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March 21, 2002

Middle States Assn. report praises Pitt

Pitt received a glowing report — with occasional caveats — from the evaluation team of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, the region's accrediting agency for institutions of higher education.

The report is a generalized evaluation drawn from a review of a Pitt self-study and interviews with Pitt administrators, faculty, staff and students during a site visit last fall. It praised the University for "extraordinary accomplishments," particularly in improving the quality of its student body, enhancing the quality of campus life, integrating academic and budgetary planning, improving Commonwealth and community relations and fostering a new culture of openness.

The report cited Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Provost James Maher as the architects of Pitt's new open culture. "We heard the words 'open processes' and 'trust' countless times throughout our visit from various constituencies," the evaluation team wrote. "The importance of this cannot be overstated, for it is clear that many of the difficult, but essential, choices and decisions that have been made over this period could not have been accomplished in an academic environment without the skill of, and open processes created by, the chancellor and the provost."

The report also found that:

* Pitt's self-study demonstrated that the University's mission and goals are the driving force behind its recent achievements.

* Members of the Pitt community believe that the institution's leadership has opened important processes, such as academic planning and budgeting, in a way much more inclusive of faculty and staff.

* Pitt's Board of Trustees does not micro-manage the University.

* The cooperative leadership among deans has carried over to the faculty.

* Undergraduate programs are impressive in their variety, strength and fundamental soundness, with both "a conservative 'liberal arts' flavor and one that shows novelty and the willingness to change."

* Campus safety and security have been improved significantly.

* An enhanced transportation system has increased access to Downtown Pittsburgh and elsewhere, making the urban environment an asset.

* Pitt has a strong commitment to the recruitment, retention and graduation of historically underrepresented students.

* The University is in a sound financial position, with significant revenue generated in excess of expenses in the last three years, providing the opportunity to strengthen institutional reserves and direct funds to capital projects.

But there is room for improvement, the report added. "With that in mind, the team has made several suggestions that we believe the University leadership will find helpful as they plan for the future. The team has not, however, identified any requirements to meet [accrediting] standards."

Pitt could improve, the report said, by more consistently identifying its peer institutions for better comparisons in areas such as retention, computer use, student satisfaction and faculty salaries; by expanding efforts to increase the diversity of its faculty; by working toward adjusting faculty salaries upward in the near future; by updating its contingency plans to prepare for a decrease in future Commonwealth funding; by more systematically using benchmark data for assessing the undergraduate experience, and by developing a strategic technology plan that will clarify organizational structure and set goals for funding and resource acquisition.

"We also believe the institution might find it beneficial to form a central administration committee that would examine and find ways to adopt 'best practices' for use University-wide," the report stated.

To maintain its accreditation with Middle States, Pitt undergoes a formal evaluation every 10 years. Accreditation attests that an institution is guided by well-defined and appropriate educational goals.

The Middle States Association is one of six regional organizations that cover the United States and its possessions. Middle States draws its membership from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Pitt professional schools and some departments are accredited by individual associations, but the Middle States accreditation is the only one that is institution-wide, covering all of the University's schools and regional campuses. Middle States often allows institutions such as Pitt, whose accreditation is not in question, to choose a specific area on which to focus the required self-study. Pitt chose the theme, "Improvement of the Undergraduate Student Experience: Setting a Course for the Future."

Based on Pitt's self-study and the site visit, the Middle States evaluation team, chaired by University of Rochester President Thomas H. Jackson, issued the report. The team submitted its findings to the Middle States Association's Commission on Higher Education, which approvd Pitt's reaccreditation March 6.

The Middle States team looked at general categories in its report. These categories include: institutional context (mission and goals, integrity, leadership, outcomes assessment), undergraduate experience (academic experience and programs, campus life and student services, admissions and recruiting, diversity, retention, library and learning resources, the regional campuses, General Studies and community extension programs), and planning (academic and faculty planning, facilities planning, financial planning and technology planning).

The complete text of the Middle States evaluation team report is posted on the University's home web page:

Pitt's self-study — a 126-page report called "Improvement of the Undergraduate Student Experience: Setting a Course for the Future" — is available on-line at: –Peter Hart

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