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Northern Arizona University got a “needs improvement” score on communication between senior administration, staff, faculty and students on its latest 10-year accreditation report from the Higher Learning Commission.

HLC judges universities on five criteria: mission and integrity; preparing for the future; student learning and effective teaching; acquisition, discovery and application of knowledge; and engagement and service. NAU missed the mark slightly in the last category.

HLC renewed NAU’s accreditation for the next 10 years but is requiring the university to file an interim report documenting how the university is making improvements in communication among the administration, staff, faculty and students and provide evidence of the changes. The university has until May 31, 2019 to submit the report. HLC’s report also praises NAU for cultural and community events, the positive attitude of administrators, staff, faculty and students, the quality of its education programs and the sense of pride at the university.

NAU President Rita Cheng said in an emailed statement, “As demonstrated by NAU’s full accreditation through Open Pathways, no significant concerns were raised during the review.”

HLC’s Open Pathways requires universities to meet certain criteria. Universities must have been accredited for at least 10 years. The university must not have undergone a change of control or structure within the last two years. The university must have been in good standing with the HLC for at least the last five years. And the university “has not raised significant commission concerns about circumstances or developments at the institution.”

Wrote Cheng: “As with every reaccreditation process the review provides suggestions for continuous improvement. Every organization should be looking at ways they can improve their product and service. We value the recommendations provided by the HLC – providing better information on what currently exists as well as opportunities for improvements. We are currently exploring options that will allow us to enhance current communication strategies to achieve the suggested improvements.”

The HLC report points directly to a conflict between the administration, staff, faculty and students over NAU’s new multi-year curriculum enrollment program and centralized classroom scheduling program over the summer. Both students and professors have expressed concern over how inflexible the new classroom and curriculum scheduling programs are.

“Another example of the areas for improvement in shared governance, and the communication that is so necessary to the process, was the twin problems of centralized classroom scheduling and multi-term scheduling,” the report states. “Where the communication broke down was on the perceived amount of input allowed from these two important constituent groups (staff and faculty) of the university community. Both groups believe they had expertise that would assist in getting these two missions accomplished in a positive way, but did not believe they were being adequately used to help.”

“While the policies and structures for shared governance do exist at NAU, based on issues identified in the Student Survey and Third Party Comments, the team examined the culture of shared governance on the NAU campus and believes that improvements are necessary,” the HLC report states. “Faculty do not believe they are being provided adequate voice in decisions that affect them and staff members indicated a frustration with trying to do too much too quickly.”

A similar complaint of a lack of communication on the multi-year curriculum enrollment program and centralized classroom scheduling program was filed by NAU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors with the university’s Faculty Senate Grievance Committee in January.

That complaint states that the NAU administration did not adequately consult the faculty at the school when it implemented a multi-year curriculum enrollment program and centralized classroom scheduling program over the summer.

It also claims that three classes and a program designed to teach students community organizing skills were cut without faculty input because they were “controversial.”

The AAUP-NAU also takes issue with NAU President Rita Cheng’s appointment of a provost without a national search and the lack of faculty involvement in the search process to fill the Frances B. McAllister Endowed Chair in Community, Culture and Environment.

A hearing with the Faculty Senate Grievance Committee has been set for March 30.

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The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.

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Education/Business Reporter

Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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