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December 7, 2006

Gallaudet Accrediting Decision Put Off

From: Washington Post - United States - Dec 7, 2006

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 7, 2006; B04

A decision on Gallaudet University's accreditation has been postponed, with an oversight group expressing serious concerns about recent developments at the school for the deaf.

The university is still accredited while the decision is delayed.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education asked for additional information, and it plans to visit the school, in Northeast Washington, next month.

According to a statement from the commission, it is taking the action because of "institutional statements and press reports that have raised serious public concerns," a 2005 federal report "that deemed Gallaudet University 'ineffective' in certain areas," limited attention from the university to matters to be reported to Middle States, limited university response on information the commission requested last month and "failure to inform the Commission in a timely manner of matters affecting the institution such as the Federal report."

It is another challenge for the school, which is in the midst of major leadership changes after a tumultuous autumn. The longtime president will step down at the end of the month, and the Board of Trustees plans to choose an interim president this week to take over in January.

This fall, the campus was consumed by protests over the incoming president, whose appointment was terminated by the trustees in October.

Yesterday, administrators met to talk about the issues. Janet Pray, who co-chaired the committee that developed the report for Middle States this summer, said they did not include information about the federal report in their most recent submission because the Office of Management and Budget agreed to do another assessment. Gallaudet expects the "ineffective" rating to be changed.

The commission asked for evidence of the academic rigor of the degrees, a long-term plan, a list of procedures for ensuring that issues affecting the school are disclosed fully and promptly, and an enrollment plan that includes how to attract and keep students and ensure they graduate.

Pray said officials need more information about what's needed. She noted that the school wrote about enrollment issues, with a plan, in a substantial 10-year report in 2001. So officials didn't discuss those issues again in their report to Middle States in June.

Accreditation is a voluntary process meant to ensure that schools meet certain standards; a loss of accreditation signals problems.

The commission questioned whether Gallaudet is in compliance with standards on integrity, leadership, mission, admissions, retention, educational offerings and assessments.

"We have a strong foundation," Pray said. "As with other challenges, we're up to meeting them. Not to say it won't be a rough road, but when you fight difficult challenges . . . you come out stronger in the end."

Yesterday, the three finalists for interim president were announced. Two are professors at Gallaudet: Stephen Weiner and William Marshall. The third, Robert Davila, is a businessman who was assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education. The interim president could serve up to two years.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company