Broach the topic of accreditation with any senior administrator and you'll be met with a groan, a grimace, and possibly a complaint of sudden heartburn.
Raise the same issue with a member of the board, and you may receive a blank stare in return.
Most anyone associated with higher education knows minimally that accreditation is an external validation of internal effectiveness. But the extent to which a board should be concerned about this process is variable and at times controversial.
The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation released a joint statement this week about the roles that boards should play in accreditation. Why is it notable that these two, relatively obscure organizations issued such a statement?
Accreditation is certainly not without critics, even at the highest levels of government. In an opinion piece earlier this year, U.S. secretary of education Margaret Spellings suggested that accrediting agencies are often "insular, clubby and accountable to no one but themselves." It is notable, therefore, that an accreditation advocacy group voluntarily joined forces with a board development organization to seek more accountability and effectiveness.
The joint statement explains:
At its heart, accreditation is a process through which an institution holds itself accountable to the academic community and the larger public. . . . Thus, as stewards of an institution, and in conjunction with the president, administration, faculty, students, and staff, governing boards are obligated to ensure mission achievement as part of their fundamental fiduciary responsibility.
The statement is commendable because it asks governing boards to pay attention to, and take increased responsibility for, the success of the accreditation process. But even more, accreditation at its best is about institutional learning and organizational improvement, which speak to the core vision and values of In Trust. Only through cultivating awareness about our institutions, their contexts, and the people who comprise them can we improve our seminaries for the sake of the churches and cultures they serve.