Not a single student attended an open forum Tuesday in the 3M auditorium in Owens Science Hall to voice thoughts and concerns as part of the re-accreditation process for the university.
Two external reviewers from the Higher Learning Commission, Sandra Cassady, Health and Human Services dean at St. Ambrose University and William Mangan, vice president for Academic Affairs at Briar Cliff University, hosted the meeting but said the lack of attendance didn’t reflect poorly on St. Thomas.
“Sometimes it’s tough getting students to events anyway. I mean, even the fun events. I don’t think many students will look at an accreditation team coming in as a particularly fun event,” Mangan said, “The fact we don’t have students lined up outside the door to come in and vent about something that went on wrong here is probably a good indication.”
Mangan said so far, the HLC’s assessment of the university is positive.
“We found so many really strong elements to this university. I mean really strong. We’ve seen institutions that are in trouble. You’re not like that,” Mangan said.
Sophomore Angela Feyder was sitting outside the 3M auditorium doing homework during the forum and didn’t know the meeting was happening.
“I guess most people haven’t heard about it or most people don’t know what accreditation is and why it needs to happen,” Feyder said.
Cassady said she typically reviews three to four colleges per year and doesn’t recall hosting an open forum with an empty auditorium.
“I’m not sure that in my experiences (no students have showed up). I usually have a pretty good open forum,” Cassady said.
Mangan said the colleges he reviews don’t usually host an open forum.
“Generally, we don’t have a lot of open student forums. This is a rarity for me. Normally what the institutions will do is they’ll set up meetings with students, but they know who they are setting up to meet with,” Mangan said.
The review team is required to create a report with recommendations and critiques about the university to send to the Higher Learning Commission. Part of the review includes talking to students about their experience at St. Thomas. From arranging one-on-one discussions with students, small gatherings or an open forum, it is up to the university to decide the format for the review.
“For us, it’s just an opportunity to talk about what their experience at St. Thomas is like and why they came here and what’s the draw, what do they find most rewarding about the experience here,” Mangan said.
Throughout the week, Mangan and Cassady said they attended luncheons with both undergraduate and graduate St. Thomas students to get their perspectives for their report.
“The mission of the university and so much of the effort that goes on here is about serving students. So it’s just an important piece of evidence to collect and to hear it directly from the students,” Cassady said.
The review team’s next step is to put together a recommendation for the HLC. From there, the HLC will determine whether or not St. Thomas will be re-accredited and create suggestions for improvement at the university.
Stephanie Dodd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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