As if budget cuts, multiple construction projects and a gen-ed overhaul were not enough, students and faculty at Stony Brook University have something new to worry about.
Reaccreditation may only be a once-a-decade event for most schools, but Charles L. Robbins, vice provost for undergraduate education and co-chair of the Self-Study Committee, has already given “60 presentations” and enlisted “more than 80 individuals” to help with the three-and-a-half year process. But what should have been a routine process for an institution is complicated by the plethora of changes and projects the university has juggled under Samuel L. Stanley Jr.’s three-year presidency.
To make matters worse, this year Stony Brook chose a comprehensive self-study model: a full self-scrutiny of every aspect of the university followed by the decision of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. This differs from a more cursory model offered by the MSCHE.
“We have a relatively new president, a very new provost and many new people in high administrative positions,” said Robbins in a town hall meeting last Wednesday. “It was thought that it’s a really good opportunity for us to take a look at what we do.”
But it’s not just Stanley’s short presidency—or Dennis Assanis’ fourteen-month stint as provost—that had decision-makers choosing the in-depth review. Under Stanley’s leadership, many proposed projects will be up for review and consideration including a new D.E.C. system amongst others.
Aside from the plethora of projects SBU juggles, the working groups will also need to investigate big changes chiefly brought about by a $82 million budget cut, said the self-study report on the university’s webpage.
One of the many jobs of the working groups will be investigating the effectiveness of cutting down and merging university staff as a part of Project 50 Forward, said the report.
The reevaluation is a good tool for students, faculty and staff to see where SBU’s strength and weaknesses lie, said Robbins. “You see Stony Brook go through lots of cycles and changes beyond the logo, and we believe that this is an opportunity for us to really make a difference.”
Not every school welcomes the process, though.
Princeton University Provost Christopher L. Eisgruber wrote a three page email to Provost Susan Phillips of SUNY Albany, detailing a list of grievances against MSCHE and the accreditation process as a whole. “…the staggering expenditures required by the reaccreditation process would be more tolerable if they produced valuable improvements in educational quality,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, however, the increasing burdens that plague the reaccreditation system today have no such compensating virtues. On the contrary, they arise because accreditors are increasingly substituting pointless data collection demands for informed peer judgment.”
By Eisgruber’s calculations, the University of Michigan spent $1.3 million for its last accreditation process, Duke University had a $1.5 million bill and Stanford is still tallying up its costs, which exceeded $1 million.
Aside from the price of a voluntary self-review, Stanford and Princeton—two “leading universities in the world”—have come close to losing their accreditation despite their status among other colleges. Princeton in particular has not yet convinced MSCHE despite “glowing feedback from two peer reviewers.”
“Our regional accreditor [MSCHE]…warned that unless Princeton was able to document student learning assessment more quantitatively, we were at risk of losing our accreditation,” said Shirley M. Tilghman, President of Princeton University at a speech this November on ‘The Uses and Misuses of Accreditation’. “Needless to say, this came as quite a shock.”
The process of accreditation, especially from MSCHE, came at a steep price for small results, she said. They were focused more on surface results than actual change.
For a state university like Stony Brook, though, not being accredited is not an option.
“Because it’s voluntary, we have a right to say we’re not going to go through this, but there are lots of consequences to that that would be very hard for us to survive,” said Robbins.
“The federal government could literally pull all of the research dollars and shut off the flow of research dollars to the institution if we were to not be accredited.”
A third party reviewing system is how the federal government keep track of their loans and grants in any research institution, said Robbins.
Being accredited also attracts more students, keeps the school’s processes transparent to the tax-paying public and keeps the university accountable for every action it takes.
“Both [Daniel Davis] and I have the commitments of both the president and the provost. This is a very serious undertaking,” said Robbins. “What we do over the next ten months is going to shape what we do over the next 10 years.”