In February 2020, the president of National University shared good news with faculty and staff — a 10-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
“This is a huge achievement, yet it is really not a surprise,” wrote David Andrews, who this week resigned as NU president. “We worked hard to get here.”
But that work could be undone after a scathing report by the American Association of University Professors, which put NU on its sanctioned list for a “trinity of egregious violations of widely accepted governance standards.”
On Friday, a USC professor hired in 2019 to review NU’s restructuring plans slammed the private nonprofit multicampus school based in La Jolla.
“These actions should trigger an investigation by WASC,” said Adrianna Kezar, Dean’s Professor of Leadership and director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education. “The Board [of Trustees] needs to take seriously AAUP sanctioning and possible implications for their accreditation.”
Kezar, responding to questions from Times of San Diego, said via email that a faculty senate subcommittee and NU administration jointly picked her to consult on an NU makeover. She was paid for the work.
She called it “really disappointing” that NU leaders and board didn’t “authentically engage the recommendations that I made that would have helped them move forward in a way that promoted not only shared governance but that supported a quality teaching and learning environment and had integrity.”
Kezar said all of NU’s subsequent actions were counter to the recommendations in her 3,200-word report.
“I had set out a path forward that could allow the institution to heal and become more functional,” she said.
Michael Cunningham, the NU System chancellor who took over from Andrews as president, didn’t respond to email or voicemail requests for comment.
Kezar of USC recalled outlining that the campus had longtime “cultural challenges” around shared governance that needed addressing.
“The challenges of the task force appear a symptom of a much larger problem of a lack of trust between the administration and faculty and a lack of strong communications vehicles between faculty and administration, and a lack of systemic shared governance,” she wrote at the time.
“This lack of trust is compounded by the turnover of administrators over the year, weak and/or non-existent (in some situations) shared governance, and historic bad relationships between faculty and administration.”
On Friday, she added: “Given [that] they did not work on these issues, it is not surprising that the administration/board made so many egregious actions. They have [no] channel for obtaining perspective that would dampen and temper their worst inclinations!”
What happens when a school loses its accreditation?
According to Colleges and Degrees, loss of accreditation mean loss of government money.
“The vast majority of these schools are heavily dependent on financial aid and the immediate withdrawal of all government funds guarantees that the school will quickly go bankrupt,” said the site.
“Furthermore, these students will have a difficult time finding admission to another school to complete their degree or program if their school closes from an accreditation loss.”
In addition, many employers “simply do not hire graduates from unaccredited schools.”
Although the AAUP sanction doesn’t affect NU’s accreditation on its own, the AAUP chapter president agrees that it should trigger an investigation by WASC.
“I do not know of anyone who has contacted WASC to request an investigation,” said the chapter leader, Alex Zukas. “That may happen, although given how it did not take the summary firing and breaking the contracts of 50 or so faculty without financial exigency, I’m not sure faculty have much faith in WASC reviews.”
He’s certain, though, that WASC is aware of the situation via press reports.
Zukas said WASC seems more concerned with protecting deficient universities than taking them to task.
He also noted that NU’s point person for the most recent WASC review was Joseph Hoey, vice provost for academic services.
Hoey — who didn’t respond to an email query — is a WASC commissioner — someone who conducts accreditation reviews.
“Also … NU began its draconian actions one month after the favorable WASC report which landed in February 2020,” Zukas said Friday.
In that 2020 letter, Andrews closed with: “In particular, I’d like to give a shout out to Joseph Hoey and his staff, especially Kim Levey, for their tireless dedication to helping make this WSCUC reaffirmation such a success.”