Disaster averted: Kean University keeps accreditation
By Brian Konchalski
After 18 months filled with a protest, uncertainty and doubt, Kean University announced on Nov. 16 that its accreditation has been reaffirmed by The Middle States Commission on Higher Education during a meeting of the Commission on Nov. 15.
This decision comes as no surprise after a Visiting Team in September delivered, in a closed door meeting, good news for the Kean community. They found that the university was now in compliance with all 14 of Middle States’ accreditation standards. The Commission voted unanimously for reaffirming Kean’s accreditation.
“This is welcome and wonderful news for our students….alumni, benefactors, faculty, and staff,” said the President of Kean, Dr. Dawood Farahi. “This has been a long and thorough process. Kean University has emerged from it as a stronger institution, more determined than ever to deliver a world-class education to our students.”
The ruling also means that the university is no longer on probation with the Commission. Kean will have to submit a Periodic Review Report in 2017. The university will conduct its next self-study in 2022.
The Periodic Review Report, which is a lesser study on the school’s progress addressing the concerns of the last Visiting Team, goes through a review process similar to the self-study. After the review of the report, the Commission can take the same actions as it does following the review of a self-study, and includes reaffirming, warning or on probation.
“The University’s accreditation was reaffirmed for a period of five years, not ten,” stated Richard Pokrass, the Director of Public Relations for the Commission. “I don’t fault anyone at Kean for thinking of their reaffirmation as a ten-year accreditation, because that is a common mistake among our institutions.”
In addition, the ruling states that Kean must submit a monitoring report detailing the progress in areas such as academic and institutional evaluation by March 2014.
“Monitoring reports are not unusual,” said Pokrass. “They are becoming increasingly common when the Commission reaffirms an institution’s accreditation.”
Accreditation is important for any institution of higher education because it gives the degrees the institution hands out to graduates validity. It also allows those graduates to be able to go onto higher degrees, such as a Masters degree or a Doctorate.
While most are relieved that the school is out of trouble with Middle States, some are concerned about the Commission’s ruling.
“The decision by Middle States to lift ‘probation’ is good news for Kean University students, faculty and staff in the short run,” said James Castiglione, President of the Kean Federation of Teachers, the university’s full-time teacher’s union. “To pass Standard 6…after it was proven that President Farahi’s resumes contained numerous false academic credentials, is a political achievement.”
The university’s woes initially started after being warned by the Commission that its accreditation could be in jeopardy after the Commission found a lack of evidence, in the university’s self-study, that Kean was complying with two of the Commission’s 14 standards.
Tensions reached a high point in February, after a controversial Board of Trustees decision to keep Farahi as president of the university, when it was discovered that there were factual errors on his resume. The day after the decision, a few hundred students protested the decision.
In April, when an initial Visiting Team, which is a group of peers certified by the Commission from other higher education institutions, came to Kean to collect evidence and data that the university is complying with the two standards, 7, Institutional Assessment, and 14, Assessment of Student Learning, that it had initially failed to meet.
During this visit, instead of finding evidence that the school is meeting the two standards initially in question, the Visiting Team found evidence that Kean was non-compliant with an additional two standards, 6, Integrity, and 12, General Education.
No action was taken by the Commission until June, when the Commission received the exit report by the April Visiting Team. The Commission ruled that Kean was to go on probation.
In August, the Kean Faculty Senate, the governing body of the university, voted no-confidence in Farahi.
While the drama at Kean from the past 18 months has died down, questions are now being raised, by some, as to why the Commission ruled to reaffirm the university’s accreditation.
“In the eyes of many in the university community, issues of integrity, governance and institutional leadership have not been satisfactorily addressed,” Castiglione said.