By Brent Harker
The Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NWASC) notified BYU President Merrill J. Bateman recently that it has reaccredited the university for a 10-year term after conducting a detailed review of campus goals, programs, and reports.
In a letter dated June 25, the association congratulated BYU on receiving this continued recognition.
The NWASC Evaluation Committee, consisting of 19 persons from four of the six accreditation regions throughout the United States, based its review on BYU’s self-study and on its own investigation of the campus in March.
According to the committee’s report, “The level of candor . . . together with the level of institutional commitment to the self-study process was extraordinary in the judgment of several seasoned evaluators.”
The committee’s recommendations to BYU originated with the university’s own self-study, which represented a careful and exhaustive effort by 12 faculty members and seven administrative employees. That, in turn, was based on year-long self-analyses conducted by more than 110 university units.
“The thorough nature of our own process not only impressed the evaluators but also allowed us to work together in establishing what BYU’s needs are and how these can best be addressed,” says President Bateman. “Had our own Self-Study Committee not gone to so much effort, we would not have the pertinent and helpful recommendations we now have.”
The NWASC committee concluded that the university is accomplishing its mission and goals. Its full report is on reserve at BYU’s Lee Library.
“There are reliable data from a variety of sources which indicate that the university has experienced a significant measure of success in achieving its mission,” the committee said. “An impressive array of graduates who occupy leadership roles in the academy, the professions, and the government suggests that the university does well in achieving its intellectual mission. Analogous achievements in the LDS Church worldwide suggest . . . success in pursuing its religious mission as well.”
The committee noted that faculty, staff, administrators, and students “have an uncommonly pervasive and informal understanding of and dedication to the institution’s clearly articulated dual mission of excellence and service to the principles of the Church. This understanding and dedication is evident throughout the curriculum and is reflected in the service and guidance provided for students, the extracurricular activities, and the experiences outside the classroom, even to those beyond the campus. The mission is, indeed, an accurate portrayal of the very fabric of the institution.”
The team also commended the university for “numerous strong academic programs which enable students and faculty to pursue the mission and aims.”
In addition to its commendations, the committee suggested that BYU do better at measuring the degree to which it accomplishes its mission and goals, both quantitatively and qualitatively. It recommended a university wide assessment program to measure outcomes and said the university must develop a written policy that makes clear how the results of its assessment activities will influence its ongoing planning and evaluation activities.
Partly in response to these recommendations, President Bateman announced on June 14 the appointments of Ned C. Hill as assistant to the president for planning and budget and Robert Webb as director of planning. Their assignments will include the assessment program.
Evaluators commended BYU for the professional manner in which it handles its fiscal affairs. “BYU is a strong and fiscally stable institution,” they said. Committee members also complimented the university for the high quality of its buildings and beauty of its grounds, along with the effective and efficient support service provided by Physical Facilities.
Planning for the new library addition received high marks from the committee. It commended BYU for its forward-looking stance and for extensive institution-wide consultation. The evaluators pointed out “distinctly high morale” and an “unusual degree of service” as impressive aspects of the Harold B. Lee Library.
While commending BYU for the attention it gives to writing in its general education requirements and for creating the Freshman Academy, committee members recommended that the university reduce its dependence on very large sections of general education classes. They also said the university should better recognize the important contributions made by faculty members who teach general education courses.
Regarding academic freedom, the committee found that BYU’s policies are consistent with the principles outlined in the Accreditation Handbook of the Commission on Colleges. It did note, however, that there is a perception among some faculty members that the university restricts academic freedom. This, along with a perceived lack of upward mobility for the staff, has in the committee’s observation affected employee morale.
Yet the committee noted that the handbook “is quite precise in stating that institutions with missions similar to BYU’s are allowed to specify conditions upon the exercise of academic freedom if these conditions are expressed candidly.” BYU’s academic freedom document fills that requirement, the evaluators said.
Committee members said they were impressed by men’s and women’s intercollegiate athletic programs.
During winter semester, 320 student-athletes from a pool of 525 earned a 3.2 GPA or better, they noted, and BYU is one of only five “high profile” institutions nationally that have not had a major violation of NCAA rules. The committee suggested a master plan for upgrading athletic facilities.
Among the evaluation committee’s other recommendations and comments were the following:
Some effort should be made to define and standardize the elements of institutional databases. Members of the visiting team had difficulty obtaining individualized data that matched the institutional data supplied with the self-study. Several databases are being used, and there is no standardized way to use the information. Student counts vary from one office to another.
BYU’s leadership should take immediate steps to ensure that all academic units follow the Commission on Colleges’ standards for continuing evaluation of faculty. The team found unevenness across campus in the implementation of important institutional policies including annual reviews of faculty.
The evaluators commended the university for recognizing problems with its administrative structure. “There is an over-abundance of administrative layers, confusion between staff and line functions, and a thick lattice of administrative arrangements that obscure core administrative systems,” the committee wrote. It recommended that university leaders give high priority to the self-study’s recommendations on administrative structure.
Committee members encouraged BYU to develop and implement a master plan for the introduction, integration, and use of educational technology for all campus-based units and those served at remote sites.
Evaluators recommended that BYU make substantial efforts to involve students in the formation of institutional policies.