Havre Daily News
Some Montana State University-Northern education professors last week said they fear the school could lose its national accreditation because administrators have not done enough to include faculty in the program's progress.
MSU-N administrators say the opposite is true: Faculty members have been asked to be involved and have failed to step up to the plate.
The professors also said they have repeatedly called for the university to replace interim dean Will Rawn, head of the colleges of education, arts and sciences, and nursing, with someone who is an expert on teacher education. They say a national search has been repeatedly delayed.
A search committee began work this year to find a permanent dean, and the job was advertised nationally, administrators said.
Four professors in interviews last week also said the environment at Northern is one of hostility, reprisal and fear, a claim that administrators on Monday also denied.
“The faculty have not been involved in the process” to maintain the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, or NCATE, accreditation that Northern first earned in 2002, associate professor Darlene Sellers said.
NCATE, which its Web site describes as a “professional quality control mechanism for teacher preparation,” is a national body authorized by the U.S. Department of Education that sets standards for teacher education. It is not a governmental agency, the Web site said.
“The issue is that the administration chose to select someone with limited experience in education to head up the college,” Sellers said, referring to Rawn. “In order for us to be in tune with the U.S. Department of Education and the state, we need somebody with expertise.”
Sellers was chair of the education department from 2000 until she resigned in 2003. She oversaw the effort to bring NCATE accreditation to Northern, a goal that was achieved in 2002. Sellers said she stepped down because she felt she did not have the expertise to take Northern further.
“In that process, it became clear to me that in order for us to build excellence we needed to search for a person who was a specialist in curriculum instruction,” Sellers said.
“We wanted a dean ... to take us to the next level,” associate professor Janet Trethewey said. “Ultimately, this has to do with how our students do in the classrooms.”
Associate professor Curtis Smeby said the committee to search for Rawn's replacement has made little progress because the effort began in January. Smeby said job searches in higher education tend to get under way early in the fall, and that the pool of potential candidates is now smaller. He said last week that the committee would submit one candidate, a person in the Montana university system, to Capdeville for consideration. Rawn on Monday said he has been to NCATE training sessions to become familiar with the accreditation standards, and he said faculty has been asked to be involved in the process. NCATE will next review Northern's program in 2008.
“Right now, the invitation's open to everybody,” Rawn said. “We are doing everything we can to involve faculty in this process.
“Some have, some have not” been involved, he added.
He pointed to a series of sessions, set for Wednesday, involving faculty and members of the local public education community, where attendees will talk about how to improve Northern's education program.
NCATE senior vice president Donna Gollmick today said it is important for faculty and administrators to work together to improve the program.
“Faculty should be involved in refining and designing the assessment,” she said. “They're closer to the content than administrators might be. I think any time (both parties) can work together, it's going to improve the quality of what's happening there.”
Gollmick said the NCATE assessment team will speak with faculty, administrators and members of the community - including local public education officials - when they arrive in Havre.
Northern invited University of Montana dean of education Paul Rowland and MSU-Billings interim provost George White, who also serves as dean of education, to Havre last week to give an outside assessment of what needs to be done to further Northern's program.
Rowland and White could not be reached for comment. MSU-N provost Cheri Jimeno said the pair's basic message was one of “a lot of talk going on but not a lot of action.”
“It's time for some individuals to step up and take on” the work needed to improve Northern's program, she said, paraphrasing White and Rowland.
Rowland and White will present written findings to the university in a matter of weeks, Jimeno added.
While NCATE accreditation is important, Jimeno said, the state of Montana's standard for licensure and accreditation is what Northern will ultimately have to meet. She said the state is now working on a set of proposed standards to submit to the U.S. Department of Education for review.
Officials at the state Office of Public Instruction could not be reached for comment.
Sellers, Smeby, Trethewey and assistant professor Robin Castle also claimed Northern administrators have created a hostile environment, one in which dissenting voices are squelched.
“There is a culture of intimidation, bullying and reprisal,” Smeby said. “If you don't agree, you are labeled as a troublemaker.”
Trethewey said education professors - those with tenure - are more willing to speak out against the administration than faculty members in other departments at Northern. Other faculty members have concerns about the way the school is being run but are fearful to speak out, she said.
“There's never been this level of anger, animosity and fear,” she said. “(Other professors) are willing to be quiet, just so they can keep their jobs.”
Castle, who is employed by Northern to teach education in Great Falls, said she has a “very high level of fear” when it comes to speaking out against Northern administration. Many in the education department are actively looking for jobs elsewhere as a result of the working environment here, she added.
Jimeno said she does not agree that the environment at Northern is “hostile.”
“A hostile working environment does not mean that you and I disagree,” she said. “Just because we have a disagreement on how something is done, doesn't mean we have a hostile environment.”
She said one faculty member filed a complaint against her, claiming a hostile working environment, after she told faculty members they could not cancel classes to have day-long work meetings.
“I feel very strongly that students pay good money to attend class,” she said. “I stand by that.”
The complaint was reviewed by officials at MSU-Bozeman and rejected on its merits, Jimeno said.
Trethewey said she fears the issues she sees at Northern will become “another divisive issue” in Havre and that people will forget to work toward improving the opportunities for students at MSU-N.
“People are going to choose sides,” she said. “It comes down to who you believe.”