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Preliminary SACS report on Darton unflattering

Darton State College Vice President for Student Affairs Gary Barnette said a leaked preliminary reaccreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) was an eye-opener for the college.

Darton State College Vice President for Student Affairs Gary Barnette said a leaked preliminary reaccreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) was an eye-opener for the college.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Darton State College Vice President of Student Affairs Gary Barnette sat frowning behind his desk. His right hand was tapping lightly on a thick document, its pages festooned with yellow sticky notes.

The document was an unflattering 65-page Southern Association of Colleges and Schools preliminary report from one of its reaccreditation committees. The report, written last month by an off-site review committee, is unavailable to the public, but The Albany Herald has obtained a copy.

Accreditation by SACS is the lifeblood of a post-secondary institution and loss of accreditation would be devastating to a college. The report, however, is not overly alarming in that the college will have time to furnish more information and address specific concerns before a SACS team on-site visit in November.

"This is not our best work," Barnette said. "We have to put together a self-study committee and will determine where we had problems. It's obvious we didn't provide enough information to them (SACS) in our initial response. It's embarrassing, but it's not a disaster. We can handle this."

The report consists of four basic parts: an overview, a discussion of assessment and compliance, an assessment of compliance, and an assessment of compliance with federal regulations.

The SACS committee's concerns are numerous, ranging from the college's website being unclear on how many programs the school offers to the evaluation of faculty.

The report states that "the institution did not provide a policy that clearly describes the evaluation policy for full-time faculty who were not on a tenure track or for part-time faculty ... evidence has not been presented to demonstrate the evaluations have been completed and performed on a periodic basis for both full-time and part-time faculty ..."

SACS spokesperson Pamela Crave stressed that the report was preliminary, adding that too much should not be read into the document.

"First of all, this preliminary report was never intended to be made public," Cravey said. "It is an informal report and not close to complete. It is intended to give the college an opportunity to respond to requests for more information. This report is simply asking for a full response to specific questions posed by the committee."

Another area of concern to the committee was a request for justifying and documenting qualifications of faculty. SACS asked for more information on 37 of the school's more than 250 instructors.

The SACS panel's concerns included lack of evidence or no evidence in graduate work, no degree listed, and insufficient evidence of academic or professional preparation.

Beth Tison, the executive assistant to Barnette, said she had reviewed the faculty list and said that the problem stemmed from the college not providing SACS with enough information on relevant coursework and graduate courses.

"You have to paint them a picture and hope they (SACS) accept it," Tison said. "I am confident we now have all the information they are asking for."

The report was not all gloomy for Darton. The committee wrote: "The bright spot for the institution, financially and otherwise, concerns its enrollment ... based on an enrollment increase, and tuition increases, the institution has relative financial stability."

Barnette said he regards the preliminary report as a learning moment.

"I am confident of our system, we just have to report the information in the right way," Barnette said. "This really opened our eyes. We'll make adjustments, and I am comfortable with those adjustments.

"I believe Darton College is an outstanding institution, very stable and well above average -- and we'll do a better job in the future."