Peer evaluators to review campus for accreditation renewal

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UC Berkeley has just completed an extensive self-study as part of the process to renew its institutional accreditation.

A team of peer evaluators, organized by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, a nonprofit that evaluates and accredits degree-granting universities in California, Hawaii, Guam and the Pacific Basin, will assess the campus’ self-study report at the end of October.

WASC allows institutions to reaffirm their accreditation every seven to 10 years, said Richard Winn, executive director of WASC’s Senior College and University Commission branch. UC Berkeley last reaffirmed its accreditation in 2004.

For the past year, the WASC Steering Committee — a group of UC Berkeley faculty, administrators, graduate students and other campus affiliates — has been writing the self-study and compiling data to be submitted to WASC, said Cynthia Schrager, assistant vice provost of teaching, learning, academic planning and facilities in an email.

“(The self-study) was one of the hardest writing assignments that I’ve ever had,” said Mark Stacey, a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering and member of the Steering Committee. “You’re asked to write 100 pages describing ‘What is Berkeley?’ ”

In October’s off-site review, the peer-evaluation team will identify “lines of inquiry” that will be followed up a year later at an on-site review in fall 2014.

This lag time allows an institution time to follow up on any issues identified by the evaluative team, Winn said. The commission only takes action if standards are not met after the on-site review.

According to Schrager, in previous accreditation cycles, the university has made some shifts in response to WASC feedback.

“Since our last accreditation cycle, all of our undergraduate programs have identified undergraduate student learning goals and made them publicly available,” Schrager said in an email.

While UC Berkeley was assembling the self-study, WASC was assembling a group of peer evaluators uniquely suited to address UC Berkeley’s case.

The president of the University of Michigan will be chairing the team evaluating UC Berkeley. Chairs must be respected senior leaders at peer institutions and be able to understand the culture, records and history of the institution in question, Winn said. In order to preserve objectivity, he added, WASC stipulates that a UC president may not chair a team evaluating a University of California campus.

According to Winn, the accreditation process is not intended to be punitive but instead is meant to strengthen institutions as a whole. By completing a self-study, he said, a university identifies areas it is proud of as well as areas that could use more attention.

Schools can derive value from the outside scrutiny of peer evaluators, who then make recommendations that will go on to benefit the university, Winn said.

Christine Tyler covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected].