Standard 6.2.a Faculty Credentials

This is the third in a series focused on SACSCOC interpretations of the Principles of Accreditation.

More than 90% of institutions are found non-compliant with this standard after the off-site review, more than 20% after the on-site review, and it remains a problem for about 5% of institutions after review by the SACSCOC Board.

The faculty qualifications standard is uncomplicated at first glance, which may leave us to wonder why it is such a common problem area after the off-site review. As has become our custom, let’s first look at the standard as it is shown in the Principles of Accreditation.

6.2 For each of its educational programs, the institution
a. Justifies and documents the qualifications of its faculty members. (Faculty qualifications)

For the majority of faculty at the majority of institutions this is a straightforward process and follows one of two pathways at the undergraduate level:

  1. A master’s degree (or higher) in the teaching field.
  2. A master’s degree (or higher) in…anything with 18 or more graduate credit hours in the teaching field.

Imagine a faculty member with a Master of Science in biology who also has accumulated 18 graduate credit hours in English. They could be credentialed to teach in both disciplines, and yes, that is an extreme example, but it illustrates the second pathway nicely. So why is this standard a common problem? Well, imagine an institution with 500 faculty on the roster and a committee that finds one of the 500 to be insufficiently credentialed. That institution is found non-compliant with 6.2.a.

So, now it gets more complicated, especially for smaller institutions. Can a faculty member with a master’s in speech teach an undergraduate course in mass communications? Can a faculty member with a master’s in biology teach environmental science? What about a more specialized natural sciences degree, say a master’s in entomology? Could they teach human anatomy and physiology? Does a master’s degree in psychology qualify a faculty member to teach sociology? What about a faculty member with an associate degree in cybersecurity along with multiple high-level industry certifications in that field? Can they teach in a cybersecurity or computer information technology program? The answer to all of those questions is a resounding maybe. I know some tricks that can help, but once you get beyond the two clear pathways above, faculty credentialing is really in the eye of the beholder. Different beholders will have different perspectives and the buck generally stops with the Chief Academic Officer. The Resource Manual provides some good information and I have quoted a section of it for you.

“While academic credentials in most cases may well be the standard qualification for faculty members, other types of qualifications may prove to be appropriate. Examples could include appropriately related work experiences in the field, professional licensure and certifications related to the teaching assignment, honors and awards, continuing professional development, relevant peer-reviewed publications, and/or continuous documented excellence in teaching.”

An institution runs the risk of encountering a committee member who does not agree with the assessment of the Chief Academic Officer, who should be making the final decision regarding faculty credentialing. What happens then? An off-site review committee will indicate non-compliance and will identify the faculty member(s) and course(s) in question. The institution will then provide additional justification to credential the faculty member for the particular course or courses for review by the on-site committee. When an on-site committee does not find a compelling case for compliance among the additional documentation, they may ask for more during the site visit. When a committee just cannot find an appropriate credential for a faculty member, the institution has some options.

  1. Simply indicate that the faculty member will no longer teach the course. This MUST be accompanied by a faculty member with suitable credentials who will teach the course moving forward.
  2. Do nothing, knowing that there will be a recommendation from the committee for this standard, and make the case to credential the faculty member to the SACSCOC Board in the follow-up report. Remember that 5% of institutions have problems with this standard at this step in the process so some do take this option.
  3. If the course in question is not required to complete any program and is strictly an elective, the institution may be able to show evidence that the process to remove the course from the catalog is underway. Rather than “we won’t have this instructor teach this course anymore” the response is “we won’t teach this course anymore”.

While the December 2020 interpretation did not change any of the content above, it does clarify the semesters which should be included in the Compliance Certification and it defines an option to simplify the documentation through the Faculty From Prior Review Form. You can find the interpretation here, but there is really no need since the entirety of the interpretation is included in the Resource Manual in the “NOTES” section for this standard.

At Southeastern Accreditation Consultants, we’re ready to collaborate and support your accreditation efforts. From robust best-practices discussions to reviewing narratives to building your documentation, we offer individualized services to best meet your needs. Contact us to get started.

Published by Douglas A. Wymer

Throughout an academic career spanning nearly 20 years, Dr. Wymer participated in many site visits (both substantive change and reaffirmation visits) for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and he has been a visiting team member for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges with the Western Association of Colleges and Schools. In addition to serving as a team member, Dr. Wymer has served as a visiting committee chair for SACSCOC. After earning a B.S. in Biology (with a minor in Chemistry) from what was then Shorter College, an M.S. in Entomology from Clemson University, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from Tennessee Technological University, Dr. Wymer started a rewarding career in academia. He earned tenure and achieved the rank of Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences at The University of West Alabama and served in a number of administrative roles at UWA including Department Chair and Assistant Dean. He served as a Department Head at Pensacola State College and, after a year in that position, was promoted to Dean of Baccalaureate Studies and Academic Support. In 2016 he became the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Lake-Sumter State College, where he served for four years before launching Southeastern Accreditation Consultants.

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