The team sent by the regional accreditor of the University of Maine system highlighted the strengths of the system while expressing concerns about its reliance on external consultants.
After the multi-day comprehensive assessment, Chancellor Dannel Malloy said he felt the review team’s exit report marked a “clear endorsement” of one of his early initiatives when he was hired to run the state’s public university system.
As of 2020, the university system holds a single accreditation status, which means that each of the seven universities in the system no longer has individual accreditation. Unified accreditation was one of the first initiatives Malloy pursued when he became chancellor in 2019. It aimed to allow the seven universities to share more resources, faculty and services.
Accreditation is a voluntary process, but without it higher education institutions cannot receive federal funding for things like financial aid.
Earlier this week, a team of assessors from other New England higher education insights, representing the university system’s regional accreditor, the New England Higher Education Commission, descended on the university system to thoroughly examine how it met the group’s accreditation standards.
In his exit report Wednesday morning, evaluation team chair Ross Gittell, president of Bryant University in Rhode Island, highlighted what works in the system and what doesn’t. This last category included a lack of strategic vision and the reliance of the system on external consultants to help develop this new vision.
Since the rollout of Unified Accreditation, the initiative has been criticized by faculty members who said the model removed decision-making autonomy from campuses and the system precipitated change, leaving the impression that it was a way to reduce faculty.
This Accreditation Team visit is a critical step in ensuring the University of Maine system retains its first national system-level accreditation, as opposed to individual accreditation for each campus, which the seven universities in the system maintained for decades before.
In his remarks Wednesday, Gittell said the system has strong financial backing and the University of Maine’s recent ascension to R1 research status are key factors in the system’s overall success. The evaluation team expressed concern that the university system had not had a central strategic plan and vision in place for almost two decades.
“Without a strategic, well-communicated and supported plan, and without clear identification of key goals, primaries, and metrics and specific plans and timelines to achieve the goals, it is difficult for the University of Maine system to move forward. in a unified way,” says Gittell.
The system had developed a strategic plan before Malloy was hired as chancellor. As part of his hiring, a key initiative presented by the board, to which Malloy is responding, developing and implementing a new one. The system hired Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group to help develop it.
Between 2011 and April 2022, the university system paid Huron at least $1.46 million for its consulting services, according to information the system provided to the BDN following a public records request.
The evaluation team noted that reliance on Huron and other consultants is a concern, Gittell said. He also noted that faculty governance of the system still needs greater definition and clarity and that access to resources on each of the system’s campuses remains challenging.
Despite the concerns, Malloy said he was pleased with the visit and the exit report.
“There was an obvious appreciation for the work that was done and I think that’s a good direction for issues that need more attention,” Malloy said. “Quite frankly, they clearly understand the seriousness of the work that has been undertaken as a first in the national process. And that’s a clear endorsement of what we do.
The accreditors’ visit also follows a period in which Malloy’s leadership has been criticized after the university system’s failed search for a new president of the University of Maine at Augusta and the loss of 18 faculty at the University. University of Maine at Farmington due to cuts and early retirements. . Professors at three of the system’s universities cast votes of no confidence in Malloy last spring. As the system extended his contract for a year in July, the extension came with an explicit call for Malloy to restore confidence and improve his performance.
Now that the assessment team has completed its visit, it will work in the next few weeks to write its exit report and a confidential recommendation that it will deliver to the accreditation council which will ultimately decide on the status of the university system. In the coming months.
If the system allows the visit with continued unified accreditation status, the next full visit like this won’t happen for another decade.