited in June in time to feel really good about ourselves at the 2014 biennial meeting in Pittsburg.

4. I don't think I have mentioned that our goal from the very beginning was to have 50% of our courses taught by full-time faculty and no more than 50% of our courses taught by adjuncts. Depending on where you are coming from, this may either seem like way too few full-time or too big a goal. We have never hit this ideal yet. In the 2013 year, 38% of our courses were taught by full-time faculty. Since then we have added two full-time faculty and one more is in the chute.

Suffice it to say, the contemporary college or seminary will surely have to rely heavily on adjuncts to survive financially in this day and age. There are ethical concerns here too, as adjuncts are people who need to make a living wage, have health care, and so forth. I don't know the answer, but math is math too. One key feature of a dying seminary is an outrageously low student to faculty ratio.

There is more than one way to calculate this ratio. For example, by one reckoning, you might include faculty teaching overloads, along with faculty who teach for us who are full-time somewhere else in the university. There is about a 5% difference between the ratio figured on the basis of faculty within load and the ratio figured on any course taught by a full-time faculty.

The question of overload is disputed. I believe that overload should ideally be decided by individual faculty capacity rather than blanket policy. It may be surprising for the public to know that many faculty skirt along financially, and overload and adjuncting elsewhere has become a key element in the lives of many faculty.

The question is one of capacity, I believe. There are faculty who teach crazy overload and consistently get crazy positive evaluations. If they don't teach overload for us, they will just adjunct somewhere else. And full-time faculty will generally have better evaluations than adjuncts.

In the end, and I got this from John Drury, policies often are introduced by a certain administrative personality that implicitly doesn't trust people to make sound decisions. Policies are often substitutes for competent leadership ("Policies replace people"). If your leaders can competently decide who is capable of doing a good job on overload, then you don't need to have a rigid or absolute policy.

I am always amazed at administrators who can't understand why they are in financial dookie after pushing small class sizes and limited faculty overloads.

Previously on Seminary take-aways:

1. There are key moments of opportunity.
2. You need the right people.
3. Good leaders collaborate and navigate.

Year 1: Launch Year
4. Innovation requires some trial and error. (1)
5. Innovation requires some trial and error. (2)
6. Innovation requires some trial and error. (3)
7. New leaders bring new strengths. (1)

Year 2: Growing Pains
8. Administration never ends.
9. New leaders bring new strengths. (2)
10. New leaders bring new strengths. (3)

Year 3: The Year of Maturity
11. Complexity works against sustainability.
12. There are advantages to being embedded in a broader university. (1)
13. There are advantages to being embedded in a broader university. (2)
14. Our guinea pigs survived.

Year 4: The Year of the Faculty
15. Faculty share governance with administration. (1)
16. Faculty share governance with administration. (2)
17. Faculty share governance with administration. (3)
18. Faculty share governance with administration. (4)
19. Growth means addition. (1)
20. Growth means addition. (2)
21. Growth means addition. (3)

Year 5: The Year of Accreditation
22. Don't underestimate the power of a symbol.

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