(For Part 1, click here.)
In her June 29th column in Newsday, “Nassau Community, task force must address college’s failings,” Joye Brown wrote the following in response to the full-time faculty’s call for an outside Middle States consultant:
And even at this late date, some believe NCC should seek an outside consultant to help put the college back on track.
But the responsibility, and the work, ultimately rests with NCC’s administrators and faculty.
As for outside consultants, isn’t Middle States enough?
They’ve offered, in detail, what the college needs to do. And another outsider, Farmingdale State College President W. Hubert Keen, is slated to bring his experience and expertise when he takes the helm at NCC on Aug, 1.
The work needs to begin before he gets there, however.
Brown is right in two important, if obvious, respects. First, the ultimate responsibility for persuading Middle States to remove NCC’s probationary status rests solely with the college’s administration and faculty, and, second, she is correct that we are all hoping Dr. Keen’s experience and expertise—his leadership, in other words—will make the difference we need him to make as we work to get our probationary status removed. Brown is wrong, however, in characterizing Middle States as “an outside consultant,” and she is especially wrong in implying that Middle States would, or even could, or perhaps already has played the role of a consultant.
When a Middle States team visits a campus, the team is charged not with finding ways to help that institution achieve compliance with accreditation standards, but with measuring whether or not the institution does in fact comply. In other words, Middle States is a gatekeeper, which means the relationship between it and any institution it evaluates is, if not precisely adversarial, then certainly oppositional. More to the point, the oppositional nature of that relationship continues—one might even assume that it is strengthened—when an institution fails to comply with accreditation standards, especially when that failure is as egregious as ours. The agency, of course, has an obligation to explain why an institution fails and to define clearly the criteria the institution must meet to remedy that failure; but even if the agency makes itself available to answer questions or to comment on the institution’s work as it progresses, Middle States is very explicitly neither the institution’s ally nor its advocate in that process.
Middle States spokesman Richard Pokrass, quoted in Newsday, made that quite clear when he said that the hiring of Dr. Keen “would have an impact only if the new president can get the institution to take the steps necessary to return to compliance with the commission’s accreditation standards. The commission does not deal with speculation, only results….” Middle States’ role, in other words, is evaluative, nothing more and nothing less. To lose sight of that role as the context for the agency’s relationship with us, as Brown seems to have done, is fundamentally to misunderstand both what it means to be accredited and the gravity of the situation in which Nassau Community College now finds itself.
Brown is right about one other thing, however. Time is short. We need to get to work as soon as possible and we all have to be willing to get our hands dirty in the process. The faculty is more than ready to join in. Some of us already sit on the administration’s task force, which will meet for the first time on Thursday, demonstrating that we don’t think we should do nothing until a consultant is hired. Moreover, because we knew at the outset that the very important initial stages of the task force’s work would take place over the summer, when faculty are not on campus, the NCCFT formed a volunteer Ad Hoc Middle States Committee, led by Dr. Evelyn Deluty, chair of the Academic Senate. This committee is charged with figuring out, in the months before we all return to campus in September, how best to muster and manage faculty contributions to what the task force needs to accomplish. There are faculty members on our campus with 20, 30, even 40 years of experience, which means they have been through at least one, if not two or more Middle States reviews. Some of them have served on previous self-study committees and have been involved in responding successfully to Middle States actions requiring change before the agency would reaffirm our accreditation. The NCCFT informed the administration about the ad hoc committee in April. We are still waiting for a response. (ETA: Here’s a link to the announcement we made about the committee after our meeting with the administration.)
So, yes, the faculty is ready to get to work. What we are not ready to do is waste our time, which is what we are afraid will happen if the people whose failed self-study got us into this mess are the ones left in charge of getting us out of it. This is not personal. Indeed, we cannot imagine any large institution confronting a failure as serious as ours by putting in charge of fixing things the team that oversaw the original failure, especially without giving that team the benefit of a disinterested expert’s opinion. We recognize that the administration and Board of Trustees see things differently, but they have not told us why. In the absence of any convincing argument to the contrary, therefore, we continue to believe that not bringing in an outside expert perpetuates a status quo that no one who cares about Nassau Community College should be willing to risk. We simply cannot afford to get it wrong this time. Where is the harm, then, in asking for help?