After years of struggling to get its house in order, the Masters of Library Science (MLS) program at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) lost its American Library Association (ALA) accreditation last week. While faculty and administrators hope to take the withdrawal as an opportunity to focus their efforts at revitalizing the troubled program, the withdrawal of ALA accreditation is a serious blow to the school.
According to Interim Dean of Graduate Studies Dr. Gregory Paveza, the withdrawal was due to ALA’s continuing concerns regarding faculty productivity at SCSU, as well as worries that the curriculum was not sufficiently up to date to be relevant. The Committee on Accreditation (COA) also expressed concerns that SCSU was not listening to students enough and incorporate feedback from students and alums to make changes to the program.
SCSU had been on conditional accreditation since 2010, but documents released showed problems with the program dating back as far as 2003, when its ALA-accredited status was renewed but with a number of concerns expressed by COA. After being put on conditional status, SCSU was responsible for developing a plan to bring the program up to ALA standards. “After several iterations the COA accepted the plan put forward by the faculty,” said Paveza. “The faculty had been moving ahead with that plan.”
Not quickly enough, it would seem. At its summer meeting ending July 1 of this year, the COA made the decision to withdraw SCSU’s ALA accreditation. SCSU appealed that decision, but on October 27 the COA announced that the appeal was denied and SCSU’s MLS program was stripped of its ALA-accreditation. An MLS from an ALA accredited program is required for many professional positions nationally, and remains a prerequisite for work in any school or public library in some states.
Karen O’Brien, director of the Office of Accreditation at ALA, described the decision to withdraw SCSU’s accreditation as a difficult one, but necessary. “This was one of the toughest reviews I can remember a panel having to do,” O’Brien told LJ. “It’s disappointing when a program doesn’t meet our standards and accreditation has to be withdrawn.” It’s also rare, added O’Brien, only happening about once a decade.
The decision is not necessarily a death knell, said Paveza. There is no official impact on graduates, and the 134 currently enrolled students will have two years from the date of the withdrawal to complete the program and keep their status as having attended an ALA accredited program.
Paveza is hopeful that foreign students, as well as those living in states that don’t require librarians to graduate from a program certified by the ALA, will continue to sign on for SCSU’s online program, but he admits that the school’s ability to attract students will likely be diminished. “I’m sure that it will have some impact on recruitment,” Paveza said, “But I think that will only be seen over time”
Connecticut residents will now be forced to leave the state to pursue an MLS, as SCSU’s program was the only ALA accredited one in the state. With that seal of approval removed, students will have to look at programs in neighboring states like Massachusetts and New York –and the increased tuition and time spent commuting that comes with them. You can take a look at some of the latest data on SCSU’s graduates in our Placements and Salaries survey here.
SCSU’s library sciences faculty expressed a sense of disappointment, but the overall tone is one of taking criticism rather than accepting defeat. “The panel’s written comments as well as their discussions with the faculty during their visit were quite helpful in terms of helping to refine our reorganizing and rebuilding,” said professor and program chair Hak Joon Kim. Losing accreditation is a hard pill to swallow SCSU’s MLS program, but Kim says it also has the potential to be a starting point from which to build a better program going forward. “If we look at history, we find example after example of events that at the time were taken as failure but were the catalysts that propelled an enterprise to greatness.”
Asked whether this marks the beginning of a tougher stance on accreditation from the ALA, O’Brien pointed out that the reasons behind a program moving to conditional accreditation status can vary widely. “Programs are clear on what’s at issue, what’s at stake, and when a decision to release them from conditional status or withdraw their accreditation will be made,” she said. As to whether SCSU’s withdrawal could serve as a wake-up call to other schools operating under conditional accreditation, O’Brien didn’t think any wake-ups were necessary, and that SCSU’s accreditation being withdrawn shouldn’t be seen as a message to any organization but SCSU. “It’s really sad when a program can’t get traction on positive change. It’s frustrating for everyone,” said O’Brien. But, she added, “It’s good for programs that are on conditional to know that that is not just words.”