Higher Learning Commission hosts open forums

On Monday, Nov. 9 and part of Tuesday, Nov. 10, peer reviewers from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) visited Macalester as part of the accreditation process.

There were three open forums held for the campus, all based on the HLC’s five criteria:
1) Mission
2) Integrity
3) Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources and Support
4) Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement
5) Resources, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness.

The first two criteria were discussed on Monday morning, the second two on Monday afternoon, and the last criterion on Tuesday morning.

The forums, all held in the Weyerhaeuser Boardroom, were led by the three reviewers: HLC Chair Randall J. Stiles; Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning Resources at Monmouth College, Frank Gersich; and Dean of the College, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Professor of English at Knox College, Laura L. Behling. They began each forum by introducing themselves and asking for questions and feedback about the highlighted criteria.

“[The forums were] reasonably well attended at a busy time of the year (though we have no baseline about what to expect, so that is difficult to assess) and there was good turnout from across the campus, including students, staff and faculty,” political science professor Patrick Schmidt said in an email. “Though I may be imposing my view on it a little, it was interesting to me how while we might focus more strongly on our challenges when we’re discussing solely within the Macalester community, I heard a lot of voices coming together in agreement about the many things we are doing well.”

At the third forum, which lasted from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. this past Tuesday, there were large stretches of silence, but those who did speak — students, faculty and staff — spoke from their individual experiences. Some made it a point to extol the College’s virtues, perhaps in order to counteract or qualify statements about flawed areas. For example, at the third forum, at which the majority of students in attendance were from MCSG, student body president Ian Calaway ’16, a math major, responded to a mention of the need for greater resources in the Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science department, such as more laboratory spaces and tech support, by praising the department’s awareness of and efforts to add those resources. One professor suggested that members of the Macalester community could become “victims of [their] own success,” as they had survived the last economic crash in higher education but may not yet anticipate how to best handle Macalester’s resources in order to thrive, rather than be complacent about that success.

Also at the third forum, Chaplain and Associate Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life Kelly Stone conveyed the difficulties of a lack of centralized, explicitly inclusive meetings for staff, as opposed to faculty meetings.

Provost Karine Moe echoed Schmidt’s statement, with regards to the success of the community discussion.

“I was pleased with the turnout and that students, staff and faculty all had an opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns with the review team,” she said in an email.