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Role of district office pondered as changes come to Harold Washington College

By David Struett
Managing Editor

With accreditation renewal approaching for Harold Washington, and a new chancellor about to be chosen to head City Colleges, some faculty and administration have expressed their opinion on HWC’s evolving relationship with the district office.

On the pro side, the district office is considered an efficient way to share resources and expertise between the seven individual city colleges: Daley, Kennedy-King, Olive Harvey, Truman, Malcolm X, Wright and Harold Washington.

For the cons, the district office has been seen as overstepping its authority by consolidating programs into certain campuses and making other academic decisions for the schools. The charge is that district should not be making academic decisions because it is not an accredited institution of higher learning. Each of the seven city colleges earn their own accreditation, and their right to teach, separately, and should be given autonomy to make their own academic decisions, according to their argument.

“We are individually accredited. So Kennedy-King is, Olive Harvey is, Truman is, Daley is, Malcolm X is. The institution that’s not accredited is central district office. The biggest blowback is that district, since they not accredited, should not be making any academic decisions,” said John Hader, English professor at HWC.

“[District’s] decisions should be like a support, like financial support, or human resources, hiring, that kind of stuff,” said Hader.

The criticisms stem from districts apparent interference in decisions that are thought to belong to Harold Washington. The district office began a “reinvention” program in 2010 after the appointment of Chancellor Cheryl Hyman. The program was designed to improve CCC’s graduation rate, which was seven percent at the time, but many faculty saw it as an overstep into the autonomy of the colleges.

During HWC’s last accreditation evaluation in 2009, the college hosted peer-reviewers from other colleges who commented on the city college and central district relationship. Hader remembered the visitors asking, “How the heck does your district fit in here?”

“And at that time, they [the district] weren’t that into making academic decisions,” he said. “They were making some, like having us do ‘great books’ programs, and stuff like that. But the visiting team in 2009 were like, ‘This is a head scratcher. They’re not accredited, are they?’ But in the last seven years, there’s been marked ramp up in academic decisions coming from the central office. That’s something they’ve got to sort our with our Higher Learning Commission [our accreditor].”

President Margie Martyn agreed that some decisions belong to be made by HWC and not district, but that district should be allowed to form policies if the faculty of the seven city colleges are involved in the decision making process.

“So, basically, the Higher Learning Commission understands that we’re part of a district. But they also understand that we’re seven separately accredited institution,” said Martyn. “So what’s really important is that the district shouldn’t make decisions for us, they have to make decisions with us.”

The “online learning” department was moved from district to HWC after it was pointed out that the district office could not be in charge of it, according to Martyn. “It used to be run out of district, out of the district office, and they realized, no, it has to be under one of the accredited schools so it has academic oversight,” said Martyn.

District actively involves faculty of all the colleges in creating its district-wide credential guidelines, said Martyn.

“Every June the district team sends out the credential guidelines for our faculty,” she said. “All of the faculty weigh in on it, we send that info back to district, and they synthesize it for all seven colleges. So I think it would be worrisome from HLC’s standpoint if we didn’t have participation,” said Martyn.

“What HLC believes is that faculty have a really important voice in three major areas: 1. development of curriculums 2. assessment 3. credentialing faculty,” she said.

Another positive aspect of the district office, according to Martyn, is how expertise can be shared among the campuses through district. During her tenure as a vice president, she proposed to change the district rules about how students choose to update their class requirements to ones enacted after they enrolled in a certain program.

“That part of district is helpful because they help us organize it, and they have resources to put the catalog together. But it’s really important that all seven colleges are active and have a voice,” said Martyn.

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Deadline approaches for Harold Washington College to renew accreditation

Deadline approaches for Harold Washington College to renew accreditation