In December, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) placed UVA on warning for one year, following a review of governance issues related to the Board of Visitors and the resignation and reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan last summer.
Understanding SACSCOC and why accreditation is important
SACSCOC is the recognized regional accrediting body for 11 states; it defines accreditation as a process "intended to assure constituents and the public of the quality and integrity of higher education institutions and programs, and to help those institutions and programs improve." The U.S. Department of Education requires that universities be accredited to be eligible for federal funds, such as Pell Grants for students and research grants for faculty, and has authorized SACSCOC as the accrediting agency in the University's region. Accreditation is also necessary for graduates to be eligible for graduate and professional schools.
The Department of Education issues a set of core standards that must be met in all regions and all universities. The SACSCOC action concerns the University's compliance with one of these core standards on board governance, and with a lesser regulation on the role of faculty. SACSCOC believes UVA was not in compliance with a rule that a minority of governing board members can't be in charge and another rule requiring policy that clearly identifies the faculty's role in governance.
The warning's effect on the University
The University was placed on warning for 12 months and is expected to correct deficiencies or make satisfactory progress toward compliance. The sanction does not affect the University's eligibility to receive federal funding, including financial aid and sponsored research, nor is it a criticism of the University's academic quality and programs. "The concern is over the university's governance and really had nothing to do with the academic quality of the university," Molly Broad, president of the American Council on Education, said in an Associated Press story. "The warning is a reminder that the university is a public trust and that the governance responsibilities are shared among the rectors, the president and the faculty. It should be taken seriously, but … I believe [it] will quickly be in UVA's rearview mirror."
How the warning is being addressed
In November, the Board approved three new policies designed to promote greater accountability and transparency. These new policies provide clarity on procedures for electing and removing presidents, establish comprehensive guidelines for evaluating a president's performance and provide for more direct involvement by faculty in board deliberations. The Board of Visitors and the president continue to work together on the governance-related concerns raised by SACSCOC in preparation for a fall 2013 visit from representatives who will, according to a January letter to the University, "review evidence of compliance."