Business professors fear school’s accreditation ‘in jeopardy’

The newly appointed interim dean of the GW School of Business is trying to delay a campus visit by its academic accreditor, three weeks after the school abruptly lost its top leader.

With business professors casting doubt on the school’s accreditation prospects, interim dean Christopher Kayes told faculty at a closed-door meeting Friday that he asked the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business to meet with the school’s leaders and faculty next spring, instead of December, to give the college more time to prepare after a major leadership change.

Losing accreditation or facing probation would likely mean a major reputation downgrade, as well as enrollment declines. The accreditation is based on four factors: the school’s strategic management, innovation of faculty and staff, teaching and learning, and faculty qualification and engagement.

Robert Reid, the chief accreditation officer of the AACSB, said the campus visitors would largely ask administrators “about plans they have in place and plans for going forward.”

Reid said he could not comment on how the overspending or the firing could directly affect accreditation, which occurs every five years.

“I think in the life of a business school, or the life of any organization, there are times when there’s a change in leadership, and from an accreditation standpoint, we’re looking more at the overall quality of the school and their plans for the future,” he said.

Several professors said they believed the business school’s chances for accreditation were hurt by Doug Guthrie’s dismissal Aug. 22.

Sok-Hyon Kang, a professor who served as a vice dean under Guthrie, said shaky finances are often a reason that schools do not get accredited or face delays.

“Accreditation is going to get much harder this year, no matter what,” Kang said. “We’d been preparing for AACSB during the last three years very well, so getting accredited this year was almost a done deal. Now it’s in jeopardy.”

Phillip Wirtz, vice dean of programs and education who temporarily led the school before Kayes, said the school’s greatest vulnerability would be its lack of autonomy from GW’s central administration. The business school splits about 50 percent of tuition revenue with GW at large.

“If I were a site visitor right now I’d say, ‘Wait a minute. They fired a dean three days before the semester started and three-and-a-half months before the accreditation site visit. Tell us again about that independence thing?’ And I think we’re going to have to worry about that,” he said.

The School of Medicine and Health Sciences was the last college to be put on probation by its accrediting body. Its accreditation was put on hold between 2008 and 2010 because it did not meet the standards for curriculum management and student space.

The business school must also submit a self study by its faculty within the next three weeks as part of the accreditation process. Direct references to Guthrie in the self study have already been struck from the report, Wirtz said.

The college had seen a solid growth in revenue under Guthrie, but had also overspent for the last fiscal year by $13 million – which administrators said prompted Guthrie’s firing.

Guthrie had told The Hatchet that he thought he would remain in the deanship through accreditation, despite the budget issues.

Provost Steven Lerman maintained that the business school was not in long-term financial distress, and that it covered the budget gap with the reserve funds and extra revenue.

He added that he did not think it would be more difficult to secure accreditation, and that “one in four or one in five” of schools undergoing the accreditation process have interim deans.

“I believe accreditations are not about people, they’re about institutions,” Lerman said.

Wirtz told The Hatchet that he was negotiating a budget with Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Planning Forrest Maltzman for the next year, but had not yet come to an agreement.

So far, he said, the plan outlined that each department, center and institute in the school would run its own budget, overseen by its director. Before, Guthrie controlled those budgets from the dean’s office.

Joseph Vibert, the executive director of the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors – which includes GW’s accrediting body – said he did not think the firing of a dean would be substantial enough to delay accreditation.

– Cory Weinberg contributed to this report

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