Six months until SACSCOC’s on-site visit: Championing Auburn’s commitment to highly-qualified faculty

Published: September 27, 2022

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Auburn University has completed the first phase of the reaffirmation process for its accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-Commission on Colleges, or SACSCOC. In early November, an off-site committee will review Auburn’s Compliance Certification Report, or CCR, and send feedback. Auburn will then have until Jan. 16 to submit responses to their questions in anticipation of the on-site review committee’s visit Feb. 28-March 2, 2023.

Six months out from SACSCOC’s on-site visit, we are highlighting Standard 6.2.a, which focuses on faculty qualifications. If you were asked to track down a transcript or an updated resume in the last few months–you aren’t alone. Our office collected and reviewed over 1,900 transcripts and resumes to help showcase the outstanding qualifications of our faculty. Below is a little more insight into why.

Working with Auburn’s faculty in their roles as instructors, researchers, mentors and colleagues, it’s easy to see that in each of our colleges and departments our faculty are highly qualified to teach and lead courses that ensure student learning and success. Unfortunately, for accreditation purposes, the lived experience of working with Auburn’s faculty isn’t part of the equation. It’s all about documentation.

Every five years, SACSCOC requires that member institutions submit a faculty roster that includes every faculty member, every course they taught in a specific “snapshot” year and evidence of the specific academic or professional credentials that qualify them to teach each of those classes. To put this into more concrete context, Auburn University employs over 1,443 full-time faculty which accounts for more than 80% of Auburn’s total faculty. Building a roster with every instructor and every course taught in fall 2021 and spring 2022 means collecting information about a huge number of individuals and an even bigger number of courses.

Alignment between the instructor’s highest degree earned and the specific discipline of the courses they are teaching is the easiest way for SACSCOC reviewers to determine that faculty are qualified. In other words, if you have a doctorate in philosophy and teach courses with the PHIL prefix, you’re the most likely to get a quick nod of approval from SACSCOC reviewers. With approximately 92% of Auburn’s full-time professorial and other instructional faculty holding the terminal degree (usually a doctorate) in their discipline, our team had a head start in the documentation game.

However, many faculty have directly related experience beyond their academic degree that makes them qualified to teach courses in a specific related or sub-discipline. In these instances, Auburn can use alternative ways to demonstrate faculty qualifications. This includes professional experience in the field, licensure and certifications, scholarly publications, honors and awards or other demonstrated competencies that contribute to effective teaching and student learning outcomes. In fact, several programmatic accrediting agencies even recommend the hiring of field practitioners in addition to those with academic credentials as part of a well-rounded department. For example, disciplines like building science, journalism, music performance and public finance highly value experience as a practitioner outside their academic degrees.

To go back to Auburn’s roster for the 2021-22 academic year, explicitly linking the rich and broad experiences of Auburn’s faculty to the specific courses they teach sometimes required a line-by-line examination of a transcript or CV. No connection could be taken for granted; the roster has to be prepared with the expectation that reviewers will have little or no knowledge of any given discipline. In some cases, we even worked with the faculty member to help craft an explanation of the relationship between particular seemingly “niche” disciplines. (Here’s looking at you, Tribology.)

Given this level of course-by-course scrutiny and the sheer number of faculty and courses included on such a roster, it is easy to see why this is the number one most cited standard in an initial review from SACSCOC. In fact, if even one faculty member is flagged due to a question about their qualifications for a specific course, the institution will be marked as non-compliant on this standard.

Our team worked hard to put together a strong, detailed roster that will minimize the number of follow-up questions during the on-site review, but we could not accomplish that alone. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to HR liaisons, deans, associate deans and department head and chairs who helped us ensure that we represented faculty qualifications accurately. It truly takes collaboration across all levels of the university to champion Auburn’s outstanding faculty.

This cycle’s faculty qualifications work isn’t over. We will likely need to follow up with some faculty once we receive initial feedback in November. However, our team has already begun exploring ways to make this process more efficient and effective for the fifth-year interim report in 2027. Our hope is that a formalized process for regularly documenting faculty qualifications will make it easier to share that documentation with both institutional and programmatic accreditors when required. For now, though, we await feedback from the off-site review in November and look forward to hosting SACSCOC on campus in February 2023.

For more information about the accreditation process, visit our website.

Submitted by: Mark DeGoti