Students encouraged to help in university review

Accreditation is not really a hot topic at student parties, and it doesn’t make very compelling water-cooler chatter. But to PSU’s leaders, the self-study and outside review are welcome tools for redefining the university’s identity.


The review coincides several other processes that will steer Portland State’s future and image, including the new 12-year plan for development and President Bernstine’s marketing survey with a open voting system for the community to pick new images and associations for PSU. 


To qualify for federal financial aid, U.S. universities must become accredited by an independent regional association. As part of the current re-accreditation process, which happens once every 10 years, PSU has reviewed its programs, services and facilities and submitted a self-report to the commission. Reviewers from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities will visit next week to determine whether or not PSU is living up to minimum standards.


University leaders value the review not so much to reconfirm accreditation status, which is unlikely to be in danger, but rather to see the university through the fresh eyes of the out-of-state visitors.


“You do self-studies to find out more about yourself,” said Terrell Rhodes, vice provost for curriculum and undergraduate studies. “Why would you only want to do this every 10 years?”


Rhodes has served as a visiting reviewer to other schools in the northwest and is the liaison to the accreditation team.


“This gives every institution a chance to hear comments from a set of outside eyes. Hopefully, in the best of all worlds, they will have suggestions for us to improve,” Rhodes said.


The reviewers submit their compliments and recommendations directly to the NWCCU, which will forward the comments to Portland State administrators in January. At that time, the university may choose to publicize the comments, with the stipulation that suggestions must be published if compliments are.


According to Rhodes, PSU has already made a name for itself by making the process exceptionally open.


In many schools, “only a handful of people get involved,” he said.


Portland State officials not only publicized the process to faculty and staff experts, they put the self-study on the university webpage for easy public access, and invited the community to send comments to the NWCCU. The comments from the last accreditation team’s visit are available in Millar Library.


“Most institutions do their self-study and don’t even share it all across campus,” Rhodes said. “We’re the first in the Northwest [to publish the self-study online] and we pushed to be allowed to do it.”


Of course, an institution’s self study and review group’s comments can all be obtained by request because they are public documents.


Letting the community seek out the information isn’t consistent with the university’s reputation, Rhodes said. “One of the things we are known for is civic engagement. This is one more way to encourage that.”


To get public documents, “you have to know what’s going on, and you have to make a request,” he said.


“We just said, ‘that’s kind of stupid.’ Again, [the accreditation process] is not a top priority for most people. But we don’t want this to be something that goes on the shelf. We want people to talk about it and contribute to it.”


Students may meet with accreditation team chair Jane Nichols on Monday, Oct. 24 from 4 ?” 5 p.m. in Smith 294.