Consultant-evaluators to recommend reaccreditation

by Karen Burbach, UNMC public affairs | January 11, 2007

Self-study report
In preparation for the visit, UNMC released its 227-page self-study report, titled "Building a World-Renowned Health Science Center." The report, which identifies UNMC's compliance with the criteria in separate self-study chapters, is available online at www.unmc.edu/nca.

The report is a window into UNMC's academic offerings, as well as how its research, clinical and outreach activities impact higher education. It also outlines UNMC's strengths, challenges and opportunities in fulfilling its mission. A final chapter documents UNMC's distance education programs and seeks authority to expand them.

Although the formal decision by the Higher Learning Commission becomes available later this year, the visiting team will recommend 10 years of reaccreditation and that UNMC's request to expand distance education degree and degree completion programs be approved.

That was the exit report Wednesday of the seven-members of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, who were on campus this week to assess UNMC's reaccreditation status.

The seven member group -- selected from a pool of about 2,300 consultant-evaluators -- spent the past 2 ½ days on campus looking at facilities and meeting with faculty, staff and students to determine if UNMC, as an institution, is in compliance with the HLC's accreditation criteria. The group, which finished their visit Wednesday at noon, gave UNMC's collegial atmosphere and strong leadership rave reviews.

"Every institution has a unique flavor," said Lynn Walker, Dr.PH, chairman of the consultant-evaluators team and assistant to academic dean, registrar, education consortium liaison director, Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. "We knew we'd find an institution that had quality, and we've certainly verified that."

The status of UNMC's reaccreditation, which will be judged on five new criteria and 21 "core components," will be formalized later this summer. Generally, the criteria involve UNMC's mission and integrity in carrying out its mission; its focus on the future; its student learning and effective teaching; its research enterprise; and its community service.

During an open forum Tuesday, the consultant-evaluators told faculty and staff they were impressed with the level of collegiality on campus. "It reflects good leadership and the fact that people's opinions are valued," said William R. Hendee, Ph.D., dean emeritus, graduate school of biomedical sciences and president emeritus, MCW Research Foundation, Medical College of Wisconsin.

Sustaining that collegial nature will be increasingly important in the future, Dr. Hendee said, as demands for clinical services, productivity in research and educational obligations collide with diminished funds. "This level of collegiality is a great asset that you have," he said. "The challenge is to sustain that during increased tensions."

Another challenge, the team said, will be in providing educational opportunities off campus, which make students, who receive their education online, feel part of the university.

"(Distance) students I've interviewed have expressed incredible pride in being from UNMC and in speaking about their education," said Lisa Spellman of UNMC Public Affairs, who was among the nearly 100 people who attended the employee forum. "It was very telling even though they received their education remotely."

Bob Bell, vice president for community and business development for UNeMed, UNMC's technology transfer company, said he was "amazed to see an organization that runs itself like a business" when he joined UNMC. "It was an astounding awakening," he said, to see UNMC leaders seek input, develop strategic plans, hold individuals accountable for goals, measure progress and publicize results.

Faculty and staff from the various colleges praised UNMC for its development opportunities, attention to the needs of underserved and minority populations and ability to work collegially across departments. Sixteen people offered comments highlighting UNMC's strengths. On Monday, students gave glowing comments about the education and training they've received at UNMC.

"We're working hard to be world-class in many areas," said Sandy Goetzinger-Comer, director of UNMC Public Affairs. "The top leadership has been good at articulating that vision."

John Niemann, Ed.D., of the University of Nebraska Foundation credited the strength of the faculty and the campus leadership for UNMC's philanthropic success, which has directly led to new buildings for education and research and enhanced academic and clinical programs.

"You certainly have a very impressive campus," Dr. Walker said, noting the construction projects visible at each end of campus. "We found the leadership to be exceptional on this campus."

During Tuesday's open forum, which was broadcast to UNMC divisions in Scottsbluff, Kearney and Lincoln, a Scottsbluff faculty member said she was thankful for the 500-mile campus and the educational opportunities it presents to rural students.

Joyce Black, Ph.D., associate professor in the UNMC College of Nursing, praised UNMC's technology support services for helping her "adapt" her classroom-style teaching to students online, noting differences in how information is delivered. "The course got rave reviews so I think I did OK," she said.

Consultant-evaluator Steven Ludwig, vice president for administrative affairs, St. Cloud State University, was impressed by the dedication of the librarians and technology support service staff who assist online students by providing on-line resources and technical support.

"The students were exceedingly complimentary to their faculty for being so supportive to them in their early clinical experience," said Victoria M. Flemming, Ph.D., director of education and faculty development in the Department of Medicine at Northwestern University. The service-learning component, thus, is on their mind, she said.

Tom O'Connor of UNMC Public Affairs thanked the team for studying reams of information about UNMC, before saying, "it's really a privilege to work at this place."

The consultant-evaluators noted the value they derived from their visit. "It's a very enlightening experience," Dr. Hendee said. "We learn so much from you and different ways of thinking and doing things that we bring back to our own institutions."

Dr. Flemming agreed. "If we could bottle some of this 'can do' spirit that's your ticket," she said. "It's really impressed me and other members of the team."