University of Virginia accreditation warning lifted

December 10, 2013

The University of Virginia’s accrediting body on Tuesday lifted the warning it placed on the elite public institution last year amid concerns that governing board members improperly acted when trying to oust U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan in June 2012.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, which accredits most schools in Virginia and several other Southern states, has been focused on U-Va. for about a year and a half, as the institution recovers from a historic leadership shake-up that has raised questions about the direction the school is headed in and who gets to dictate that direction.

Higher education institutions must be accredited to receive federal funding, and it is rare for a university of U-Va.’s caliber to have its accreditation questioned. U-Va. officials have adamantly fought the commission’s accusations, and they celebrated the decision Tuesday with a news release that boasted the return of the university’s “unblemished accreditation.”

“The University community should be pleased with the outcome of the commission’s thorough review,” Sullivan said in a statement. “While the warning designation did not question the quality of our academic programs or affect our ability to receive financial aid, unblemished accreditation remains an important stamp of approval on the integrity of the institution.”

In September, the commission sent a four-person team to Charlottesville to investigate if U-Va. was operating with integrity in all matters, if the U-Va. Board of Visitors was following the rules and if the faculty had a role in governance of the university.

The team concluded that U-Va. was complying on all three counts, noting in a Oct. 29 report that the governing board had amended its policies to appease concerns accreditors had raised. The team’s brief report focused most heavily on university governance and assurances that a minority of board members could not control the entire board. The team also noted that the board now has a more detailed process for evaluating a president and setting performance goals.

“During the numerous interviews ... it was most obvious that a change in culture had taken place in which the importance of trust among members of the university community had been recognized and that communications were now more open and public,” the team wrote in their report, adding that Board of Visitors meetings are now streamed online and board members are getting more involved.

But the team also cautioned: “[T]he true test of the effectiveness of the changes will be whether the changes hold up over an extended period of time.”

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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