SACSCOC institutions recently received an email indicating that there will be a vote in December 2023 on proposed changes to The Principles of Accreditation. Approximately a year ago these proposed changes were circulated to the membership and included changes to the principles and changes to the Resource Manual. This more recent communication only included changes to the Principles and advised institutions that changes to the Resource Manual don’t go to a vote.
One theme of these proposed changes seems to be a focus on strengthening the language about shared governance in the standards. As a former faculty member, department head, dean, and VPAA, I have good thoughts about this. The proposed change to 4.2.b (Board/Administrative distinction) may require institutions to modify the policy required by SACSCOC for this standard. This theme is further exhibited by a proposed cross linkage between 6.2.c (Program coordination) and 10.4 (Academic governance). Were I in a position to do so, I would suggest an expansion of the guidance for 10.4, specifically for the first part of the standard focused on the authority of faculty in academic and governance matters. There is yet another shared governance change in the Resource Manual for 6.4 (Academic freedom).
A second theme is focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), which is a hot topic in higher education even beyond my home state of Florida. This proposed change comes in the form of modification to the DEI Position Statement. Among the proposed changes is an expanded list of DEI activities that could be of benefit to institutions. However, there is a change that seems to be oddly worded. Consider this sentence that is proposed to be added to the Position Statement.
“Consistent with its commitment to diversity, SACSCOC acknowledges and accepts that different schools’ institutional missions can affect their respective understandings of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Without additional information regarding expectations of this DEI context within the institutional mission, institutions will be left wondering how much DEI in the institutional mission is enough? I expect that the membership will get interpretations of the impacted standards that will provide guidance to institutions and review committees if these changes are approved, but I believe those interpretations should be part of the package that the membership votes on in December.
I know this is running long, but stay with me for one more paragraph. The last change that is linked to the position statement is not a change to the statement at all, but a change to the Resource Manual. There is an existing DEI context to 8.1 (Student achievement) that, in my opinion, does not go far enough. I advocate for disaggregation of all student achievement data in 8.1, not just the completion measure. That; however, is beside the point. The proposed change to the DEI Position Statement is to add a column to Appendix A of the Resource Manual that will be used to introduce a DEI context to 2.1 (Institutional mission) and 7.1 (Institutional planning) in addition to 8.1. These two standards influence all of the others and I would argue that a change such as this represents a change to the standards themselves. Does your institution’s mission statement include DEI? Does it go far enough? Does your institution’s ongoing, comprehensive, and integrated research-based planning and evaluation process include DEI? Is it enough? I suggest that more information is needed about what the expectations will be for 2.1 and 7.1 before this change is put to a vote.