This semester, students may find that their favorite professor is no longer teaching at Colorado Mesa University. New understanding and enforcement of guidelines set forth by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the agency that accredits thousands of colleges in the Midwest region, has left some CMU professors without the ability to continue teaching.
The HLC mandated that the minimum qualification for professors is to have a degree above the level at which they are teaching, and/or at least 18 graduate level credits in the discipline for which they are teaching.
Professors that did not meet the requirements were not cut from the faculty without warning. The 2016 academic year served as a grace period for the review of qualifications and to allow professors to pursue efforts to get themselves into compliance.
There are two methods that professors who do not currently meet the HLC minimum qualifications can use to continue teaching at CMU. One of those methods involves making a case based upon experience.
“There are some rare cases where an institution can make the case for qualified faculty based on what the accrediting agency calls tested experience,” Cynthia Pemberton, vice president of academic affairs, said. “That typically applies to individuals who have a great deal of professional expertise over a long career.”
Making a case based upon experience typically applies to individuals teaching 100 or 200 level courses and generally involves the professional field. In such cases, professors have many years of professional experience and possess at least a bachelor’s degree.
“We do have some of those on campus, and I feel completely confident that we will be able to stand those cases up,” Pemberton said.
There have been some issues where individuals teaching part-time did not meet the minimum requirements and have not been re-employed by CMU. The majority of teaching faculty, however, currently meets the full requirements set forth by the HLC.
“In one hundred percent of the cases, individuals were invited to try to put together the materials to make a case for tested experience,” Pemberton said. “Frankly, some people were too new out of the field and couldn’t stand the case up.”
Professors that do not currently meet the requirements and lack the experience necessary to make the case for tested experience still have another avenue to continue teaching at CMU. If they put a plan in place for the graduate coursework that they will take to meet the standard, and the plan is overseen by the academic department head, with annual reports, they will be allowed to maintain employment.
“People had the opportunity to develop a plan and to move forward with that plan, or they had the opportunity to make a tested experience case,” Pemberton said. “So, really, there were options.”
CMU’s overall concern is educational quality and needs to maintain a strong position for the accrediting agency that proves that they are delivering that quality. One of those standards is faculty qualifications, which led Pemberton to review an excess of 600 full and part-time faculty members over the 2016 academic year.
“This is not just CMU,” Pemberton said. “All schools accredited by the HLC have to comply. So, it’s not just us.”
In addition to being committed to quality education, the university has loyalty to the staff. CMU has developed graduate certificate programs in rhetoric, math and social sciences. The programs are 18 credit hours in length and are specifically in place to help faculty.
While the university tried to keep all its staff, some individuals were not able to qualify for tested experience or didn’t have the ability to commit to a plan. Without the qualifications, though, the professors had to depart CMU.