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Updated 2:46 PM May 18, 2009
 

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Working groups present initial findings at provost's forum

Watch key presentations from the forum, along with supporting materials and a video stream >

Faculty and staff Accreditation Working Groups appointed by Provost Teresa Sullivan reported their preliminary findings last week at a provost's forum on accreditation.

The groups were formed last year to explore the meaning of selected accreditation criteria for the university and to address the question of what it is to be an international university, the theme U-M chose as its special-emphasis study for accreditation.

Overlapping suggestions from the Accreditation Working Groups, chosen to support a self-study prior to a 2010 external review from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, include:

• More universitywide information sharing and discussion to spread practices and fuel collaboration on a range of topics such as learning assessment, service learning, and international experiences and agreements.

• Enhanced, centrally-coordinated services and support that respect and nourish the diverse missions and cultures of the schools, colleges, and units.

• A stronger international culture on campus and more international opportunities abroad.

The findings were presented May 7 as Sullivan hosted the Provost's Forum on Accreditation: Examining Key Topics and Opportunities, held at Palmer Commons. AWG chairs reported on their work to date, offering preliminary findings and suggestions.

Sullivan said the accreditation review process offers, among other opportunities, a chance to assure stakeholders in an economic downturn that the university is continuing to fulfill an important mission.

"It's a chance to talk to each other about what we do, and to demonstrate our far-reaching commitments to campus and people on the outside," she said.

After hearing reports from the AWG chairs, Sullivan said, "I see us moving in a very fruitful way. The topics we've heard today will be the root of good conversation for a long time to come."

Ben van der Pluijm, professor of geology and the environment, and senior counselor to the provost for accreditation, said the review process has included meetings and surveys with many campus units, students and alumni, and data collection.

The self-review could even extend to the university's mission, van der Pluijm said, noting that since U-M was last accredited in 2000, the university has targeted major initiatives in the life sciences, interdisciplinary teaching, energy and the environment, and internationalization.

"It shows you how rich and complex the institution is and what we're trying to do," he said.

Eric Dey, associate professor of education and chair of the AWG on the Student Learning Environment, said that while individual schools within the university identify learning outcomes for students, "We just haven't done it universitywide; it's something to think about." His group also found that while significant, wide-ranging student assessment activity exists, it could be better coordinated across U-M.

June Howard, professor of English, American culture and women's studies, and chair of the AWG on the university's Knowledge Environment and the Roles of Research, Professional and Creative Activities, said her group finds that research — understood to be an essential part of the university's mission — and undergraduate education are more integrated than many members of the U-M community realize.

She said students who perform research as undergraduates report the experience is exciting and transformative. "These types of projects that encourage research-based education should be increased," she said, linking them to inquiry as a cornerstone of a U-M education.

Margaret Dewar, faculty director, Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning and professor of urban and regional planning, said students, faculty and staff gain from working with entities outside the university.

Her AWG — which studied Engagement, Outreach and Service Activities — suggested the university should gather more data about what engagement is occurring, and recommended that deans be evaluated for their leadership in engagement and service.

Mark Tessler, professor of political science and chair of the Internationalizing the University: Academic Dimensions AWG, said the university community should do a better job of sharing information regarding activities that promote international connections.

"We need more use of (foreign) language in the curriculum above and beyond the teaching of the language," he said.

John Greisberger, director of the International Center and chair of the AWG Internationalizing the University: Organizational Dimensions, said the number of U-M students conducting part of their learning abroad has grown to 40 percent, and that those opportunities should continue to grow. He suggested looking at outcomes from those experiences, so faculty and students can better understand the benefits.

"Students want to know what credit they will earn and what will apply to degree programs, and their parents want to know as well," he said, adding that a new university Web site will be devoted to the international component.

Planning, information collecting, data analysis and campus involvement are to continue through the year, culminating in a final written report in January 2010. An HLC evaluation team will visit campus late in March 2010.

Universities voluntarily seek accreditation to demonstrate to the public, especially prospective students, their commitments to quality assurance and improvement. U-M has been an accredited institution since 1913.

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