Amy Young Gets to the Heart of USM's Accreditation Crisis
Amy Young, the president of the AAUP chapter at the University of Southern Mississippi, has written a hard-hitting guest editorial on the accreditation crisis.
Because the Hattiesburg American published the op-ed in today's paper but (rather unusually) has chosen not to run it in the online edition, I am going to reproduce the entire text here:
Thames Puts USM at Risk
Many faculty members have been asked and have already agreed to serve on committees whose purposes are to address the issues that have resulted in probation for USM by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). In effect, faculty members are being asked to engage in even more service activities. They agreed and will agree to be involved in SACS accreditation issues because of a deep commitment to USM, students, and higher education in Mississippi.
This type of service, the"diligent, active participation of faculty members," is essential to accreditation and success of the university. However, meaningful engagement in important service activities has not been recognized by the Thames Administration as valuable in awarding tenure, promotion, or merit raises. Thus, faculty members have to ask,"Should I work on those professional endeavors that are rewarded by Thames Administration (such as securing grants and contracts and 'buying' myself out of teaching), or should I work diligently to help USM constructively address the issues that have resulted in probation by SACS? If my choice is the latter, I risk denial of tenure and promotion or raises, or unsatisfactory annual reviews that may trigger a post-tenure review."
Most faculty members have been basically excluded from providing input into major decisions for the entire two and one-half years of the Thames Administration. They have had minuscule roles in formulating major goals for the university or in planning and implementing strategies to achieve goals. Faculty organizations such as AAUP USM and the Faculty Senate have been expressing concern for two and one-half years that faculty members have been excluded from meaningful roles in determining the priorities of our university. In this context, members of AAUP USM find it ironic that the Thames Administration is now urging faculty to help repair the probation wreckage and devote considerable time to the reaffirmation of accreditation process.
Why was USM placed on SACS probation? We believe it is because the Thames Administration failed to recognize that maintaining the accreditation of our university is one of the most important responsibilities an administration has. Simply put, the Thames Administration devoted its energies to other"priorities" such as reducing colleges from nine to five without faculty input, firing good deans who were knowledgeable about accreditation, and attempting to terminate dedicated tenured faculty. The misjudgments and failures of the Thames Administration have put USM in jeopardy. And then the Thames Administration has had the audacity to put a"spin" on its misjudgments and failures in order to deflect the blame to others.
Despite obstacles from the Thames Administration, faculty members recognize that resolving the accreditation issues must take precedence over other challenges currently facing USM. But as members of AAUP USM, we strongly disagree with the statement in the January 5 editorial in the Hattiesburg American that"how Thames manages the accreditation issue may well determine his future as president of Southern Miss." Rather, we believe how USM faculty rise to the challenge may well determine the character of our university for years to come. We also believe that the future of the Thames presidency should have already been determined by a two and one-half year track record of missteps and controversies. It will be unfortunate if the efforts of faculty members help to extend the Thames presidency. Based on a two and one-half year performance, real accountability standards by the Board of Trustees would have already returned Dr. Thames to his status as a successful scientist.
On Wednesday the Hattiesburg American ran a rather dismal editorial that could be netted out as:"The USM faculty are stuck with Shelby Thames. He may stink as a manager, but the professors must knuckle under to Thames and do all the work to save the university--or its collapse will be entirely their fault." If the American has decided not to put Amy Young's piece online because she criticizes that editorial--shame on it.
Anything else I could say would be superfluous. Stay tuned.
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Robert L. Campbell - 1/10/2005
I meant to say "the right buzzwords. Otherwise you might be wondering what sort of carrion-eater is circling over USM...
Robert L. Campbell - 1/10/2005
The Hattiesburg American has put its best reporter (Kevin Walters) on USM stories lately--and has made several Public Records Act requests. (I doubt that the Greenville News has ever made a FOIA-type request for Clemson university documents.) The American has also run several editorials strongly critical of Thames. But I think that fear of Thames' remaining political backers is still playing a role. A big test will be whether the American is willing to look further into USM's Economic Development program, which is extremely short on substance but uses all the right buzzords and sends all the right signals to the politically connected in Mississippi.
David T. Beito - 1/10/2005
It is really discouraging (but not surprising) to know that the newspapers can not be depended upon in a crisis for academic freedom like this.
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