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Reaccreditation effort set to lead a conversation about UW-Madison’s future

March 28, 2007 By Brian Mattmiller

What will it mean to be a great public university in a changing world? And how will UW–Madison embody this greatness? These core questions will face the UW–Madison community as the campus embarks on the 2009 Reaccreditation Project.

A UW–Madison leadership team steering the project has already laid the groundwork and will be actively seeking campus participation in coming months, hoping to frame the once-a-decade assessment around the themes of greatness and change.

Nancy Mathews, a wildlife ecologist and professor with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, has been selected by Provost Patrick Farrell to serve as director of the 2009 reaccreditation team. Mathews will lead the project through a process that calls for far-reaching input from the campus, alumni and community leaders, culminating in a late-fall 2008 report to the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and a site visit by HLC on April 13-15, 2009. One essential outcome of the self-study will be the development of a new campus strategic plan.

“This reaccreditation will be a valuable process to define both our core values and our aspirations for the future,” Mathews says. “The theme of the project is sufficiently broad to capture important sub- themes and will allow us to differentiate ourselves from other institutions.

“We will use this process as a chance to focus on themes of interest across campus and define our trajectory for the decades ahead.” Perhaps more so than any other decade, the world is in the midst of extraordinary change, Mathews says, posing new challenges and opportunities for higher education.

Mathews says that how UW–Madison responds to these major changes could come to define the institution in the 21st century. “For example,” Mathews suggests, “how might we do a better job of educating students to understand multiculturalism and world religions in this post-9/11 world? How can we better educate citizens and leaders to manage the threats to global environmental sustainability? What role might UW–Madison’s international education and world languages programs play to the essential need for more Americans to be culturally literate and fluent in nontraditional languages?”

Corporations and government agencies in Wisconsin and across the U.S. face a shortage of globally literate professionals. The economy of Wisconsin and national security depend on students being knowledgeable about international affairs, fluent in world languages and able to work in multicultural global teams.

In writing to the HLC, Chancellor John D. Wiley notes that the theme for this year’s self-study was discussed with groups such as the University Committee, the Academic Staff Executive Committee and a number of highly respected senior faculty and staff members.

“The proposed theme is beginning to generate a great deal of interest and excitement on campus,” writes Wiley. “There is a strong desire on the part of many members of our community to engage in conversations about the future direction of the UW–Madison as the flagship research and land-grant public institution in the state of Wisconsin.”

Mathews says the most important next step, which will take place this spring and likely be solidified by June is the development of sub- themes that will help inform the reaccreditation process. Those ultimately will be the building blocks for a new strategic plan for the institution.

Many opportunities for participation will begin in April, including online “world café” meetings, small-group listening sessions, followed by larger groups organized around disciplines. There will also be cross-disciplinary meetings to help synthesize all of the material and identify some “over-arching, cross-cutting” themes. Mathews says working groups will then be put in place during the summer to articulate the five to seven themes. They will form the backbone of the written reaccreditation plan.

One of the benefits of the reaccreditation process, says Mathews, is it can help identify real opportunities to move the university forward in concrete ways. Two of the most significant outcomes from the 1999 self-study were the advancement of core strengths in internationalization and interdisciplinarity through the development of the UW Center for Global Health and changes in the School of Education’s undergraduate curriculum.

The UW Center for Global Health, a joint initiative of the schools of Medicine and Public Health, Nursing, Pharmacy and Veterinary Medicine, was created in 2005 to promote interdisciplinary education, research and partnerships to address health issues that transcend national boundaries.

And the School of Education expanded its curriculum in 2006 with a focus on helping all the school’s undergraduates develop into “global citizens” who are aware of the world and have a sense of their own role as world citizens; respect and value diversity; and have a critical understanding of how the world works.

The core leadership team of the self-study will be Mathews, Farrell and executive assistant to the provost Eden Inoway-Ronnie. Helping support the overall effort is a process team, comprised of human resources, information technology and communications staff; and an implementation and evaluation team, which will include representatives selected by the University Committee and the Academic Staff Executive Committee.

Mathews says she is excited about the opportunity to start an open conversation about the university’s future.

“We are interested in the reflections all individuals – faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members – on the university experience: what is most memorable or important to them, and what in their minds makes a great university.”

To learn more about the 2009 Reaccreditation Project and how you can participate, contact Mathews at 263-6697,; or Inoway-Ronnie at 265-5975,