Making the Most of Your Accreditation Site Visit…

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article offers excellent advice to faculty who are planning campus visits to conduct external program reviews (January 4th online).

On a larger scale, of course, professors often serve on site-visit teams that engage in comprehensive evaluations focused on accreditation of the college or university as a whole.  The stakes are higher here, so it’s crucial that faculty evaluators be at the top of their game.  The best way to do that is to heed the experts who encourage you to keep the following issues in mind:

—  The institution being evaluated will send you a hefty self-study prior to the visit, claiming that it covers “the good, the bad, and the ugly” with respect to the school’s functioning. 

You should read this document with the same degree of skepticism you would apply to self-descriptions on a dating website.  Not many prospects will describe themselves as having low intelligence, bad teeth, and nightmare-inducing acne.  Similarly, it’s the rare university self-study that will admit, “our President is a madman and we are a Goodyear blimp of grade inflation.”

—  There’s a good chance you’ll discover a disgruntled faculty member hiding in your hotel bathroom or under the bed when you arrive in town.  He or she will urgently desire to share with you terrifying accounts of the school’s many transgressions and injustices.  This could take several hours.  Listen carefully to what they have to say, lock them in a closet, and then call hotel security.  

—  Never trust a high-level male administrator wearing a bow tie…..unless he’s discussing wine. 

—  The most knowledgeable people at the institution will invariably be department secretaries.  They know where the bodies are buried, including the ones that are still alive and twitching.  At least 80% of your time should be spent interviewing them. 

—  You will chat with several small groups of bright, personable, enthusiastic students during your visit.  Please be aware that none of these individuals actually attend the institution.  They are all drama students from New York University who are employed part-time by the Rainbow Collective, a Manhattan-based agency that provides demographically balanced teams of drug-free young people for accreditation site visits.  

— Your team will have a “work room” on campus that contains a massive amount of hard-copy and electronic data on the institution that go back to the Code of Hammurabi.   The hard-copy materials will be in binders featuring more brightly colored reference tabs than you have ever seen in your life. 

None of this information will be useful to you.  However, to show your appreciation for all the hard work that went into compiling it, please scatter the documents around the room in a manner that suggests you’ve been reading them.

—  The work room will also contain a cornucopia of snacks and beverages for the visiting team, many of which will be of high quality.  Use a duffel bag to transport all of these treats back to your hotel room at the end of the day.  They will be replenished in the morning.  

—  The main reason for taking on the demanding task of an accreditation site visit is the food.  Typically, the team gathers for dinner every night at a local restaurant.  Go to the finest establishment you can find and pretend to be members of a debauched royal family.  Order a seven-course meal and throw wine glasses against the wall.  Request a suckling pig even if no one on the team eats pork.  Offer leftovers to the adjunct faculty members who are likely to be working as waitstaff.  

—  Most team chairpersons will want a draft of your section of the accreditation report before you leave campus at the end of the visit.  This will probably require you to pull a couple of all-nighters in order to meet the deadline.  It’s a little-known fact that chairpersons carry a large supply of amphetamines in their briefcase for precisely this purpose.  You are entitled to as many pills as you need to power through, but you must take the initiative to ask for them.  Don’t be shy.  

There you have it.  Now go forth and make your next accreditation site visit the best one ever!