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Sunday June 26th

Breaking down the meaning of the Hussman school's provisional accreditation status

<p>UNC's School of Journalism and Media bears the name of Walter Hussman, a top donor, who opposed Nikole Hannah-Jones' bid for tenure.</p>
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UNC's School of Journalism and Media bears the name of Walter Hussman, a top donor, who opposed Nikole Hannah-Jones' bid for tenure.

The Hussman School of Journalism and Media was granted provisional accreditation status by an international professional journalism evaluation agency, according to an email from interim dean Heidi Hennink-Kaminski.

The decision was the result of a vote on April 29 made by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. 

The ACEJMC reviews accredited journalism schools every six years to ensure the schools are continuing to follow the council’s standards. After the evaluative process is complete, programs receive one of the following evaluations: accredited/reaccredited, provisional or denial.

The Hussman school was routinely reviewed in October 2021. The council found that the journalism school was out of compliance with its standard involving diversity and inclusiveness after its routine review of the school. It also found issues of concern involving the council's standard relating to mission, governance and administration. 

However, the accrediting site team still recommended reaccreditation and the ACEJMC Accrediting Committee voted unanimously 12-0, with two recusals, to affirm the site team's recommendation in March. The recommendation was then sent to the ACEJMC Accrediting Council for review. 

Provisional accreditation means that the Hussman school is still accredited as it undergoes the necessary changes needed to meet the standards of the accreditation council.

“Our policies state that a unit may receive provisional accreditation when the Council has found weaknesses that can be corrected within two years,” Peter Bhatia, president of the Accrediting Council and editor of the Detroit Free Press, said in a May 10 letter to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

After two years have passed, the ACEJMC will revisit the Hussman school and conduct a follow-up investigation. This investigation will lead to a decision to either re-accredit the school or revoke its accreditation.

When a school is provisionally accredited, the council president sends a letter to the institution's chief administrator detailing the program's deficiencies. 

The council’s site team said the journalism school needs to continue to follow its diversity plan and initiatives in student and faculty retention and recruitment specifically. It also said the school needs to include diversity and inclusion within its curriculum.

If the school fails to follow its diversity initiatives and make a significant change involving diversity, equity and inclusion work at the end of the two years it has been allotted, the school's accreditation could potentially be denied.

Hussman is an award-winning journalism school that has placed first overall in the Hearst Journalism Awards, a national competition that awards scholarships to students for "outstanding performance in college-level journalism," eight times since 2002. 

It is important for UNC to regain full accreditation as it looks to attract potential students and faculty members. If the Hussman school lost accreditation, it would also pose major challenges to UNC’s reputation as the top public university in the south.

Last summer, the Board of Trustees initially denied Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure at the Hussman school and led many to believe that the issue was rooted in the lack of diversity within UNC. UNC faculty also said the backlash from this controversy damaged the University’s reputation.

Bhatia said the decision to demote the school was not explicitly made because of the initial refusal to offer Nikole Hannah-Jones a tenured position, though it was an important factor in the ACEMJC’s discussion. 

The council’s site team met with Hussman faculty members and students in October 2021 and expressed concerns about negative comments they made about diversity and inclusiveness.

The council said the issues seemed to be "systemic of the culture" rather than a reflection of the controversies that were happening at the time of the visit, according to the letter to the chancellor. 

The chancellor must notify the ACEJMC office within 30 days from May 10, the day the letter was sent, if the school wants to appeal the decision.

In the letter, Bhatia explained that grounds for an appeal must be based on evidence that the council failed to adhere to applicable adopted procedures or evidence that the decision was arbitrary or not supported by substantial evidence. 

@zoefrederick12

university@dailytarheel

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