WSCUC Team Report results

Carrollyne Aasen, Editor in Chief

On March 17, The Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College & University released its Commission Action Letter and Special Visit Team Report, which was presented at the President and Provost Forum on March 21 due to its visit to California Lutheran University on Sept. 7-9, 2022.

This report provided a background of the university, its accreditation history, a summary of the issues for this visit and the commission team’s review process as well as the quality and rigor of the report and supporting evidence.

For the latter description, the report said, “In general, the report accurately portrayed CLU’s condition though the reviewers received numerous reports of mistrust of CLU leadership from students, faculty, and staff, which were not included in the Institution’s report.”

Issue 1: Diversity, equity, inclusion and justice on campus

According to WSCUC’s team report, it required the university to “develop a campus-wide vision and strategy to promote and sustain a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion that reflects an inclusive process and leverages shared governance.” The commission required the university to have specific attention to increasing “diversity at the senior leadership level,” having “resources dedicated to recruiting, supporting, mentoring, advising and retaining faculty of color” and creating “benchmarks of progress on indicators of improved campus climate and distribution of relevant data to appropriate constituencies to assist in decision-making that improves campus climate.”

“As a work in progress, CLU has been very impressive in establishing the foundations of a diverse, inclusive campus,” the report said. “CLU has put considerable effort into developing and implementing a campus-wide vision and strategy using an inclusive approach.”

The report expressed that the university has “expended significant effort to accomplish this goal,” such as through appointing a vice president for Talent, Culture and Diversity and dedicating “resources to recruiting, supporting, mentoring, advising and retaining faculty of color.” However, the report mentions that there still needs to be additional work for inclusivity in the Board of Regents and at the cabinet levels.

“During the team visit some faculty and staff stated that underrepresented groups still have concerns as to how to elevate issues, including microaggressions from all levels,” the report said. “Since a climate survey has not been done (though there are plans from leadership to conduct one in the future), it is difficult to know whether the faculty and staff from underrepresented groups feel a complete sense of belonging on campus.”

In WSCUC’s findings and conclusions, the report said that, although there has been some improvement in diversity at the senior level, there is “still room for improvement,” as well as, although there has been progress in recruiting faculty of color, “several faculty of color have recently departed.” Because of the departure of several faculty of color, the report said progress in retention “remains to be seen.”

“Overall, CLU is taking the necessary steps to address this issue, but there is more work to be done and evaluation of the progress of that work awaits the implementation of defined outcomes and needed surveys,” the report said.

Later in the report, it said the university’s success surrounding this matter depends on “sustained effort, ongoing evaluation, and ability to meet the challenges presented by such a largescale change effort.”

Issue 2: Curriculum

The report names curriculum as the second issue, requiring the university to “implement culturally sensitive pedagogical practices and clear outcomes to measure the execution of a diversity-enhanced curriculum.”

“Though in its infancy, CLU has shown a strong commitment to this effort. It is clear that it is supported by the majority of the community members, at every rank, and from students to faculty and staff to the leadership of the institution,” the report said.

The report said that the university has created training programs for faculty and staff, such as implicit bias training, and the integration of DEIJ in the curriculum showed potential with university-wide support.

 “The team noticed, however, that there is a lack of communication among various stakeholders about this work as well as the presence of mistrust amongst the stakeholders which has resulted in different people doing the same work, and sometimes, arriving at different conclusions,” WSCUC said during the report. “CLU reported there is an initiative just starting to bring university-wide coherence to this effort.”

The report also included that the university is working hard to address this issue and that WSCUC believes Cal Lutheran is sincere in its effort. Also, it stated that WSCUC understands that the university has been unable to evaluate success regarding this issue because of its early status of implementation and trusts Cal Lutheran to follow through with its intentions.

WSCUC included that the work on the curriculum appears isolated to individual schools and programs, but that there is a new initiative to bring this effort campus-wide, meaning evaluation and revision on this “will be critical.”  

Issue 3: Clarifying policies and processes for accountability

The report detailed that the university has taken steps to respond to this issue, such as the appointment of a vice president of Talent, Diversity and Culture in 2021, which is also a cabinet-level position, implementing a new incident report system and processes; and in spring 2022, a Sense of Belonging survey was sent to students to “gauge their comfort levels with the campus environment.”

“While all of these steps could help address this issue, they are all so relatively new that it appears that their impact has yet to be seen to great effect by the CLU community,” the report said. “A number of constituent groups reported in the meetings with the visiting team that leadership of the university still incorporates a strong top-down approach that does not provide an opportunity for individuals or groups to share their views objectively and without fear of retaliation.”

WSCUC included that fear of retribution was cited by some “as a reason for the belief that inappropriate behavior or conduct was still an issue at the university.” The report mentioned that groups “less empowered in the university hierarchy” fear retribution, which impacts the ability to “share information openly and honestly with the senior leadership of the university.”

“Many individuals also cited examples of faculty and staff who have left the university at least in part because of the campus climate and certain behaviors, as well as a belief that there is a lack of accountability on the part of senior leadership of the university,” the report said.

The team found that the university developed policies and processes, such as the incident reporting system, but their success, in the long run, depends on the “willingness of constituents to use them.” In relation to the incident reporting system, the team found that there are “many individuals that are using” it, and the incidents reported “appear to be managed, investigated, and resolved.”

“Reports by faculty and staff of fear and mistrust of university leadership may pose potential challenges to the success of these initiatives, despite the robustness of the processes and systems,” the report said.

Issue 4: Expand information resources & enhance the participation of librarians

The report said there has been an increase in faculty sabbatical applications, improvement in “retention and graduation rates of underrepresented first-time first-year populations” and growth in Pearson Library’s total circulation.

“There appears to be positive development in a number of areas regarding information resources available to faculty and students to support academic offerings, research, and scholarship,” the report said. “At the same time, there is a lack of data evaluating the impact of the changes in the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Faculty Development and Inclusive Excellence, and the Office of Sponsored Research and Projects.”

Regarding the participation of librarians, the report said there are clear avenues in governance and planning, but it appears that there is no progress in enhancing librarian participation in the evaluation of information literacy.

“The team recognizes this issue did not reach the necessary priority level to be fully addressed in the past two years, given the numerous initiatives that were undertaken. With the progress made in other areas, CLU could now explore this as a priority,” the report said.

Librarian, Head of Undergraduate Instruction and Outreach Yvonne Wilber, who has a Ph.D. in the Humanities, said in an email interview that the report is fair in recognizing that Cal Lutheran can do “a better job of assessment” when it comes to the assessment of information literacy as an institutional learning outcome. She said that the librarians at Pearson Library are professionally equipped to lead this area because instructional librarians can teach students how to “locate, evaluate, and use information effectively and ethically.” Also, Wilber said the librarians can provide instruction on research strategies, database searching, citation styles and critical thinking skills, as well as differentiating between credible and unreliable information.

These are all aspects of information literacy, and therefore we know what to look for in our assessment of that student learning outcome,” Wilber said. “I am pleased to say that the Office of Educational Effectiveness and Institutional Research and the librarians–– under my leadership–– are already moving toward fulfilling this requirement.”

Wilber said she often works with students who don’t know what scholarly sources are, despite being asked to utilize them in courses, which tells her that not all students have received basic library instruction. She said an example to alleviate this would be to incorporate literacy instruction into syllabi and courses that allow for this.

Wilber said she does not foresee any difficulty in meeting the preliminary assessment goals. 

“However, I do think it would be helpful for the College to develop ways to ensure the equitable distribution of library instruction and also a more streamlined method of assessment,” Wilber said. 

Issue 5: Consistency in staff hiring processes and systematic mechanisms for elevating staff concerns

The report found that implementing a staff senate as well as systems for reporting negative incidents, such as the incident reporting system, and providing emotional support through the new Ginger app “hold promise for elevating staff concerns to leadership,” but the success of these systems are unknown because of their implementation status being 18 months or less. 

The commission said that the creation of a staff senate was met with enthusiasm and staff believe this will help provide them “a more equalized status vis-à-vis faculty.” Also, the report said that staff hope this senate will help with the information from conducted exit interviews being received and reviewed. 

“While the enthusiasm about these changes was quite palpable, it appears that there is still a strong ‘wait and see’ attitude among staff regarding whether the changes will result in true change at CLU,” the report said. 

Included in the report, the university implemented use of Ginger, “an emotional support app for employees,” to aid in addressing employee concerns with approximately 8% of employees having activated the app. 

The report said that the mandatory annual review process for staff has not been enforced across all divisions and although there have been efforts for more consistency, the rollout has been slow. 

“Recent changes in CLU’s hiring, appraisal, and general human resource policies as well as the mandatory annual review process suggest that there will be more consistent hiring and equitable job allocations in the future,” the report said. 

The report said faculty and staff reported that they are “very overworked,” largely because of the number of open positions at the university. 

“Staff reported that they believe the number of open positions has caused people to take on many more responsibilities without having this reflected in their formal position description and compensation,” the report said. 

According to the report, there has been a recent change to review job descriptions and conduct compensation reviews as reported by the vice president for Talent, Culture and Diversity, but when this will be conducted is unclear. 

Issue 6: Support services for graduate students

The report said, in response to the commissions’ concerns, exit surveys for graduate students have been implemented and a new Council of Graduate Deans has been created. According to the report, the council, in tandem with faculty, “has already identified areas to focus on for improving the learning experience of graduate students.”

“CLU has taken initial steps to both enhance and reevaluate the effectiveness of graduate student support services. The reevaluation is incomplete as it will require continued data collection and analysis,” the report said. 

Faculty, staff and ASCLU President’s reactions

A faculty member said in an email interview that they agree with the commendations highlighted by WSCUC and think that the recommendations are legitimate. 

“There are faculty and staff concerns with the ‘climate’ that is being created by the upper administration in relationship with faculty and staff. This also impacts retention of faculty and staff,” the faculty member said. “I think adequately addressing these two items will be a challenge.” 

Director of the Office of Education Abroad and President of Staff Senate Matthew Yates said in an email interview that he and Staff Assembly Chair Rachel Ronning Lindgren are happy to learn about the removal of the notice of concern.

“The remainder of the report fairly represents challenges that staff continue to face. I am confident that the Staff Senate can advocate for positive changes on behalf of the wider Staff Assembly,” Yates said. 

Associated Students of California Lutheran University President Greg Pimentel said in an email interview that the WSCUC report addresses some important and needed things that should be implemented and does a good job of recognizing the university’s progress.

“I feel that the feedback is necessary and ultimately needed for the advancement of the university,” Pimentel said. “In some parts, that is very critical of the university, however, it is truthful and necessary to grow and move forward to advance the university.”

Pimentel said he would like Cal Lutheran administration to address issues about staff and faculty retention, which he said are the biggest concerns of the report. He said that the goals set by WSCUC are attainable and necessary for the university, but there might be difficulties in measuring the progress of these goals.