Story by Connie McDougall
The Steering Committee for Continuous Improvement (from left to right): Dan Hess, Doug Downing, Ian Stewart, Gary Karns, Alec Hill. They "rowed" the School of Business and Economics to international accreditation.
AACSB Accreditation Gives SPU's School of Business and Economics the Edge
Hill was actually in California to accept the honor granted by AACSB -- The International Association for Management Education, but since his 11-year-old daughter wanted to visit Disneyland, they made it a family outing. That's how the man who led SPU to a distinction reserved for the top one-third of U.S. business schools ended up on the Indiana Jones ride four times -- a fitting image since the route to accreditation was at least as arduous as any of Jones' adventures.
The School of Business and Economics (SBE) was notified of its accreditation by AACSB on April 9, after an intense seven-year team effort that stretched resources and talents to the limit. Curriculum was revamped, syllabi changed. There were exhaustive surveys, assessments and detailed examinations of what was working and what was not.
"It was never just about accreditation," says Gary Karns, associate professor of marketing and chair of the committee overseeing Seattle Pacific's graduate business curriculum. "Accreditation is a byproduct of being a good school."
Hill adds that there was a deep drive among school faculty members to be the best. Early in the process, he remembers a pointed remark by Associate Professor of International Business Joanna Poznanska. "She asked us, 'Do you want to play Carnegie Hall or wedding receptions?' We decided we wanted to play Carnegie Hall," says Hill.
To guide the application for accreditation, Hill formed the Steering Committee for Continuous Improvement. "That became our mantra," he says. A central team was formed with four professors, each heading a committee that targeted a specific area: undergraduate programs, graduate programs, faculty development and tenure/promotion.
Associate Professor of Economics Doug Downing chaired the Undergraduate Committee. Overall, few changes had to be made, but there were gaps in the offerings for students. "We did a very detailed analysis of our program, and surveyed students, alumni and employers," he says. "We found that students needed more opportunities to work on oral presentations and communication." To that end, a class in managerial communication was created.
Ian Stewart, professor of accounting, chaired the Faculty Development Committee, an assignment that he knew could have led to faculty revolt if done poorly. "We created a system in which each professor had a peer partner. They swapped class materials and sat in on each other's classes," he says. "In essence they were checking up on each other."
In many ways, this flew in the face of traditional concepts of academic freedom. "Those of us 'longer in the tooth' were brought up in the old school, where you teach whatever you want," laughs Stewart. "We were intruding on that old model and making the teaching process more public, much the way research is public and peer-reviewed."
In addition, faculty members were encouraged to increase the quantity and quality of their scholarship. "This put a tremendous burden on them," acknowledges Stewart, but in the end SBE boasts a faculty that balances scholarship and teaching, key points to AACSB.
Credibility was especially important since SBE was rejected for accreditation in 1993. "Every year since then we worked on it, and in 1998 two outside reviewers gave us a thorough look-over," says Hill. "When we applied in 1999, AACSB could have turned us down again, saying we weren't ready, so we held our breath."
Now that the School of Business and Economics has received AACSB's seal of approval, the entire University will benefit. Accreditation places Seattle Pacific in an exclusive club. Not only does SPU, as an AACSB-accredited institution, join the top tier of business schools in the nation, but it also becomes the only one of the nearly 100 members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities so honored.
"We'll be on embassy lists now," says Hill, and he means that literally. International students prefer accredited business schools, and where Seattle Pacific is not a household name -- back East for instance -- "this puts us on the radar screen."