October 7, 2004 in City

UI’s report card includes list of suggestions

By The Spokesman-Review
 

MOSCOW, Idaho – The University of Idaho got a first glimpse at its own report card Wednesday as a regional accreditation team gave it a list of things the school needs to improve.

A team from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities has spent the past two days on the UI campus meeting with faculty, staff and students, part of a 10-year institutional reaccreditation visit.

Panel members said UI should work on public perceptions of its integrity, address the large deficits in the capital and operating budgets, and find a way to handle $80 million to $100 million in deferred maintenance for the buildings and systems on campus.

The review team appreciated the faculty’s hospitality and candor, said Jay Gogue, president of the University of Houston and team spokesman. Whether the issues they discussed with faculty and staff were problems or successes, they “were always presented in a way that you could tell the basic good of the university is at heart,” he said.

The school was anticipating some tough comments in the evaluation, especially after the past few years of budget cuts, questionable expenditures on a failed real estate project in Boise, and turmoil in the school’s top administration. UI’s former president Bob Hoover resigned in the spring of 2003, taking responsibility for overextending the school and its finances in an effort to build a campus in downtown Boise.

The team recognized those problems. Among its 16 recommendations were improving checks and balances on spending, filling and stabilizing the leadership positions, and obtaining a thorough and regular audit review.

The school is already working on a number of the team’s points, said UI President Timothy White. This past summer, White convened a special faculty and staff task force to produce a full review of the school and its programs in light of its problems. The task force recommendations seem to fit with the accrediting team’s review, said White.

White also noted that the accrediting team is looking at the past 10 years. But even in the last two months, the university has taken steps to rectify some problems, though it may be too soon for the changes to be felt universitywide, he said. One prime example is that last month the university hired an auditor who will report directly to the president, he said.

Along with the dings, the university got a few pats on the back.

The team commended the school on its efforts to improve student facilities on campus with new and improved residences and educational buildings. That work indicates the school’s commitment to support education and research, said Gogue. He also praised the faculty and staff for their dedication to the school and for providing the students with a quality education, even during a period of financial and administrative uncertainty.

White described that as one of the “goosebump comments” that pleased him most.

There will be other positives in the team’s final report that were too specific to mention at the brief meeting Wednesday, said White. Among them is the College of Agriculture’s efforts to collaborate with students and professors at Washington State University, he said.

One of the team’s first recommendations was that the UI’s board of regents – which is also the Idaho Board of Education – create a system for evaluating its own performance. That news brought a response of murmurs and “goods” from the audience at the team’s review.

Though no state Board of Education members were at the UI summation, they heard that point and the 15 others during a telephone conference with the team the day before, said UI Provost Brian Pitcher. They have also started having their own regular audit.

All told, to have the team identify only 16 problem areas at the UI out of the 228 it considers, is not a bad result, White said. “I felt very good about what they reported,” he said. “It confirms that what we’ve started doing is right.”

The team’s recommendations will go to the NWCCU board for review and approval in January. University officials are confident the school’s accreditation will continue.


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