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“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” A guest post by Michael Laver

April 1, 2016

I am privileged to be able to “guest blog” for Provost Haefner on the subject of the Middle States Re-accreditation process currently underway at RIT.  Rather than drone on about this or that, or perhaps more accurately, in addition to droning on about this or that, I’ll try to frame our approach to re-accreditation using the timeless words and wisdom of Theodore Geisel, and I’ll start with the prescient observation (perhaps the truth of which is borne out from the observation of Rochester weather) that “From there to here and here to there, funny things are everywhere.” 

“Think left and think right and think low and think high.  Oh, the things you can think up, if you only try.”

We are so grateful to have so many deep thinking and, well, fun, people serving on eight working groups and a dedicated steering committee that is representative of our entire campus community.   The chairs of the working groups in particular are gluttons for “gluppity-glupp,” and so I’d like to call them out here: Sharon Lonthair, Patrick Didas, Marianne Gustafson, Karey Pine, Linda Tolan, Rich Dirmyer, Shirley Bower, and Steve Morse.  The insights that all of our team members bring to their appointed tasks is nothing short of amazing.  Oh the things you can think up, indeed.   And what’s more, all of these folks are volunteers.  When we first began this journey so many months ago, I was sure we’d have to twist arms to get people to serve, but when the offers to volunteer began to pour in, that was the moment I knew that we really are a part of a special place. 

“With your heads full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.”

As I write this, our eight working groups are writing up their first drafts of their reports to hand in to the steering committee for review.  Each group is writing on one Middle State standard and the result will be not just a description of how RIT meets the standard in question, but rather an insightful analysis of what RIT is excelling at, and where we can improve.  In other words, we are confident enough in the greatness of RIT and the rightness of what we’re doing to invite suggestions and recommendation as to how we can be even better.  This is a fundamental aspect of what your Middle States team is doing, and not something that is just ancillary. And when we have the whole report done sometime in late summer, we’ll share a draft as widely as possible for what we hope is robust feedback and comment.  The final self-study will then be sent to Middle States in advance of a team of peer reviewers that will visit campus in spring 2017.  This visit, in conjunction with the Self-Study Report, will form the basis for Middle States’ accrediting decision. 

“It’s better to know how to learn than to know.”

Our self-study is divided into two parts: a 100 page report for Middle States demonstrating that we meet the accreditation standards, and, as value added for the university, “research questions” that the steering committee drew up, based largely on tier one strategic planning priorities.  These research questions will allow us to use the intensive work of the working groups to inform the campus as to what opportunities and challenges the new strategic plan might present in the near future.  It is our hope that these research questions will not only demonstrate RIT’s ongoing commitment to the elements of the strategic plan, but will also guide stakeholders as they begin the heavy lifting of funding and implementing strategic priorities. 

“And will you succeed?  Yes you will indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed).”

RIT has a lot to be proud of, and it would be easy to pat ourselves on the back and be content with how far we’ve come in a relatively short period of time.  Our commitment to you is that we will not do that.  We will use the self-study report as well as the research questions as mechanisms for “continuous improvement” (as I imagine my colleague and co-chair Anne Wahl raising her hands in victory at the assessment shout-out!).  That’s why it will be so important for the whole campus community to provide robust and insightful feedback when the document is shared widely come next fall, because as much as we think we’re doing a great job, as Mr. Geisel says, “So, open your mouth, for every voice counts.”  Of course he also said, “Everything stinks till its finished.”