February 2, 2016
Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology
Last October, the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University received a favorable report from a site team assigned by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. There are two more hurdles to go: affirmation of the Accrediting Committee in Chicago on March 19-20 and finalization by the Accrediting Council on May 6-7.
To be sure, the site team report is the most important document in gaining accreditation or re-accreditation. ACEJMC members work diligently to read the self-study and then verify a program’s claims, meeting face-to-face with faculty, staff and supervisors as well as with internship providers, alumni and other constituents.
ACEJMC is unique in requiring site teams to prepare a draft report before the visit ends, presented to the head of the unit in addition to the provost and president of the institution.
I have been through seven re-accreditations at three institutions: one at Oklahoma State, three at Ohio University and three at Iowa State. I also have been a member of ACEJMC site teams, so I know the procedures on both ends of the process. During the site visit, the chair of a site team visits periodically with the unit head and updates her or him on any issues or consults on any needed data for the site team report.
I can state unequivocally that site teams do not assign non-compliances lightly in any of the ACEJMC standards. Chairs consult with team members, take into account all views, and then render decisions collectively.
Often, administrators reading the draft report are sensitive to any criticism, especially non-compliances. Unit heads are asked to read the report and correct any factual errors. The report, unofficial at this point, must be accurate.
Site teams always fix factual errors, such as the number of credits needed to graduate in a major or the exact count of full- and part-time instructors. However, unit heads often are tempted to argue about the team’s perception or viewpoint about real or perceived problems.
Don’t do it. The goal after the site visit is to embrace site team members as potential allies by acknowledging their perceptions but not demanding changes in the report. The site team should have its say. If weaknesses are real, it is up to the unit head to address them—the sooner the better.
And that’s what I am doing today in preparation for the Accrediting Committee in March. The Committee phase of the ACEJMC process tests both the program’s claims and the site team’s perceptions. The best approach is to let the site team chair know what, if anything, is being done internally to address weaknesses in the weeks before the Committee meeting.
While the Greenlee School was fortunate enough to get no non-compliances, we appreciated the criticism of the site team in such areas as a need for more multimedia instruction and more faculty from under-represented groups.
This week I was at a budget meeting at my institution and made a case for a new line in multimedia storytelling. That approval won’t happen at ISU until late in the Spring, but I used the site team report to make my case for the needed expertise. We just might get that line.
And since the site team left the Greenlee School, we have managed to secure a hire from an under-represented group. We will send word about that to our site team chair before the March meeting in Chicago. Moreover, I have asked our Diversity Committee to compile a report on new successes in multicultural and equity areas. We’ll send that to him, too.
One of those successes involved my media ethics student, Jazmin Murguia, who won Iowa State’s distinguished Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Advancing One Community Award. We let the site team now about by sharing the news story  about her contributions to ISU’s climate.
In the end, I am an advocate for the ACEJMC process. The program reports, the site team observes, the Committee tests and the Council weighs the evidence. Personally, I believe the ACEJMC values and competencies  and nine standards  are essential in providing the best return on students’ tuition dollars.