The QEP Conundrum Part 1

There is much buzz on the Shorter campus about the impending visit of the SACS on-site reaffirmation team that will be here on Tuesday. For weeks, there has been a push for every employee, from the top down and for every student to know the content and intent of Shorter’s QEP. What is a QEP? It is a required part of SACS-COC (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Commission on Colleges) re-affirmation requirements. QEP stands for Quality Enhancement Plan. The QEP, selected by the university, is designed to focus on some aspect of all students’ educational experience, which needs improvement.

SACS requires that the selection of the QEP – that aspect of learning that needs improvement – be determined by the full spectrum of the institutional community. The following are the items that SACS QEP lead evaluator will be interested in knowing:

  • Has the institution developed an acceptable Quality Enhancement Plan?
  • Did the institution engage in an institutional process that identified key issues emerging from institutional assessment in order to choose the focus of its plan?
  • Does the QEP focus on learning outcomes and/or the environment supporting student learning?
  • Has the institution demonstrated the institutional capability to initiate, implement, and complete the QEP?
  • Does the QEP include broad-based involvement of constituencies in the development and proposed implementation of the plan?
  • Does the QEP identify goals and a plan to assess their achievement?

In the Fall of 2010, Shorter’s QEP Committee put out a request for proposals for the university’s QEP. The Request for Proposals was issued to faculty, staff and students. Videos encouraging participation from the community were posted on YouTube. In other words, anyone was eligible to submit a topic and short proposal for the QEP.

The selection process was very clear. Participants could chose from any of ten topics, which had been determined through focus groups, surveys and questionnaires throughout the Shorter community. In November 2010, the top ten short proposals were selected and Top QEP Short Proposals were announced. The top five proposal candidates were asked to submit a long proposal, further amplifying their topic.

The winning proposal, which addressed several of the topics, was selected and the winner was  named in January 2011.

From January through July, the community moved forward with the idea that the chosen proposal would be the basis for Shorter’s QEP. While we acknowledge that SACS had issue with the original proposal as presented, the QEP Committee met for the remainder of the academic year, but no new QEP was chosen. By August, however, the QEP had been changed, and a new QEP Committee had been chosen. The new QEP was selected without consultation with the QEP committee or the Shorter community in general. We question how a second QEP was determined. With the faculty off campus for the summer, how could a new QEP be chosen?  The new QEP does not appear to be one of the top five long proposals. The new QEP most closely mirrors the intent of number nine of the short proposals. Why was one of the top five long proposals not chosen as the replacement QEP? Why were all but two members of the QEP Committee replaced, and why, unlike the previous committee, which had broad institutional representation, are five of the nine members all individuals that report to one of the committee co-chairs, including the other co-chair? Is it just coincidence that the new QEP was only determined after Dr. Dowless’ first month on the job? And is it just coincidence that the QEP chosen during the summer of 2011 closely mirrors the requirements of the Biblical Principles on the Integration of Faith and Learning?

The QEP plans have been posted on the Shorter website. We find that the QEP presentation raises some troubling questions as well. It has been determined that students will be evaluated in years 2-5 through the process of debates. Putting aside the relatively subjective nature of the evaluation tool and the lack of quantitative data that such a method will produce, we must ask more significant questions.

The very nature of debate itself is to discover Truth. If a student is to be rated on the content of his/her debate argument, is there ever room for a non-Christ centered argument to win the debate? Will there truly be only one Truth, as determined by the administration?  If there is, how will the faculty member, who has coached the student to argue against Christ-centered conclusions, be judged on their ability to instill Christ-centered principles into his/her teaching? Or could it be that the whole evaluation process will more closely resemble the degree of Fundamentalist indoctrination that has been achieved at Shorter?

We will conclude our examination of the QEP in Part Two. Stay tuned.

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