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Advocacy around proposed changes to the NWCCU Standards for Accreditation

Some of you may be following the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) accreditation standards revision process. They published a First Draft of the revised accreditation standards in which the standards overall have been pared down considerably. The library community is concerned that in the revised draft, the library is only mentioned in relation to collections, and information literacy is only mentioned as one of several examples of potential core competencies set at the institution level. We want to make sure that information literacy instruction and a requirement to employ qualified personnel remain in the standards. We are also concerned about the removal of any language about Academic Freedom, a critical element of intellectual freedom in higher education. The current NWCCU Standards are available for comparison.

The ACRL-Oregon Board has shared our concerns and suggestions with NWCCU. You can read our letter here and also at the bottom of this post. Please feel free to share it with others and you are welcome to use our suggestions in your own advocacy.

Nearly this exact same thing happened in New England several years ago with the NEASC accreditation standards and librarians had to mount a significant advocacy campaign to keep information literacy and libraries in the standards. Here are a few ways that you can help support library presence and values in the revised standards.

  1. Ask your institution’s Accreditation Liaison Officer (ALO) to advocate for libraries and academic freedom. The ALO is the individual at your college or university who is responsible for working with NWCCU on accreditation. It’s often a Provost or Vice President of Academic Affairs, but the institution can designate who they wish. Advocacy from an ALO will be very influential. Please feel free to share our letter with your ALO.
  2. Comment on the current draft. There is a form you can use to provide feedback or you can send your comments to standards@nwccu.org.
  3. Spread the word! Get others — librarians, non-librarians, and organizations that have an interest in this — involved in advocacy. Librarians are not the only ones who should be concerned by these proposed changes.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best wishes,

Meredith Farkas
ACRL-Oregon President

______________________________________

Dear Drs. Huftalin and Powell and members of the NWCCU Bylaws, Standards, and Policies Committee:

The Association of College and Research Libraries, Oregon Chapter (ACRL-Oregon) Board is pleased to provide feedback on the current draft of NWCCU’s Accreditation Standards. Accreditation standards provide critical guidance to colleges and universities about what a successful institution should provide to students. Library resources, services, and personnel are critical components of institutional quality. By evaluating academic libraries merely on the adequacy of their information resources, NWCCU sends a message that libraries’ instructional work in support of student and faculty information literacy is not critical to maintaining a high quality institution of higher education.

We assert that collections, information resources, and information literacy instruction require the expertise of library and information professionals for both instruction and resource development and management. It is because of the dedicated work and teaching of qualified library faculty and staff that academic libraries are at the heart of their campuses. Librarians are frequent information literacy teaching partners with disciplinary faculty and are often embedded in courses, curricula, and campus initiatives. Library instruction is not only critical to improving student information literacy and mitigating achievement gaps, but also helps institutions maximize the value of those collections in which they’ve invested.

ACRL-Oregon suggests the following addition to section 2G, focused on Library and Information Resources:

2.G.2 Consistent with its mission, programs, services, and characteristics, the institution employs sufficient appropriately qualified library and information resources personnel to provide information literacy instruction in support of institutional student learning outcomes.

If standards around library instruction are softened, we will very likely see a decline in institutional support for these services. The removal of any mention of qualified library personnel or library instruction from the Standards could have a tremendously negative impact on library staffing and student information literacy.

We also believe that librarians should continue to serve on NWCCU accreditation review teams. Librarians are best positioned to evaluate the adequacy of library resources, personnel, and instruction, and also often have a unique birds-eye view of academic curricula as a consequence of their support of college or university disciplines.

The ACRL-Oregon Board is also deeply concerned about the proposed removal of the entire section of the current standards focused on academic freedom. Academic freedom is a bedrock principle for higher education. This principle is under attack on many fronts in the U.S today. The removal of any reference to academic freedom in the NWCCU accreditation standards removes an important and vital defense of this core principle. As such, ACRL-OR suggests the following addition to the draft standards:

2.B.5 Within the context of its mission, the institution defines and actively promotes an environment that supports academic freedom in the pursuit, dissemination, and teaching of knowledge. The institution adopts and adheres to policies and procedures that affirm the freedom of faculty, staff, administrators, and students to share their scholarship and reasoned conclusions with others, and protects its constituencies from inappropriate internal and external influences, pressures, and harassment.

Thank you for considering our suggestions.

Sincerely,

The Association of College and Research Libraries, Oregon Board

Meredith Farkas, ACRL-Oregon President, Portland Community College
Candise Branum, ACRL-Oregon Vice-President, Oregon College of Oriental Medicine
Steve Silver, ACRL-Oregon Past-President, Northwest Christian University
Angie Beiriger, Reed College
Kim Olson-Charles, Concordia University
Arlene Weible, State Library of Oregon
Rick Ball, Klamath Community College
Christopher Mansayon, Western Oregon University
Patrick Wohlmut, Linfield College
Katherine Donaldson, University of Oregon
Sarah Rowland, Eastern Oregon University
Janet Tapper, University of Western States
Aja Bettencourt-McCarthy, Oregon Institute of Technology

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