Accreditation comes with a few strings attached

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While Kean received its re-accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, it did come with a few strings attached.

Although Kean University received the re-accreditation it was seeking for more than a year, the stamp of approval from the Middle States Commission did not come without concerns on their part.

Amid the accolades Kean officials issued about receiving re-accreditation, nothing was mentioned about the many strings attached.

Specifically, the commission noted that while the university was now in compliance with standards pertaining to integrity, institutional assessment, general education and assessment of student learning, Kean still had to produce a “monitoring report” by March 1, 2014.

According to a spokesperson at Middle States, a monitoring report is quite different from the usual progress report that most universities are required to file after re-accreditation.

Although both are follow up reports that could be required from institutions of higher education by Middle States after re-accreditation, they are vastly different.

According to the commission, a progress report is requested when no significant risks are expected while a monitoring report is required when there is potential for an institution to become non-compliant with Middle States standards.

As one Kean professor pointed out: It would be a mistake to conclude Kean “is not under the accreditation microscope.”

“Reaffirmation of accreditation without follow up is the ideal outcome but that did not happen,” said Assistant Professor of Philosophy Jesus Diaz, who has spent 21 years teaching at the university.

Diaz explained Kean has to submit a monitoring report by 2014, which will be followed by an inspection team visiting the university to see if they have maintained compliance with the four standards violated.

“Missteps by the administration or the board between now and 2014 could lead to warning or probation again,” the professor explained, adding that Middle States requests monitoring reports when they feel an institution could lapse into non-compliance.

James Castiglione, President of the Kean Federation of Teachers agreed.

“It’s not over yet,” he said. “Middle States is requiring another monitoring report which shows Kean’s status is fragile.” He added that the commission “is concerned about Kean relapsing into old habits.”

Although the Middle States visiting team findings concluded the university had met the four standards they previously were not compliant with, there were concerns regarding how Kean went about accomplishing this task.

According to information posted on the Middle States website, the commission noted the monitoring report due March 1, 2014 must document evidence the board took steps to “regularly review and balance the roles and relationships among multiple constituencies” and ensure there is “a shared vision about the mission of the institution.”

This might be difficult considering the breach between the Kean administration and teachers unions. Last year these two factions, along with others, gave Kean university President Dawood Farahi a vote of no-confidence. That sentiment continues to fester within the faculty today even though the university received re-accreditation.

Middle States did note in its report that Kean University is in the midst of “dynamic transformation.”

“The team heard significant pride in and support for the institutional mission in meetings with many different leaders and constituents,” the visiting team noted in the report, adding that the care and concern for students, “which is the heart of the purpose of accreditation,” was clearly evident in the teams discussions and review of materials.

However, although the team recognized the good effects of the Kean Board of Trustees engagement with the campus community, Middle States recommended that the board review regularly the “balance among roles and relationships.” Including the board, president, faculty, staff, students and “the structures and processes through which they participate in governance.”

The Middle States visiting team also recommended that leaders in each of these areas find ways to express their shared vision with one another.

The visiting team also mentioned in its conclusions that in the course of its visit that the Middle States reporting process had some “salutary, albeit painful, effects for the institution.”

Since last year when the teachers union revealed that Farahi had lied on his academic resumes going back some 20 years, tension between the administration and faculty has festered and at times erupted into  public displays of animosity and calls for the Farahi’s dismissal.

The visiting team appreciated this sentiment and found it to be “an important foundation for the work already achieved and for the results yet to be realized.”

The team also expressed “profound interest” in the “sustainability” of the work verified on their visit to Kean on Sept. 13 and 14, and looked forward to the continued expansion and development of these successful directions for Kean.