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The work of accrediting agencies became big news recently at UND when the School of Communication received a highly negative initial accreditation report. Many other UND departments get periodic goings-over from accrediting groups. Herald staff writer Steve Schmidt took a look at their reports and what they say about the quality of education at UND.

Reports from national accrediting teams often speak of dedicated, and enthusiastic teachers and students at UND. At the same time, they repeatedly document high teaching loads; inadequate time spent on research and publications, and lack of cultural diversity on the state's largest campus.

Overall, the many UND departments that periodically go through accreditation visits have been able to win the additional funds and facilities to resolve the weaknesses identified by site visit teams every three to five years. Often those weaknesses go hand in hand with too few teachers and support staff members for the student loads that have grown in the 80s, and with UND's difficulty attracting faculty or students from minority groups.

Some big UND divisions, including business, communications and computer science, have had to cope with accrediting reports rife with deficiencies.

In the case of the business college for example, a tam of professors from other states found the UND faculty so overwhelmed with teaching and other duties it had little or no time for scholarly research and writing.  The accrediting team found the business college was so understaffed that students were taking correspondence courses to make up for required classes they couldn't get otherwise. That was three years ago, and UND has spent close to $1 million since to set things right in its goal of keeping student and public confidence in business programs through accreditation. UND President Thomas Clifford, who retires June 30, has made full accreditation" a cornerstone of his 20-year administration, and he usually has found money to repair the cracks that outside evaluators identify. He pumped about $500,000 a year into the business college, for example, so both its undergraduate and master's programs could win accreditation. The Dean of the business college, tried to resolve a  problem with his faculty by offering a large cash reward to those who got articles published in academic journals. However, the School of Business and Public Administration remains in trouble.

More recently, Clifford increased the computer science department's budget by $137,000 a year, or nearly one-third more, so it could meet accreditors' concerns about an overextended faculty, with too little money to properly advise students and carry out research. Accreditation visits recently led to a necessary $6,000-a-year boost in computer professors travel budgets and a renovation of the home economics food lab.

Now Clifford is looking at the need to spend another $50,000 to $60,000 a year, or more to improve conditions at the School of Communication, a major division that's the subject of a highly critical accrediting team report this winter. A "shoddy" sound studio, a problem with internal communications of goals and an under qualified faculty were some of many concerns raised about the School of Communication. The outside evaluators said money was the root of most of the problems for meeting national standards. "Faculty, staff and students unanimously believe that the school is strapped for funds," says the site team's initial report.

After a recent review of the counseling psychology program, UND doubled the amount of financial support available to graduate students in that discipline.

Athletic training, counseling, education, home economics and dietetics, social work, physical and occupational therapy and music recently were re-accredited -- with few significant weaknesses noted. A review of aviation is just getting under way, and the engineering, law and medical schools are due for accreditation evaluations in the next few months. None of the deans of those colleges anticipates major problems.

However, in the Medical School, the surgery residency program was reaccredited recently, but with a "warning" that improvements needed to be made in the basic sciences taught to resident physicians and to the range of cases they needed to be exposed to in their clinical training. The surgery accreditation also came back to that chronic UND problem time spent on on scholarship vs. time spent on teaching, advising students and serving the community. The surgery accreditors said in their December report there was "inadequate evidence of scholarly activity by the teaching staff in that only three of the 23 members ... indicated significant publications."

Clifford said "We always have a little question about our salaries. They're down from national averages. But this isn't a fatal flaw. We still attract some excellent people." Unfortunately, UND has difficulty retaining those "qualified" people UND attracts.

Next year, UND will get an overall review from a regional body, the North Central Association, looking at campuswide programs. That review comes but once a decade and will say much about how faculty and students perceive the university's quality and resources. In the meantime, though, about 30 academic units across UND are in various stages of accreditation. Accreditation doesn't over every department, nor does it cover everything that matters in the quality of a college education. For instance, though accrediting boards sometimes look at national scoring on professional board exams and at the level of job placement activities on campus, they're not set up to track the thousands of graduates and see how they measure up in the workplace after leaving UND.

The research and publication demands are the same for UND as they are for other Universities which educate undergraduate students and attract graduate students and professors who are contributing to the knowledge in their fields. Unfortunately, UND is NOT making the grade.

 What Is Accreditation and Why Is It Important

What accreditation? a process of self-study by an academic division, followed by a site review from outside evaluators, a report on strengths and weaknesses, a response by the university, then a final action by a national accrediting agency.

Why be accredited? Many businesses prefer graduates from accredited schools, and for some professions, the applicants must be from an accredited school in order to take state or national licensing exams. Accreditation also can be a factor in scholarships and graduate school transfers. Also, It's a gauge by which a university gains confidence that its programs meet national standards.

Is every department accredited? No. About 30 academic units at UND are accredited, including engineering, law and medicine. But many of the traditional arts and sciences depend on their own review processes.

Who's scheduled for reviews the next year or so: Communication disorders and speech pathology; School of Communication (draft report recommends provisional status one year); School Engineering and Mines; School of Law; School of Medicine; industrial technology; and new master's degree program in social work.

Grand Forks Herald, February 2, 1992