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Accreditation questioned at USF St. Pete

Administrators and faculty at USF-St. Petersburg have more than just scheduling classes and preparing coursework on their minds this semester. After being accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) 19 months ago, the University received a six-month warning from its accrediting body in December.

Although many students at USF-St. Petersburg have been unaware of the school’s recent accreditation issues, those nearing the end of their careers are particularly concerned.

“If you’re serious about your education, you better get to a school that measures up to the accrediting body’s standards,” said Justin Whitney, 27, a graduate student in the Florida Studies Program.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, SACS cited the University’s failure to comply with accreditation standards on student competency and academic achievement as the cause for the warning.

“The administration didn’t request anything. SACS wanted more information than we had at the time,” said John Jay Conlon, adjunct professor of literature.

The warning is the first step of a long series of punitive actions that can be taken by SACS against member institutions. There are three warning periods followed by three periods of probation. If the institution has not met SACS’s requirements after the probationary period, it will lose its accreditation.

Conlon said the administration has formed a committee that has been collecting student competency evaluations from professors to be presented to SACS.

While the warning is the most lenient sanction, administrators have until June to meet any further requirements from the accrediting body. University officials expect to know exactly what changes need to be made when they receive the complete report from SACS officials sometime in January.

“We are fully accredited and plan to stay that way,” said Chris D’Elia, interim vice chancellor of Academic Affairs.

D’Elia said the warning is “being taken very seriously by the University” and that administrators are working diligently to satisfy SACS’s requirements.

Dr. James Strachan, associate dean of the College of Business, said the issue did not arise from any academic deficiencies.

“This is an administrative issue resulting from our independence,” he said.

Both Strachan and D’Elia said that in the end, the process would strengthen and improve the University.

“We don’t believe it has affected us negatively in any way, shape or form,” said Strachan.

In 2001, legislation was passed that directed the St. Petersburg branch of USF to seek autonomy from the larger Tampa campus. In 2004, USF president Judy Genshaft granted its independence, allowing the University to acquire its own accreditation, admit its own students, hire faculty and grant tenure.