WASC Revisions Postponed in response to UCEP, Senate Concerns
The University Committee on Educational Policy (UCEP) has asked the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), UC’s accrediting agency, to accept UC’s peer-based program review process as an alternative to a controversial rubric-based review designed by the Lumina Foundation.
At a public hearing on November 3, 2011, WASC’s Higher Education Commission aired several proposed changes to its accreditation process. Some of the changes responded to comments and criticisms from WASC accredited institutions. Improvements include streamlining the required documentation and the duration and organization of site visits during the accreditation process. Others were intended to add transparency to the accreditation process in response to concerns voiced by the federal government and the public over problems at some for-profit institutions of higher learning.
When the proposed revisions were first made public late last summer, UCEP viewed most as positive; however, it was alarmed by an effort to measure all bachelor's degree programs using a fixed set of vaguely-defined competencies. The Commission considered a requirement that all undergraduate programs be evaluated using external validation and it proposed piloting the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) advocated by the Lumina Foundation. UCEP was concerned that the change would weaken faculty control over the curriculum and shift the evaluation of degree programs away from peer review toward external review via a formulaic process.
The Senate’s response was swift and forceful: the Academic Council asked President Yudof to communicate UC’s concerns to the Commission, requesting that it reject the proposed external review procedure. The President did so. A similar request was made to Chancellor White (UCR), who is a member of the Commission. At about the same time, Stanford and Caltech expressed similar concerns in strongly worded letters to WASC.
In November and December, UCEP and the Coordinating Committee on Graduate Affairs (CCGA) met with Commission President Ralph Wolff to discuss the proposal. UCEP drafted a white paper showing that rubric-based evaluation of degree quality is far less rigorous than an approach based on peer review. UCEP also produced an alternative proposal and requested that WASC recognize that UC’s existing program review process satisfies WASC’s accreditation standards and ensures educational quality. It also provided the Commission with outlines of campus program review polices that serve WASC’s stated goals and provide external validation of degree quality. These documents were endorsed by CCGA and adopted by Council in December.
UCEP Chair Jose Wudka says UCEP does not disagree with the need for an external evaluation of UC’s programs. “Indeed, we have been doing it for years, devoting an enormous amount of time, effort and resources toward this effort,” he said. “UCEP simply believes that the UC review process is superior to the one being considered by WASC. The purpose of the documents we submitted was dual: first, to educate the Commission on the quality and reliability of our existing program review process, and second, to request that it be used in the accreditation reviews. We hope that the Commission will not adopt the DQP for institutions that have created a rigorous peer-reviewed process for the examination of programs.”
Academic Senate Chair Robert Anderson says that UCEP’s involvement in WASC’s handbook revision is a very positive example of Senate influence. “The movement for measuring outcomes has had adverse consequences at the K-12 level such as forcing K-12 teachers to teach to the test and neglect types of learning and subject areas that are not measured,” he said. “It is imperative that we avoid those kinds of consequences in higher education. The Senate believes that the current system of periodic departmental reviews ensures that the quality of education provided to UC undergraduates and graduates is state-of–the-art. We want to guarantee that faculty-led reviews, coupled with reviews by external subject-matter experts, remain the basis for how we evaluate program quality. WASC should recognize that this is valid measurement which is at least as valuable as, and is arguably superior to, the recommendations from the Lumina Foundation.”
Chair Wudka says that UCEP and CCGA will continue to work with the Commission to ensure that only changes aimed at enhancing the quality of education and transparency in the evaluation process are implemented. ¦