Wanted: Volunteers for one of UND’s most important projects

The document that’ll help UND win reaccreditation needs drafting, and one of its authors could be you

UND archival image.

Want to learn more about every aspect of UND, help secure the university’s future, help improve the institution and make lifelong friends, all at the same time?

Then consider serving on one of the writing teams that will draft UND’s massive — and massively important — report to the Higher Learning Commission in support of reaccreditation.

There is no other task at the university that is both so vital and so rewarding, said Associate Dean Donna K. Pearson, former faculty co-chair of the effort that led to reaccreditation in 2014.

“Serving in that role was truly one of the best collaborative learning experiences of my career,” said Pearson, who’s also a professor in the UND College of Education & Human Development.

“It opened my eyes to all aspects of the university, because you learn about everything ‘from the Mission to the Money,’ as they say. It’s really a research project in that regard.”

Plus, the work brings together like-mined faculty and staff from across campus, and challenges them with a multi-year task that can be accomplished only through collaboration and teamwork. That’s a formula for turning colleagues into friends.

“In a way, I wish everyone could see the university in this fashion, because it gives you such a better appreciation for the institution and how decisions are made,” she said.

The goal: Reaffirmed accreditation in 2024

Every 10 years, UND undergoes a comprehensive evaluation conducted by HLC to reaffirm the University’s institutional accreditation. HLC accredits colleges and universities in a 19-state region and is one of seven accrediting agencies in the United States.

UND originally was awarded accreditation in 1913, and as mentioned, the University was last reaffirmed for full accreditation in 2014. UND already is focused on seeing that accreditation reaffirmed again in 2024.

Co-chairing the upcoming reaccreditation effort will be Deborah Worley, associate professor of higher education in the College of Education and Human Development, and Ryan Zerr, associate dean for curriculum at the College of Arts & Sciences and professor of mathematics.

Worley and Zerr also will serve on the four-person executive committee for the reaccreditation process, along with Tim Burrows, UND’s director of assessment and accreditation, and Scott Correll, UND registrar and administrative fellow for the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

And now that the executive team has been named, another milestone in the reaccreditation process is about to be reached. In a few days, UND faculty and staff will get an email describing the writing teams and inviting volunteers to serve.

Using a link that’ll be in the email, full-time faculty and staff can nominate themselves or others to serve on one of the teams, Burrows said.

Here’s how the process will work.

The HLC will evaluate UND on five criteria:

• The University’s mission
• Ethical and responsible conduct
• Resources and support for teaching and learning
• Evaluation and improvement of teaching and learning
• Resources, planning and institutional effectiveness

And in addition, the HLC will evaluate compliance with federal policies, such as Title IV for student financial aid and Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination.

To present UND’s case to the HLC, the University will craft an Assurance Argument. Previously called a Self-Study and consisting back then of hundreds of pages

Debbie Storrs

organized in binders, the Assurance Argument now gets filed online. It’ll include uploaded evidence files and a narrative of up to 35,000 words, or about 90 pages of single-spaced type.

And to assemble the evidence and help draft the narrative, UND is setting up six writing teams, one each for the HLC’s six areas of evaluation. Each team will be led by co-chairs and consist of about five or six people, meaning the University is looking for a total of about 30 to 40 volunteers.

The writing teams will be under the overall supervision of reaccreditation co-chairs Worley and Zerr, who’ll also be serving as executive co-writers for this cycle’s Assurance Argument.

“UND faculty are essential in our reaccreditation process,” said Debbie Storrs, UND’s interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. “I hope faculty welcome such engagement because they bring their understanding of academic freedom and expert knowledge to our core mission of teaching and learning. And, we’ll continue to work with faculty on implementing the recommendations that emerge from the process.”

UND archival image.

Slow, then fast

The nomination window to serve on the writing teams will be open for about two weeks in October, Burrows said. The co-chairs of the six teams will be named soon after the window closes, and the members will be named by winter break.

Once the teams are in place, the pace probably will be pretty slow for the next 18 months. “Depending on their role in the team, we think the members will be looking at maybe 50 to 80 hours a year through 2021 and much of 2022,” Burrows said. Training will take up a good share of that time.

Patrick O’Neil

“Then in the fall of 2022, we expect that the workload will increase,” he said, with the goal of UND submitting its final Assurance Argument to the HLC by June 1, 2023.

That’ll be followed by a site visit by the HLC in the spring of 2024, and a decision on reaccreditation after that.

Patrick O’Neill, associate dean and professor of economics at UND’s Nistler College of Business & Public Administration, was one of Donna Pearson’s fellow co-chairs during the process that led to reaccreditation in 2014. “And it’s true, it was a significant amount of work,” O’Neill said.

Donna Pearson

But for UND and other universities, accreditation is all-important. That means the University looks with favor on faculty and staff who can help, and most colleges and departments are generous with giving reaccreditation-team members the time needed to do the work.

And as Pearson said, the personal and professional rewards are many, O’Neill agreed.

“I’d been on University committees before, but the reaccreditation work gives you so much more insight into how UND operates,” he said.

“It’s the kind of ‘big picture’ perspective that the president and vice presidents have. It’s exciting to be involved in something on that level, and to get the kind of knowledge that you don’t usually have in a typical faculty role.”

Then there’s the fact that the writing-team members have a hand in University governance, in that any recommendations made in the Assurance Argument are very likely to be implemented, O’Neill noted.

All things considered, he said, “the whole process was extraordinarily satisfying.”