We sat down with Michael Gordin, Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, Professor of History, and Director, Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, and Elizabeth Colagiuri, Deputy Dean of the College and Princeton University’s Accreditation Liaison Officer to learn more about the upcoming Middle States re-accreditation process and how the campus community will be engaged this fall.
Professor Gordin: Why does Princeton University need to be reaccredited?
In principle, a random group of people could just declare that it is opening a university and do whatever it wants, but in practice, that is likely to be a disaster. There would be no way for outsiders to evaluate quality, or even to ascertain whether minimum standards to protect students were being met. To prevent such abuses, the U.S. Department of Education uses the reaccreditation process as a periodic mechanism to determine that institutions of higher education are doing their jobs properly. This applies to Princeton University no less than any other school that cares about these standards. And, of course, unaccredited institutions are not eligible to receive federal student aid, which is an important source of support for our undergraduate and graduate students. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education conducts these periodic reviews for Princeton as well as other schools in our geographic region.
Dean Colagiuri: How often does the Middle States Commission require that the University is reaccredited? Who is involved?
Princeton was last re-accredited in 2014. Professor Gordin and I are co-chairing the process this cycle, which takes about three years from start to finish. We have formed a steering committee and charged various working groups to examine major institutional priorities and the extent to which the University is meeting the standards and requirements for Middle States. In all, approximately 65 faculty, staff, and students will serve on these groups.
The following professors and administrators comprise our Working Group Co-Chairs:
Craig B. Arnold, Vice Dean for Innovation, Office of the Dean for Research and Susan Dod Brown Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Michael Avanti Lopez Associate Director of Administrative Planning, Office of the Executive Vice President; Anne W. Caswell-Klein, Dean, First College; Mona C. Fixdal, Senior Associate Director for Blended and Online Learning Design, McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning; Agustín Fuentes, Professor of Anthropology; Rebekah Peeples, Associate Dean for Curriculum and Assessment, Office of the Dean of the College; Stacey A. Sinclair, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs and Head of Mathey College; Katherine A. Stanton, Associate Dean of the College and Director, McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning.
Dean Colagiuri: What will the University focus on this cycle?
The reaccreditation process provides an opportunity for us to examine three critical priorities set forth in the University’s strategic planning framework, which was developed through extensive, campus-wide consultation and work starting in 2014. Those are:
- To ensure that students from all social, economic, and academic backgrounds are thriving in the curriculum.
- To expand the undergraduate student body to add 500 more undergraduates.
- To respond to technology’s impact on research and education.
Professor Gordin: How does the University benefit from the process?
The reaccreditation process gives us an opportunity to look under the hood of the University, so to speak, and see what has changed in the last ten years — what we have accomplished, how our practices have evolved, and where we can continue to improve. We believe that looking deeply into these three areas will not only enable us to directly address the seven evaluative criteria MSCHE prioritizes, but it will also provide the entire University community with an invaluable exploration of some of the most important changes taking place on campus right now. By drawing so widely from the faculty, students, and staff, we expect to learn a great deal and communicate those findings to the campus. And, as noted earlier, reaccreditation is essential for the University to continue to lead in higher education and to preserve our excellent relationship with the federal government.
Dean Colagiuri: How can the campus community get involved?
The best way to get involved this fall is to attend the Town Hall with our Middle States Vice President for Institutional Field Relations, Dr. Anne Wahl, on Tuesday, October 4. We have scheduled a Zoom session with Dr. Wahl from 12:00 -12:45 p.m. All members of the campus community may join the meeting using this link (https://princeton.zoom.us/j/93877454347.)
You can also read more about the reaccreditation process and the Middle States Commission on our website. We welcome comments and questions from the campus community throughout the process.