The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) last visited Nassau Community College for an on-site accreditation review in 2004. At that time, the Commission called us in its report “a [national] leader among community colleges,” holding NCC up as a model for what a community college ought to be. After its most recent review of our campus, completed earlier this year, the Commission’s findings were alarmingly different. We failed 7 of the 14 accreditation standards, results that have led Middle States to put us on probation, an action with potentially devastating consequences for the college and its students. To avoid those consequences, we must demonstrate, to the Commission’s satisfaction and within the timeframe the Commission has set, that the probation ought to be removed. To do that, we need to abide by the requirements laid out in Middle States’ June 24th “Action Letter” and then demonstrate we have done so in a “monitoring report,” which is due November 1, 2016. Time, in other words, is short.
NCC’s administration has established a task force charged with accomplishing this urgent and daunting task. However, because the task force will be led by the same people who managed the college throughout our fall from the high point we occupied in 2004, the college’s elected faculty leadership has called for the hiring of an independent Middles States consultant to guide us as we address Middle States’ concerns. Dr. Evelyn Deluty, chair of the Academic Senate, made her case in an email to the faculty dated June 28, and Professor Richard Newman, NCCFT Secretary, did the same when he was interviewed by a reporter for Channel 12 news. In addition, Dr. Kimberley Reiser, president of Nassau Community College’s advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors, made the call for a consultant to the reporter who first covered this story for Newsday.
To make this call is not—as Joye Brown suggested in her recent Newsday column—to engage in “bickering and gamesmanship.” Nor is it to question the knowledge, skill, qualifications, or commitment to NCC’s ultimate success of the people on the administration’s task force, some of whom are members of the faculty. Rather, it is to propose, simply, that a fresh pair of expert eyes is what the college needs as we reassess what we do and how we do it in order to respond successfully to our probationary status. Indeed, a clear-eyed look at what Middle States has asked Nassau Community College to do, and what the consequences could be if we fail (again), makes the case for an outside expert even more compelling.
The monitoring report we must submit has to document “evidence that [Nassau Community College] has achieved and can sustain ongoing compliance with Standards 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 14.” If we are unable to do that, according to “Accreditation Actions,” a Middle States policy document, the Commission could issue a “Show Cause,” which would require us “to demonstrate why [our] accreditation should not be withdrawn.” Were we to fail that demonstration, the Commission would most likely, as it did for Dowling College earlier this week, remove our accreditation. We are confident, of course, in NCC’s ultimate ability to have our probationary status removed without things ever having to go as far as a “Show Cause” action; and we are hopeful that our new president, Dr. W. Hubert Keen, will be able to lead us through that process efficiently and effectively. Still, precisely because the stakes are so exceedingly high, we have to ask whether it can be in anyone’s best interests, but especially that of our students, to have members of the administration whose own self-study could not demonstrate compliance with Standards 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7—standards that fall squarely within the purview of administrative responsibility*—be the ones in charge of designing and implementing the college’s response to its Middle Staes probation.
To put this another way, when our students fail, we encourage them to get extra help—from us, yes, but also, and more importantly, from people with specific expertise who can help them understand not only what they did wrong, but also how and why they were wrong, so they don’t make the same mistakes again. To help them make sure, in other words, that they do not simply repeat the status quo. The best of our students—not in terms of grades, but in their commitment to learning—don’t wait for our encouragement. They seek those experts out on their own. The college administration knows this, and so we have to wonder why they are not eagerly asking for input from someone whose job it would be to help us turn the status quo around, enabling us to prove yet again that Nassau Community College is, truly, “the gem of Nassau County” and still deserves to be called “a leader among community colleges.”
Hiring an outside consultant would require action by the college’s Board of Trustees, whose final meeting of the year took place on June 22nd. Surely, though, being put on probation by Middle States qualifies as a serious enough matter that they should be willing to meet again. They are, after all, the stewards of this institution, and if ever a situation required their stewardship, it would seem to be this one. We therefore call on the Board to hold, as soon as possible, a special meeting to discuss hiring an outside Middle States consultant. If we all agree that we cannot afford to fail in removing NCC’s probationary status, then we should all also agree on the wisdom of at least considering any and all measures that would increase the likelihood of our success.
* These standards are described in Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education: Requirements of Affiliation and Standards for Accreditation, a MSCHE publication. The specific administrative standards in question for Nassau Community College are:
- Standard 2: Planning, Resource Allocation, and Institutional Renewal
- Standard 3: Institutional Resources
- Standard 4: Leadership and Governance
- Standard 5: Administration
- Standard 6: Integrity
- Standard 7: Institutional Assessment