Hampton J-School Wins Round in Accreditation Battle
After a vigorous and sharply worded appeal from the leaders of Hampton University, an appeals board recommended July 25 that the university's Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications be given full accreditation for the 2006-07 academic year, pending a revisit by the accrediting council before May.
The recommendation still must be approved by the full accrediting council. Dean Tony Brown sent out an e-mail later in the day with the words "A Landmark Decision" in the subject line, saying, "We won."
The school had been granted "provisional" accreditation in May, meaning the school would have up to two years to come into compliance with accreditation standards.
That decision was attacked by Brown and University President William R. Harvey. Both sharply criticized Jannette Dates, the dean of the John H. Johnson School of Communications at Howard University who led the four-person accrediting team from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.
"Some team members didn't want to be confused with the facts . . . so they didn't listen," Harvey said.
"Critics -- many of whom are black -- are jealous of our program," Brown said. "Some are trying to advance their interests or the interests of their organization. We will fight all of it," he said, going on to cite the school's accomplishments and saying it expected a record enrollment in the fall.
The team visited Hampton in January and found the school to be noncompliant on two of the nine council standards. It found the school out of compliance with the standards for "Mission, Governance and Administration" and "Scholarship: Research, Creative and Professional Activity."
The team cited such problems as not having a clear evaluation process for faculty, an unsettled campus atmosphere and faculty members not having enough voice in administrative matters.
Harvey selected Brown as dean five days after the former school leader, Christopher Campbell, resigned in 2004.
At the appeal, held in an Arlington, Va., hotel meeting room, Brown, Harvey, and Provost Joyce Jarrett cited what they called inaccuracies in the accrediting team's report and unethical behavior by team members.
The accrediting team has been under fire by Hampton's leadership since the team's findings were disclosed in the "Richard Prince's Journal-isms" online column of Feb. 3, in which an unnamed member of the site team spoke with the columnist. That disclosure, three days after the visit, violated the council's policy against revealing information about reports prior to their completion, they said.
Steve Geimann of Bloomberg News, a former president of the Society of Professional Journalists, told the council in May, "I was the guilty party. I spoke to a reporter. I did apologize to the president [of Hampton] for speaking out of turn."
At the appeal, Harvey called the revelation "disrespectful, unprofessional, and just plain wrong.
"Our confidence in the [accrediting] process has been shaken . . . by the unethical behavior," he said.
Harvey said Dates tried to "dismiss and trivialize" the disclosure without owning up to it for the "egregious behavior" it was. He said the "agenda-driven" team came with negative, preconceived notions.
With a weary look, appeals board chairman Charles Edwards, dean of the Drake University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, listened as Harvey listed his professional accomplishments, including chairing several academic committees.
"This is not about you," Edwards said, urging Harvey to get to the "substance" of the meeting.
In response to Harvey's comments, Dates said, "I have chaired about 15 sites," referring to site visits. "I think the report speaks for itself. I stand behind the report."
Faculty turnover also became part of the discussion. In addition to Campbell's resignation, seven faculty members left after the 2005 spring semester.
Dates said the high turnover was a sign of turmoil at the school. Harvey disagreed.
"There have been some problems in the past. There is no turmoil and there hasn't been for two years," he said.
Brown said all seven of the faculty members shouldn't be grouped together.
"It makes it sound more ominous than it is," he said.
Brown said one of the members is on a leave of absence, another left for professional reasons, another had to relocate when his wife became sick, and another followed a director who had gone to a different program.
None of the seven had signed a new contract for the 2005-06 year. Jarrett said contracts for the following academic year are typically handed out around May and faculty members have 10 days to respond.
Edwards said he was concerned about the poor quality of the school's self-study, performed as part of the accreditation process.
The study listed accomplishments of the faculty over the past six years, since the last accreditation evaluation. But most of the faculty members on the list were no longer with the university.
Dates said the list was disorganized and did not differentiate between current faculty members and those who had left, or between part-time and full-time staffers.
Brown and Harvey agreed that the self-study needs improvement.
After nearly four hours of discussion, appeals board member Merrill Rose, an independent strategic communications consultant in New York, moved that the council continue full accreditation status for one year, during which the school would pursue reaccreditation.
"Neither the site team nor the school gave their best effort to the accrediting process," she said.
Appeals board member Charles Elmore, chair of the Mass Communications Department at Savannah State University, seconded the motion. However, Edwards said he thought it would be better to give the council more flexibility in deciding how to handle the situation.
The final motion, to have the school receive full accreditation for the 2006-07 academic year pending a revisit of the matter by the end of the school year, was approved by all three members.
Brown stood up from the meeting table, a smile on his face. Harvey circled the room, shaking hands and smiling as well.
"I'm very, very happy. I don’t know of another occasion where this has happened, where the appeals board has voted to do that, so I was very happy. It’s hard to say I expected it. The reason we appealed was that we felt we were in compliance all along. I’m happy the appeals board agreed," Brown said later.
"We will continue to do what we’re doing and like other programs, we will try to do it better. That’s what you do in this business. The fact that an accrediting team felt that we were not in compliance is their opinion. We have our own opinion and in this instance I am happy that our opinion was confirmed by the appeals board."