Middle States Team Report and Planning Process

By Lindsay Garten
In an email to members of the Barnard Community, President Debora L. Spar announced that the College would be receiving final word from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and Barnard’s status on its reaccreditation. It will be released following a process of Self-Study and the external team’s visit to campus at the end of February.
“We have now received the final report of the team and have submitted the expected institutional reply. I am very pleased to share with you the complete team report that will, with our Self-Study, form the basis of the Commission’s decision in June,” noted President Spar. The report is now posted at: http://www.barnard.edu/sites/default/files/inline/final_team_report_march_22_2011.pdf.
The report starts with an overview, and then goes on to address Barnard’s compliance with the 14 required Standards of Excellence as outlined by the Commission.  Because the College continues to meet the eligibility standards, it was certified by the team.

President Spar then went on to quote the report:
Evaluation Overview
We are grateful to the faculty, students, administrators, staff members, alumnae and trustees of Barnard College for providing the visiting team with a hospitable welcome, abundant information, and stimulating conversations. Our team conducted a comprehensive evaluation based on prior study of extensive written materials as well as on-campus interviews, meetings, and further review of documents from Sunday, February 20 through Wednesday, February 23. (A list of the team’s schedule for meetings is appended.) [The visiting team] met by individuals and groups with attentiveness, openness, helpfulness, and enthusiasm. The self-study is well written, thoughtful and comprehensive. It highlights the College’s accomplishments and presents the College’s challenges in a clear and distinct manner.
The College embraces its identity as a complex institution defined by paradoxes: As noted in self-study, Barnard is “a liberal arts college and part of a major research university; a student body that is all-women and (in many respects) co-ed; a campus that is a quiet oasis and in the middle of New York City.” The richness of this identity as well as the complications of negotiating some of its tensions was apparent in every aspect of our visit.
Barnard College has a proud history and a bright future. The faculty is devoted to excellence at the highest level in both teaching and scholarly activity. The students are engaged and committed, loyal to the institution and appreciative of their relationships with faculty and staff members. The Board of Trustees is passionate about the mission of Barnard and committed to supporting the College. Sound and spirited leadership is found throughout the institution. Following a presidential transition in 2008, there have been many appropriate changes in people and administrative structures at Barnard in recent months. Several key administrators are either new to the College or in new positions, and one major search (for the VP for Development) is currently underway. During this transitional period in the College’s history, there is a clear opportunity to capitalize on its accomplishments and use these as a catalyst for the future.
President Spar noted that the report addresses each of the 14 Standards of Excellence following the organization of chapters in the College’s Self-Study. “The team has identified 23 areas for which the College has demonstrated ‘significant accomplishments,’ and before we devote ourselves to the serious planning work that all agree needs to be done, we should celebrate these achievements together,” stated President Spar. She credits the areas of “significant accomplishments” to the efforts and domains of all College constituencies: “from the clear mission statements of administrative and academic departments that articulate well to the College’s mission statement, to the prudent stewardship of resources, to progress on faculty diversity and development matters, to improvements in the College’s admissions profile, to commendation about the College’s approach to students at risk, to the active participation of students in research opportunities and senior capstone experiences, and to developing a framework for student learning assessment.” The visiting team found that Barnard has a strong foundation on which to build.
According to the Commission, “recommendations” are topics that must be addressed by the College when it writes its Periodic Review Report in five years, while “suggestions” are simply areas where Barnard could use improvement. These “suggestions” aren’t mandatory and the College isn’t required to follow up or report on them. In most cases though, these suggestions help to support the findings of the College’s own Self-Study. The visiting team offered two recommendations and 34 suggestions.  These recommendations and suggestions will advise the strategic planning process that is now underway, which will conclude at the end of the calendar year.
The first recommendation that the visiting team made was about the planning and implementation of changes for various information technology needs. Though, as President Spar noted, “this is indeed a major challenge, and will be a high priority for me in the next year, working closely with Carol Katzman, Vice President for Information Technology, and Gregory Brown, Chief Operating Officer.” In order to address this recommendation, Barnard is going to hire an external consultant to help the College address the current inadequacies of its technological infrastructure and to prioritize the implementation of new systems.
The second recommendation relates to the College’s institutional assessment. The team decided that while Barnard “has established the foundation for a culture of institutional assessment…resources should be directed to support ‘systematic and sustained assessment practices, better coordination and dissemination of findings, and most importantly, the development of direct measures to evaluate student learning across the institution, not simply in academic departments and select programs.’” To address this recommendation, President Spar is going to convene a Task Force on Institutional Assessment and Data Dissemination, to be chaired by Greg Brown. The members of The Task Force will be appointed in the upcoming weeks and will begin their work in the fall.
Four of the “suggestions” offered by the team are related to the College’s commitment to and understanding of diversity. According to President Spar, “The first of these suggestions is to charge a group of trustees, faculty, staff and students to create a ‘detailed, systematic plan for defining the objectives of, promoting, and sustaining diversity at Barnard.’” President Spar will create a Task Force on Diversity, to be chaired by Frances Sadler, a member of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Alumnae Association. Members will be appointed soon and will begin work when classes resume.
The visiting team reported favorably on the Task Force on Library and Learning Spaces Planning, and encouraged Barnard to “boldly envision information services in Barnard’s unique situation, moving beyond the usual activities of a Teaching and Learning Center.” Dean Lisa Norberg, the Task Force Leader, expects to have the framework of goals by May and to move forward with detailed plans in the fall.
“As to the strategic planning process now underway, the Board of Trustees spent its recent retreat in small groups and in plenary session discussing some of the challenges the College will face in the next decade and the opportunities that lie before us,” wrote President Spar. Acting Provost Paul Hertz and President Spar hosted a number of faculty and staff forums in the month of April and will continue with these forums. Dean Avis Hinkson and President Spar are working with the Student Government Association to allow students to engage in this process. In the fall, drafts of the preliminary strategic plan will be available for comment by everyone in the Barnard community.
At the end of her email, President Spar thanked the people who were involved in the Self-Study process, led by co-chairs Paul Hertz and Hillary Link. She went on to thank the students, faculty, and administrators and trustees on the Steering Committee and Working Groups, in addition to everyone who attended the meetings with the visiting team and “everyone who has contributed to building this vibrant and ambitious institution.”
Lindsay is a sophomore at Barnard and Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Nine Ways of Knowing.
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