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Higher Learning Commission team concludes focused visit with exit interview

March 4, 2008 -- The Higher Learning Commission evaluation team who conducted a Focused Visit at Arkansas State University Monday and Tuesday, March 3-4, concluded its visit with an exit interview at 11 a.m. today. Present at the interview were Chancellor Robert L. Potts, Dr. Dan Howard, vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research, Dr. Lynita Cooksey, interim dean, University College and associate vice chancellor for academic services, Dr. Rick Stripling, vice chancellor for Student Affairs,  Dr. Glen Jones, senior associate vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research, Ed Kremers, associate vice chancellor for Finance and Administration and the two Higher Learning Commission (HLC) evaluation team members, Dr. Bill Knight of Bowling Green State University, Ohio, and Dr. C. David Moon, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. Dr. Potts welcomed the team to the exit interview.

Under Higher Learning Commission procedure, the team presented a verbal report based on notes. No written documentation was presented at this meeting, and no questions were invited. Dr. Bill Knight noted that these remarks were not the final report, but rather a verbal sharing of drafts of the assurance reports and advancement reports to be issued to ASU by the Higher Learning Commission. Action in response to this visit will culminate with written reports in two to three months.

Dr. Knight thanked Potts, the Executive Council, and ASU System President Dr. Les Wyatt, and commented that the student representatives the team had met with were outstanding. Knight remarked that with such students, ASU’s future looked very bright. Knight added that he felt that everyone the team had met with understood the process of evaluation during the focused visit.

Assurance Report

Dr. Knight’s verbal report on the evaluation’s assurance section focused on strategic planning and shared governance. The 2003 visit had noted that ASU had no operational strategic plan, had failed to update the 1996 strategic plan, had viewed the vision of the administration as not well communicated, citing the top-down fashion of leadership. The 2008 team cited evidence showing that adequate progress in those areas of strategic planning had been made. The 2008 team felt that evidence was comprehensive and conclusive, based on discussions on strategic planning with 150 constituents throughout the university.

The team determined that constituents they interviewed were systematically informed by the university environment, and that key regional stakeholders also were aware of strategic planning and had contributed input to strengthen planning. The team also cited empirical evidence, amassed by ASU’s Office of Institutional Research, that also demonstrated progress in this area.

That empirical evidence included detailed action plans set up in each division or college, which clearly related goals and activities to resource management. Various offices, like the Office of Diversity, were praised for cross-functional collaboration, and the chancellor and other administrators were seen to discuss strategic planning frequently. This evidence ultimately led the team to conclude that all ASU constituents are more informed about strategic planning and are able to show planning documentation to prove that planning is more wide-spread and more inclusive. After assessing evaluation, planning, allocation, use and efficacy of institutional planning materials, the team verbally reported that it appears that ASU will sustain the strategic planning process. Furthermore, at all levels of assessment, the team concluded that strategic planning is systematic, not merely episodic. In ASU’s identification of emerging issues, and relating those issues to existing resources, the team found evidence that no more followup was required, and that sanctions will not be imposed.

In the area of shared governance, the previous HLC evaluation team had discovered that confusion about the meaning of shared governance existed at ASU. This year’s evaluation team sought to see if the confusion had abated or had been amended.

As evidence of progress, Knight cited the Faculty Senate’s approval of the 2007 Faculty Handbook, with subsequent approval of the ASU Board of Trustees. The team determined that a “reasonable level of acceptance” of the Faculty Handbook exists, despite continuing disagreements. Further, the team noted a faculty self-study, showing areas of concern for faculty (admissions, academic progress, intellectual property rights, and others), indicates a high degree of confidence in the efficacy of shared governance, despite the complexity of shared governance. Knight noted that the spirit and intent of shared governance was visible, and that an existing climate of trust could be nurtured longterm, despite some unresolved issues. No sanctions and no Higher Learning Commission followup were recommended on the shared governance process.

Advancement Report

In the report on advancement, the 2008 evaluation team observed significant progress in strategic planning and shared governance at ASU, finding that strategic planning is taken seriously and is guiding resource management well. Finally, the team was complimentary of the treatment they received during the visit, the attendance and positive interaction they had with the various constituencies on campus, and the documentation provided by the university prior to and during the focused visit.

Dr. Dan Howard, vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research, said, “This report indicates that we have made significant progress since the last Higher Learning Commission visit. I am grateful for those students, faculty, and staff that have put so much effort in making ASU a better place for learning and teaching. The Higher Learning Commission team was very complimentary of the improvement in the planning and communications processes. We expect the team will make suggestions on how we can continue to improve.”



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