Last week the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools announced at its annual meeting in Atlanta that the University of Southern Mississippi will be on a 12-month probation. Some of the problems facing the university deal with reporting deficiencies in the assessment of institutional effectiveness, strategic planning in academic units and assessment of distance learning programs. SACS will release an official report in January.
President Shelby Thames said that this is primarily a communication problem between the school and SACS. "We have to do a better job of letting SACS know what we are doing and how we are doing it, in regard to assessing our processes and procedures," he said in a statement.
Thames also said that students need not worry about the education that they are receiving at USM. "The areas of concern do not have anything to do with faculty teaching. This status does not in any way negatively affect our students and their education," he said.
Sarah Nicholas, a spokeswoman for the state's Institution of Higher Learning, said that they feel confident that Thames and USM will do what is needed to get the probationary status removed. "We don't foresee this being a long-term problem. Some students are a little concerned, and others understand that this has nothing to do with their degrees," she said.
One student is Chaz Pizzferro, 23, a senior political science major. "Though I know some students are upset, I understand that the probation does not affect my education because it is not due to insufficient teaching methods," Pizzferro said.
If the 15,000+ student university is not able to take care of everything within the probationary period, the school could lose its accreditation. SACS, based in Georgia, handles accreditation for 11 Southern colleges and universities, and also for some institutions in Latin America.
"One year is absolutely enough time to take care of the problems. We at the College Board will be monitoring their progress just to help keep them on track," said Nicholas.
The school administration has already begun working on correcting the problem. Dr. Joan Exline, president of accreditation and articulation for USM, has been working with the university's deans, graduate council, council of chairs and a new articulation committee. "We have already addressed the majority of the commission's concerns, and we are working diligently on the remaining portion," she said in statement.
"We will have a board meeting where President Thames will be invited to talk about what his game plan is for solving these problems on Dec. 15th and 16th," Nicholas said.
USM's plan for solving those problems is posted at http://www.usm.edu