Based upon what we were told at homecoming, the Academy administration is relying upon the wrong date for meeting the requirements of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. At homecoming, Superintendent Helis briefed the alumni and stated that the Academy had two years from the date of the publication of the accreditation warning (which was officially issued on June 23, 2016). Unfortunately for all concerned, this is a misreading of the requirement.
The June 23, 2016 public disclosure summarizing the Accreditation Team report specifically states that by March 1, 2017, the Academy must submit a monitoring report “documenting evidence that the institution has achieved and can sustain compliance with Requirement of Affiliation 7 and Standards 2. 3, 4, 5, and 9 . . .” (Emphasis added.) Following that deadline,
the Commission will conduct a small team visit to assess the institution’s compliance with the Commission’s standards. Following the on-site visit, a report by the visiting team will be completed. The monitoring report, the small team report and the institutional response to the small team report will be considered by the Committee on Follow-Up Activities, and then by the Commission. Following review by the Committee on Follow-up Activities, the Commission will take further action, in accordance with the Commission’s policy, Accreditation Actions.
Helis acknowledged the above language but stated that the MSCHE’s policy actually allowed for two years. This is not correct. The MSCHE policy, which follows the dictates of federal law (34 C.F.R. § 602.20(a)(2)(iii)), is that it can allow a period not to exceed two years; but, it is not required to give two years and in the case of the Academy, it elected to give only until March 1, 2017.
This is a very serious situation. The administration needs to make an immediate commitment to meeting the March 1, 2017 deadline. It needs to create a realistic action plan and designate a team dedicated to nothing but implementing and completing the entire action plan by March 1, 2017. If the administration takes that type of strong action and falls a little bit short, no doubt MSCHE will be willing to give additional time to complete the plan. (This is especially true for those aspects of the accreditation warning that require Congress to take action.) But, if the administration continues believing that it has until June 23, 2018 and has not taken strong measures to meet the March 1, 2017 deadline, then the Academy’s accreditation status is in very serious jeopardy.
As I noted in my last post, a big part of meeting the MSCHE requirements is improving the climate of trust and respect between the administration, faculty and students. That may be the biggest hurdle the Academy faces. Trust between the students and the administration is worse than I can ever recall (including following the unfair removal of Admiral Greene as the Superintendent). The confidential emails and comments through the tip line that I am getting from midshipmen reveal that the student body as a whole has absolutely no confidence in the current administration.
A big step towards restoring trust would be far greater transparency with respect to accreditation and the sea year
stand down cancellation. The Academy could start by putting up a page on its website dedicated to the steps it is taking to meet the MSCHE deadline and identifying the team it has put in place. Public information, such as the Request For Quotation for a company to study the Academy culture, should be published there as a matter of course. The Department of Transportation’s choice of the winner of that RFQ should also be announced there. In addition to meeting with representatives of each class in undocumented meetings, the Academy and DOT should put every communication about the expectations it has with respect to the RFQ on that web page.
The Academy should also have a separate page devoted to the sea year
stand down cancellation. We know (from Helis’ report at homecoming) that the Academy is tracking, on at least a weekly basis, the sea time status of all Sea-Splits (the nickname I’ve coined for this year’s A-Splits and B-Splits) and its assessment as to whether they will be able to graduate. (If I understood Helis’ explanation correctly, as of homecoming there were 24 Sea-Splits who were not going to have the time they require to graduate [but that the administration was evaluating how to get them that time during holiday breaks, etc.]), All of this type of information should be public and promptly updated (if for no other reason than so that people like me don’t have to rely upon their memories to report what was said). The number of midshipmen assigned to various platforms (Navy, MSC, Reserve Fleet, state ships) should also be published and kept current. Finally, the administration should begin to project an estimated time for restoration of sea year. It knows that the culture study will take 60 days after it is awarded. When does it anticipate the award being made? When will the notice to proceed be issued? When will the study be completed? (Helis informed the regiment earlier this week not to expect the study before December.) What does the administration anticipate will happen when the culture study is completed? Further, according to Helis, an update on the study will be given by the successful bidder 30 days after the notice to proceed. That should also be made public. Transparency is key to beginning to restore trust.
And speaking of restoring trust, how about releasing the actual DMDC SAGR report that the Academy received rather than the version that the Academy produced and gave to Congress?