Unification on a tight schedule


With the inaugural semester of Northern Vermont University merely a year-and-a-half away, a series of transition team meetings are underway to focus on the nine institutional standards that are essential to the creation of a single academic institution come August of 2018.

Submitted on Dec. 23 to JSC President Elaine Collins, VSC Chancellor Jeb Spaulding and LSC Interim President Nolan Atkins, the final “Report of Gathered Input and Observations” was assembled by Chair of the UAC (Unification Advisory Committee) and former VSC Chancellor Tim Donovan after three months of administrative and community discussion about the unification. The report lists a series of considerations which provide the framework for the NVU’s transition team and its work on the nine standards.

NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges), requires a plan called a “Substantive Change Proposal” to be completed and approved any time a college or university makes a significant change in its operations. Each of the aforementioned nine standards are the essential pieces to the proposal.

The transition team, an assembly of staff, faculty and administration from both JSC and LSC, is holding biweekly meetings which started on Feb. 3. These meetings help gather as much input and consensus as possible to produce a first draft to NEASC in June for further vetting before it is ultimately reviewed in September later this year.

Former JSC Academic Dean Daniel Regan, who is writing the proposal based on the information he gathers from the work of the transition team at JSC, says the team’s work will have to show compliance with each of NEASC’s nine standards to gain accreditation for NVU.

“The substantive change proposal will likely be organized by the nine standards and will show for each of them whether we have continued to comply with the standard,” said Regan. “Whether we’ve changed it, whether we’re contemplating further changes and so on. We basically would wish to walk through each of the standards that demonstrate with evidence how we will continue to comply with the requirements of each standard.”

According to Atkins, the 19-member transition team recently addressed NVU’s mission and purposes by drafting the vision statement and a mission statement for the communities at both JSC and LSC to give feedback via the online form building website, Formstack.

“Essentially what we’re doing is assigning subgroups to really tackle the heavy work of how we will address the NEASC standards as NVU,” said Atkins. “The first standard was about the mission, and so four of us were tasked with going back to the Johnson and Lyndon communities to have conversations about what the NVU mission should be.

“That was myself, Barclay Tucker, who is a faculty member here, Sharon Twigg, who is the interim academic dean at Johnson, and then Hans Haverkamp,” he said. “The four of us are tasked with creating a draft of the mission statement. We’ve done that and we brought that back to our last transition team meetings for some discussion and to acquire more input and feedback from our respective communities and hopefully we’ll move that to final form here by the end of February.”

Haverkamp, an associate professor of exercise science and Faculty Assembly chair representing JSC on the transition team, notes that in addition to the mission, a bevy of material needs to be discussed and assessed before the proposal’s first draft is due in June.

“There are myriad and multiple things we have to address in order for this institution to roll out under one academic accreditation in the fall of 2018,” said Haverkamp. “There are smaller things that we need to address now, even for next year. But again, we’re not a single institution from an academic perspective until fall of 2018.

“The ultimate goal is to revise everything and revamp to the extent needed so that we can successfully roll out,” he added. “We need a new website, we need new branding, we need new marketing—it is a pretty large job to do in such a short amount of time.”

One specific item Haverkamp highlights from the proposal addresses the quality of students’ programs and if they are meeting the academic standards their program objectives suggest they should be meeting.
“One of the standards — standard four — which we’re going to get to in a couple of weeks, is the academic program,” he said. “There’s things like assuring academic quality. This probably will in some ways be related to how we assess our programs and the quality of our programs.”

Haverkamp says that the current NEASC review of JSC has noted that the college has improved with its assessment programs, but more is needed.

“We all need to buck up,” Haverkamp added. “We’re already doing things, we’re already working on it; faculty, department majors and all the programs, [Twigg], the academic dean is helping out, we’re assessing our general education program via a couple different methods. For students, there’s not going to be any big changes. Students won’t be responsible for anything other than maybe exit interviews, which some programs use to assess whether or not they’re doing their job.”

Collins, co-president of the transition team with Atkins, characterizes the nine main meetings as a democratic series of “building blocks,” with each meeting addressing one standard. The goal is to receive approval from NEASC in the fall of 2017.

“What I really enjoy about this process is that there’s an opportunity — just like when I was a student — there’s an opportunity to submit a draft to say, ‘Are there any red flags before I turn this in?’” said Collins. “To do that, we’re trying to bump that up to June. Even though there seems to be a huge time gap between June and September, we’re doing that to allow NEASC the opportunity to weigh in before we do the final draft. If we run into any problems, then we would have another opportunity to submit. That’s why [the deadline] is so aggressive.”

After becoming legally accredited by a group of NEASC commissioners, Collins and Atkins say NVU’s leadership will turn its focus to the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that the newly-christened NVU can award financial aid to its students.

“Given the fact that we started these transition team meetings in December and January, that’s really our timeframe to get a lot of this work done,” said Atkins. “Yes, it is aggressive and we’re all working our tails off to do the work well.

“It’s important that everybody to the extent that they can, participates and makes their views known in these formal means or just having a conversation with a transition team member,” he added. “That input and feedback is important and valuable.”

As the deadline for the draft of the proposal approaches in June, Collins acknowledges that involving the views of everyone she can throughout JSC’s and LSC’s communities within a narrow timeframe will be difficult yet necessary to move the transition forward.

“There can’t be a part of the institution that doesn’t pony up to get those answers that we need so that we can maintain that timeline,” she said. “That’s going to be critical. I hope people get involved so it does represent a college effort, and not a team effort. That’s important to me, that everyone feels involved and to that end, that’s why we’re trying to get the pieces back out to the community for input. I hope that people feel that even though they have a narrow window—we don’t have a semester to give input—we have a few weeks to give input. Still, we’re asking for it and we hope people will take the opportunity to weigh in.”