The Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ Senior College and University Commission has placed The Master’s University & Seminary on probation after a visiting WSCUC team in March found TMUS out of compliance with numerous accreditation standards.
In a letter to TMUS President Dr. John McArthur, Commission President Jamienne S. Studley noted the visiting team found non-compliance issues in four areas: board independence, personnel and management practices, operational integrity and leadership.
Regarding board independence: “The institution does not meet the WSCUC requirement for governing board independence since many members of the Board are employed by the institution or another organization for which the president has authority,” the letter reads.
Personnel and management: “In addition to a pattern of personnel actions and practices that are inconsistent with the TMUS Employee and Faculty Handbooks, the visiting team observed and received reports of a climate of fear, intimidation, bullying, and uncertainty among significant numbers of faculty and staff.
“Additionally, the team learned through individual interviews with and confidential emails from significant numbers of faculty and staff that there is a disturbing climate of fear, intimidation and bullying at the institution.”
Operational integrity: “The institution’s 2017 financial audit contains a specific finding on appearance of conflicts of interest with the President’s son-in-law supervising a contract from which he benefits, as well as institutional aid that exceeds typical aid awards being awarded to friends and relatives.
“Of particular concern to the Commission is that the auditor first identified these practices as ‘significant findings’ more than six months ago and there is no evidence that they have been addressed by the institution to date.
“Additionally, as a result of inquiry prompted by Third Party Complaints to the Commission and the visiting team interview with staff concerning the handling of a reported rape of a student a decade ago, the Commission is concerned about the institution’s attention to the requirements of the Clery Act and the Violence Against Women’s Act.
“The Commission is concerned about the capacity and willingness of the institution’s leadership to operate with integrity, high performance, appropriate responsibility, and accountability.”
Finally, leadership: “The institution is not in compliance with the requirement in CFR 3.8 regarding the Chief Executive Officer. In addition, some individuals have been hired without job descriptions being provided and/or searches being conducted. Some institutional leaders lack higher education experience, preparation, and knowledge of key higher education regulatory expectations and professional standards for institutions of higher education.”
Studley’s July 16 letter noted TMUS’ accreditation would be continued for seven months, and that another special visit will be made in November to address the areas of non-compliance.
The visiting accreditation team’s report detailed the non-compliance issues they found at TMUS.
“We believe that TMUS appeared to operate with little awareness of and attention to WSCUC standards and previous actions until the time of preparation for the current visit,” the report reads in part.
“As indicated previously,” the report adds, “the 2012 Special Visit, the 2013 Interim Report, the 2014 Interim Report, and a Progress Report in 2015, expressed consistent concerns for TMUS:
● faculty scholarship and doctoral program culture
● assessment and program review processes
● strategic planning
● engagement with women’s perspectives within the seminary curricula.”
“The AVT (accreditation visit team) was pleased to see evidence of tangible efforts in each dimension referenced in prior reports and visits,” the report said. “It is clear that when WSCUC actions are taken, there is a specific and credible response from the institution. We honor and appreciate the progress that has been made to date.
“However, we express concern that with the volume of personnel transitions that have taken place in the last 12-24 months, that the institution appears to have little continuity or institutional knowledge regarding accreditation standards and requirements…
“With the recent turnover of cabinet-level leaders, most of the new team are recent alumni of the institution and lack higher education experience or connection to professional associations or peers in similar professional roles,” the report reads. “In most cases, recent senior leaders have dual pastoral/TMUS roles and lack higher education experience beyond student ranks.”
Read the complete team report here.
In Studley’s letter, the Commission detailed eight steps it requires TMUS to take to keep its accreditation, including scheduling a meeting with university leadership within 90 days of the July 18 letter.
The Commission also recommended the university create a special task force to address the concerns related to hostile work environment and personnel actions “that are inconsistent with the institution’s personnel policies,” and that TMUS’ chief operating officer get up to speed with required reporting responsibilities under the Clery Act, the Violence Against Women Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Further, the Commission called for the university’s president and board to follow proper personnel policies, to implement practices to resolve and eliminate conflicts of interest, that the CEO be full-time and dedicated solely to that role, and that the executive staff be able to satisfy regulatory requirements.
Read the complete Commission action letter here.
TMUS issued the following statement in response to the Commission’s letter:
“The Board of Directors of The Master’s University & Seminary has received the ‘Report of the WSCUC Team for Reaffirmation of Accreditation’ including their ‘Findings, Commendations, and Recommendations.’ We have also received and reviewed the Commission’s final recommendations.
“As a result of the WSCUC visiting team report, WSCUC found TMUS to be out of compliance in specific areas for which the University has been placed on probationary status. The primary concerns were not related to issues of academic or scholastic quality. WSCUC recognized and commended the excellence of the academic programs of the University and the Seminary.
“Rather, the areas of noncompliance primarily relate to issues of corporate governance and operational matters, which the TMUS Board of Directors is proactively addressing. During the probationary period, TMUS remains accredited and all forms of state and federal financial aid remain available to students.
“TMUS has voluntarily submitted itself to WSCUC for accreditation since 1975 and has found the process critical and helpful, and is committed to maintaining the accreditation it provides. Accordingly, we have already begun to address the content of the report, including implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.
“The Executive Committee met shortly after it received the final report, and the full Board of Directors has met for extended discussion and planning recently. The board and staff are working intensively with the Commission to resolve every area of concern. TMUS is endeavoring to have the probationary status removed as soon as possible.
“We recognize the crucial importance of this issue to all our students, parents, alumni, and ministry support partners. We take seriously the obligation to provide an excellent education for our students and work environment for our employees not only because it is expected by our accrediting agency, but more importantly because it honors Christ our Lord.”