Author: Damian Mendieta
Members of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation team will visit Occidental from Feb. 8-10 for the third and final stage of the accreditation process that began in 2009.
The last evaluation, which took place in 2000, cited Occidental as “a strong and vibrant institution,” but said components of Occidental’s core curriculum, faculty governance system and budgetary policies required further attention.
The visiting WASC group will review the college’s improvements since the last evaluation and submit a report to the WASC commission for a vote, the results of which should be available by early summer, according to Dean of Academic Affairs Jorge Gonzalez.
Due to the 2000 WASC recommendations, the college implemented major changes, including a large transition in senior administration. Gonzalez, Dean of Students Barbara Avery and President Jonathan Veitch are all resulting new hires.
The core curriculum also underwent many changes as a result of the 2001 evaluation process, focusing on the restructuring of the Cultural Studies Programs (CSPs). The current core program was ratified in the spring of 2006.
According to Gonzalez, the college has perfected the budgetary processes in order to prevent budget deficits, such as the ones referenced in the 2000 Special Visit WASC Report.
Since the arrival of President Veitch, Occidental has improved fundraising efforts and financial
statements have not run deficits over the last two to three
“Ten years ago the financial health of our institute was a big question mark,” Gonzalez said. “We keep an eye on the budgets to make sure that we are fiscally conservative.”
Additionally, the college has instituted annual departmental reports as well as departmental reviews every seven years, according to Gonzalez. The program review process assures that every department regularly assesses the effectiveness of student outcomes.
This cycle of the accreditation process began in August of 2008 when the college submitted its Institutional Proposal for Accreditation, articulating the changes they had instituted in response to the last evaluation.
“We ensure to them that we’re providing quality education,” Gonzalez said. “We guarantee that our programs are sustainable over time.”
Following the college’s proposal submission, WASC sent a team to visit Occidental for the Capacity and Preparatory Review. During the 2009-2010 academic year, WASC reviewed the resources, faculty and overall ability the college had to support its proposal.
The college intends to focus on three topics in this year’s evaluation: the undergraduate research program, the core curriculum and the Program Review Process.
“Obviously, they can ask questions about what they want, but we want to focus on these three things,” Gonzalez said.
A negative WASC review would prove harmful for the college. According to Dean Gonzalez, WASC would identify areas that need work and return in three years to review the changes.
“The academic reputation of the college would suffer,” Gonzalez said. “We take the recommendation very seriously.”
Regardless, Gonzalez looks forward to the upcoming peer review evaluation by the WASC team.
“For colleges this is a great way to see to how you’re fulfilling your mission,” Gonzalez said. “We’re professors. We’re always looking for things to improve.”
During the site visit, WASC will be meeting with faculty, senior administrators and students in order to receive feedback on all aspects of the college. WASC has expressed a special interest in hearing student comments, specifically on issues of rigor and consistency, student support services and other matters of educational quality.
An open meeting for all students has been scheduled for Feb. 9 at 1:00 p.m. in Weingart 117. The WASC team has also set up a confidential email for student to give feedback if they are unable to attend the meeting, email@example.com.
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