The first steps toward remedying concerns brought up by an accreditation team that visited East Central College last year were hotly debated Monday night at the college’s monthly board of trustees meeting.
In the end, the board approved seeking a director to lead the college’s new office of institutional effectiveness after debating the necessity of the position. The vote was 5-1, with Trustee Don Kappelmann voting no.
The position was proposed in response to ECC being threatened with possible probation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) after its visit last year. In the visiting HLC team’s report, among several problem areas, was a lack of data-driven decisionmaking, an area a director of such an office would coordinate.
School officials said the director would provide leadership in the design, development, implementation and evaluation of institutional effectiveness while also taking responsibility for assessment, research, accreditation processes and planning at the college.
ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer recommended approving this position and noted that most colleges who use best practices have such a director to help coordinate efforts between departments.
“I feel really strongly that this will be a benefit to the institution and, therefore, to our students,” Bauer said.
In his final meeting as a trustee, Kappelmann spoke out against seeking a director of institutional effectiveness, ruling the position as an attempt to throw money at a problem to remedy it.
He said the college already has employees who are capable of solving the issues.
“I think we have enough people here, enough leaders here that can handle this work. So I will vote against it,” said Kappelmann, who is retiring from the board in April.
Kappelmann wasn’t alone in his reservations, even with being the only no vote on the position. Trustee Eric Park said he was concerned about creating a position that had authority over the current administration and feared that the college would create a “redundant” position.
“The people who represent the public and institutional effectiveness are the six people sitting here and about a half a dozen other people here,” Park said. “These people are qualified to do exactly what they do.”
Park said it’s the people who are currently in these positions who should be ensuring institutional effectiveness and if they are not doing their jobs, they should be replaced.
“Those people have authority, they have responsibility and they understand what they’re doing and if they don’t we should find somebody to replace the people we have on our team now,” Park said.
Trustee Cookie Hays said the position would keep the college from having preventable problems, like having to raise tuition whenever state aid is cut, by coordinating with data.
“The position has to have some authority so that the recommendations are not just blown over,” Hays said. “I think that’s the case for other institutions who have added a position like this. They say the position has to carry some weight.”
Trustee Joseph Stroetker said he’s weary of the cost of a director position being added to the budget during a tough financial time and wants to hear from faculty on whether the position was needed.
He asked for members of the committee who proposed the position to speak on the merits of a director.
One of which was Financial Services Director Annette Moore, who said she shared the same reservations when she first heard about the position, but over time was swayed.
Moore said the position seemed unnecessary at first, especially during a near financial crisis at the college, but since serving on the HLC Task Force, she feels it’s important.
Nursing Program Director Nancy Mitchell said the hiring of a director of institutional effectiveness is a necessity if the college hopes to get back on track. She said while there may be capable people at ECC who could do the job, there is no one who can pull information together in a meaningful way and make decisions based on it.
“Right now, I don’t have anyone who comes to me and asks me ‘How can we make your student retention better?’ I need that person. We all need that person,” Mitchell said. “This is so vital to where we need to move to. Not just for HLC, but to reach best practices at ECC. This is what we should be doing to deliver the best quality education we can to students.”
ECC National Education Association President Sue Henderson said the institution has and will continue to suffer without such a position. She said in order to improve, the college has to change its practices, starting with adding the position.
“It has to be a function of the institution where all of these different pieces are looked at through a lens that we have not looked through to this point, Henderson said. “This should be a coordinated, integrated approach to overseeing all of those pieces that help us achieve and maintain accreditation, which is what we’re up against right now. We’re up against it because those pieces have been separated for too long.”
Currently, Henderson said faculty and staff are frustrated by the lack of connectivity throughout the school. She said adding the position is relatively supported by the college from her understanding.
“I believe the people who work here share our feeling that we need to do something to improve and that, so far, we haven’t done that,” she said.
Give It a Try
Trustee Prudence Fink Johnson said the board needs to give the position a try and revisit it later if it ends up being ineffective. She said denying a proposal the people who work at the college are in favor of would be a “slap in the face.”
“I think the idea of shared governance is so important to this entire discussion and for this board to reject this tonight would be a slap in the face to the people who have worked so hard here,” Fink Johnson said. “If we don’t pass it, it seems almost insulting to the people who work here every day.”
Bauer said the search for a director will begin immediately.