Loh Addresses Accreditation Decision
Letter to Campus Cites Improvements, Expectation of Meeting Compliance Standards
University President Wallace D. Loh sent the following letter to the campus community on Sunday:
Dear University of Maryland community,
Last Friday, June 28, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) announced that it is placing UMD on "warning" that "its accreditation may be in jeopardy because of insufficient evidence that [UMD] is currently in compliance with Standard VII (Governance, Leadership, and Administration)." This Standard requires that UMD "operate as an academic institution with appropriate autonomy."
Therefore, MSCHE requested a monitoring report due March 1, 2020, demonstrating compliance with Standard VII, to be followed by a MSCHE team visit. MSCHE will provide us with further guidance to help us to meet its compliance expectations. Meanwhile, UMD remains fully accredited.
The chair of the University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents, the USM chancellor and I issued a joint statement on June 28 that we are "committed to working together to ensure that the governance structure clearly specifies the roles, responsibilities, and accountability of each constituency [i.e., Board, USM, campus] and that these are in full alignment with MSCHE Standard VII; moreover, that there is periodic assessment of the effectiveness of governance, leadership, and administration in accordance with Standard VII. Progress towards full compliance is already underway and will be completed by March 1, 2020."
I am writing to provide you with more context on this accreditation matter.
In spring 2019, MSCHE, as the accrediting body for UMD, sent a visiting team—comprised of educators from other universities, senior MSCHE officials, and led by the president of a peer institution—to our campus to gather information about the role of the Board, USM, and UMD in certain personnel decisions involving Maryland Athletics in October 2018.
There were questions at that time about who was involved in making personnel decisions that, according to MSCHE Standard VII, has to be made by campus officials so that an "academic institution" can function with "appropriate autonomy." The visiting team found that "there was insufficient evidence that the University is in compliance" with this accreditation standard. MSCHE accepted its visiting team's findings and placed UMD on "warning" status, one of several options at its disposal.
As a reminder, in spring 2017 MSCHE conducted its decennial accreditation review of UMD and the institution passed with flying colors. The MSCHE evaluation team consisted of senior faculty, staff, and administrators from universities around the country and MSCHE officials, chaired by the president emeritus of a peer institution. This team interviewed scores of people and concluded in its final report that UMD was in compliance with all accreditation standards. As to Standard VII, this 2017 report commended us for our campus' shared governance policies and practices, the clarity of decision-making roles, and the collegial working relationships. The visiting team in spring 2019 did not comment on our campus' governance, which could be interpreted as a reaffirmation of the 2017 MSCHE team's commendation.
It is important to note that regional accrediting organizations such as MSCHE, which are themselves accredited by the U.S. Department of Education and/or the private Council for Higher Education Accreditation, only have accrediting jurisdiction—and, hence, authority -- over a college or university, but not over a governing board, or a university system, or any other state entity.
A university must comply with accreditation standards in order not to lose federal and state funding. However, sometimes the standards, policies, and practices of a governing body, or a university system, or a university, or the laws and regulations of a state, might not be appropriately aligned with the accreditation requirements for a university. UMD is working collaboratively with all these parties, as well as with MSCHE, to ensure compliance with Standard VII.
Thus, UMD has reported to MSCHE the improved communication and shared governance between the Board, the USM office, and the University, that has restored the relationship of collegiality and trust that prevailed previously. UMD also reported the bills enacted by the General Assembly in its 2019 session. These new laws change the composition and practices of the Board, enabling its members to better carry out their fiduciary and oversight responsibilities, while respecting the "appropriate autonomy" of a university as required by MSCHE Standard VII.
This is why in the joint statement by the Board chair, the USM Chancellor, and I, we expressed confidence that—with the proffered and welcomed guidance by MSCHE -- we expect to be in compliance with Standard VII by March 1, 2020 when UMD's monitoring report to MSCHE is due.
For your information, the following documents are posted at the UMD Right Now website:
- Supplemental Information Report [by UMD for MSCHE], 4 pages, February 2019.
- (On page 1, there is a link to the MSCHE Evaluation Team's Report on UMD, 29 pages, April 2017.)
- MSCHE Visiting Team's Report, 10 pages, April 2019.
- UMD's Response to MSCHE Visiting Team's Report, 2 pages, April 2019.
- MSCHE decision letter, 2 pages, June 2019.
Wallace D. Loh