A shared vision emerges from UW–Madison Reaccreditation Project

by Brian Mattmiller, UW-Madison Communication

The 2009 Reaccreditation Project has reached a critical milestone this month with the completion of six in-depth theme reports that provide a banquet of ideas on how to protect and strengthen the future of UW–Madison.

Beginning Friday, May 9, all six reaccreditation theme reports and an executive summary will be available at Reaccreditation Project.

“I think people are seeing this as an incredible opportunity, enhanced by the upcoming leadership transition, to really rethink what it means to be a great public university in the 21st century,” says reaccreditation director Nancy Mathews, referencing the overall theme of the project.

“Even though we’re overshadowed in some ways by some challenging realities,” Mathews adds, “we’re also overshadowed by a strong sense of optimism: That this is the time to really make some changes and be deliberate about carving out our future.”

The work of the six teams was an enormous undertaking, first requiring the synthesis of feedback from thousands of stakeholders on and off campus, then holding a series of open campus meetings to further shape some of the common concerns and aspirations. Finally, the 30- to 40-page reports available online will provide the foundation for the final report this fall to the Higher Learning Commission.

Mathews says that the reaccreditation leadership strongly encouraged “blue-sky” thinking from the teams, to avoid having their recommendations tempered by current constraints or “what’s been done before.” The hope is that a few of the very best ideas will be embraced and widely supported.

“All along, we’ve tried to emphasize that the self-study should inform our strategic planning,” Mathews says. “This is a foundation, but there is also an acknowledgement that a lot of big decisions still need to be made by our next leadership team.”

Even though the teams worked on distinct questions, ranging from global opportunities to research to institutional integrity, many of the strongest recommendations were reflected across several reports. Mathews and leadership team member Eden Inoway-Ronnie, executive assistant to Provost Patrick Farrell, discussed some of the common themes, including:

  • Take a hard look at the university’s reward system. Across many groups, people felt strongly that the system of tenure and other ways of rewarding faculty and staff must be brought more in line with the university’s highest priorities. Specifically, that system needs to recognize and reward furthering the Wisconsin Idea, advancing global scholarship and generating interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • Make out-of-classroom experiences essential to our expectations of the ideal Wisconsin graduate. Again, many groups referenced the “Wisconsin Experience” as a profound strength of UW–Madison education, and the university should seek more ways to nurture service learning, undergraduate research, immersion learning and other cutting-edge teaching modes.
  • Address inequities in the university funding structure. Several groups had recommendations for supporting and protecting more financially vulnerable aspects of UW–Madison’s mission, including greater support for the humanities and arts and new funding streams to support a broader base of graduate students.
  • Use Madison’s brain power to solve global problems. The global arena was an important area for nearly every team, Mathews says, and recommendations ran the gamut from creating a new campuswide structure for advancing global research topics to using technology for greater student exposure to global issues.

Since advancing the Wisconsin Idea is a unifying theme of the Reaccreditation Project, the team is recommending a big centennial celebration be held in 2012, recognizing the anniversary of a major legislative report on UW–Madison’s practical relevance to the state. The celebration will be used as an opportunity to roll out several new initiatives for strengthening the Wisconsin Idea in the 21st century.

“It’s been a long process this year, and we want to express our gratitude to the self-study chairs and other volunteers who have given incredible energy to the project,” says Inoway-Ronnie. “It was really inspiring to see such amazing contributions from faculty and staff.”

Information about the core themes and more can be found at Reaccreditation Project.

The final report, along with a document addressing the criteria for reaccreditation, will be completed by mid-fall. The reaccreditation site visit will be held April 27–29, 2009.