A number of faculty and staff working for Connecticut State Colleges and Universities have voiced concerns that the Board of Regents’ contract proposals could threaten their schools’ continuing accreditation.
Dr. Theresa Marchant-Shapiro, an associate professor of political science at Southern Connecticut State University, who is also the co-manager for the university’s New England Commission of Higher Education accreditation, warned this week that the Board of Regents had deleted many provisions that she has used as evidence of meeting the standards for accreditation.
Marchant-Shapiro claims that the Board of Regents’ most recent contract proposals are at odds with the commission’s standards for faculty qualifications, as well as guidelines requiring faculty to have a voice in personnel issues, allowing for “adequate time for their duties,” assuring academic freedom and “support for scholarship.”
Marchant-Shapiro said that “it makes no sense that our board’s ideal contract would both threaten our accreditation and impede our ability to provide a quality education.”
Marchant-Shapiro told CT Examiner that these concerns are particularly important this year, when contract negotiations coincide with Southern’s re-accreditation, something that happens only once every ten year.
To be re-accredited, the university will need to prove that it meets all the guidelines set out by the accreditation body, said Marchant-Shapiro. The first step is to complete a self-report for the New England Commission of Higher Education
Marchant-Shapiro said in the self-report that much of the evidence demonstrating that the university is in compliance was still being negotiated.
The deadline for contract negotiations is May 1, after which the two sides enter arbitration. The self-report is due in July.
Marchant-Shapiro said that not having accreditation could affect every aspect of the university.
“No faculty member wants to teach at an institution that’s not accredited,” said Marchant-Shapiro. “Students who are wise, and their families that are wise, will never send their child to a non-accredited university, because the degree ends up being worthless.”
Faculty members also expressed concerns that the contract proposals could threaten accreditation of individual programs.
Lisa Lancor, chair of the computer science department at Southern University, said her program received accreditation from ABET, a national accrediting body that has accredited 383 engineering, science and computing programs nationwide, including those offered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“If these proposals go through, we can kiss our accreditation goodbye,” said Lancor.
Lancor told CT Examiner that the accreditation process from ABET was rigorous, and that it demanded that faculty make time to update curricula, advise students, maintain a technical advisory board, and conduct surveys with alumni to prove that the students are “lifelong learners.”
For example, Lancor said she spoke with insurance companies in Hartford who told her that they needed their software engineers to know blockchain in order to stay competitive.
“In response, this semester we have the only blockchain development course offered in all of Connecticut,” said Lancor. “And it’s filled to capacity.”
Lancor said the workforce partnerships and curriculum updates were only possible because of a sideletter in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that allowed computer science faculty a lighter course load. The current proposals, she said, would eliminate all sideletters.
She said she was also concerned that cuts to professional development and research would take away the program’s ability to retain qualified faculty. Computer science, she said, is already an extremely competitive field.
“There are plenty of programs that would love to hire my colleagues away,” said Lancor.
Dr. Cherie King, chair of the Counselor Education and Family Therapy graduate program at Central Connecticut State University, said the contract proposals weren’t at all compatible with the particular needs of the counseling programs.
Two of the programs in her department, the Clinical Professional Counseling Program and the School Counseling Specialization, are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a body that accredits 870 programs nationwide.
King told CT Examiner that the Board of Regents’ proposed increased course load, from four classes per semester to five, was particularly problematic for her program because counseling heavily relies on fieldwork that faculty members have to supervise.
King said having the accreditation was critical – some states won’t even license counselors who don’t come from a program with this accreditation.
“CACREP is the gold standard,” said King. “Without the accreditation, we’re kind of a second-tier university.”
The Board of Regents responds
Board of Regents Chair Matt Fleury said the board was “very, very serious” about getting the contract negotiations right. He said that in collective bargaining, parties often began at extremities in order to reach a middle ground.
“We don’t expect that where we are today is where we end,” said Fleury. “We will end up moving this to a place where, at the end of the day, we all feel like we are doing the right thing.”
Dr. Jane Gates, interim president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, added that the issue of accreditation had not come up during the negotiation process, even after several meetings.
“The CSU-AAUP has not raised any concerns related to risk to accreditation as a result of the proposal at the bargaining table,” said Dr. Gates “I urge the concerned members of the university … to be in contact with the CSU leadership about these matters.”
“We remain strongly committed to stewarding and protecting the American ideal of the university and the colleges as places where learning is transformed into dreams and opportunity,” Gates added.
Richard Balducci, chair of the board’s Finance and Infrastructure Committee, announced during the meeting that the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities were facing a revenue shortfall of $22 million below 2018 projections, bringing the systemwide deficit to $58 million.
Enrollment also declined 2.4 percent from the October projected levels — the system’s universities have lost 2,000 students and the colleges another 3,600.
Balducci said new federal funds received in December have allowed the system to provide $27 million for student financial assistance in the spring and $58 million to help with lost revenue.
$20 million remains available to replace revenues and offset costs for students.