Master’s University on probation

FILE PHOTO: The Master's University class of 2017 graduates sing a hymn at the start of commencement ceremonies at College of the Canyons on May 5, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

One of the six regional accrediting agencies in the United States has formally notified The Master’s University its accreditation is on probation, following a report questioning the college’s board independence, personnel and management practices, operational integrity and leadership.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, or WASC, through its Senior College and University Commission, or WSCUC, imposed the sanction of probation after its review team conducted a visit to TMU in March.

Among the issues cited in the WASC report are allegations of conflicts of interest regarding student financial aid, institutional leaders being hired who lack qualifications for the higher education positions they hold, and what the WSCUC described as “a disturbing climate of fear, intimidation and bullying” at the university.

The university has less than two years to correct the problems, according to a WASC letter sent to the private college and seminary in Placerita Canyon.

“We are very committed to addressing and fixing every issue that WASC has highlighted,” said Dean of Faculty Kevin Hill. “There’s a lot of complicated issues, so we’re working diligently because it’s not something we can fix in a day.”

Everything in the report is being dealt with at the board level right now, Hill said, adding, “WASC had nothing but positive things to say on the academic side of the institution.”

Hill said he could not speak on the specifics of the report, because it mostly deals with personnel matters, which are protected by federal law.

“We take seriously the obligation to provide an excellent education for our students and work environment for our employees,” according to a statement on TMU’s website, “not only because it is expected by our accrediting agency, but more importantly because it honors Christ our Lord.”

TMU has already begun to address the content of the report, Hill said, and school leaders assured students that the college’s accreditation status is fully maintained and all state and federal financial aid is still available.

Among the issues taken up by members of the WSCUC was TMU’s operational integrity, which came under question when the committee found a 2017 financial audit that contains the appearance of a conflict of interest, according to the WASC letter. “Multiple students who are family members of donors or related parties at TMUS received institutional aid (that) appeared to be above what is typically offered to all students.”

In addition, some individuals have been hired without job descriptions being provided or searches being conducted, and other institutional leaders appear to lack higher education experience, preparation and knowledge of key higher education regulatory expectations and professional standards, according to WSCUC. “For example, when asked by the visiting team, the (chief operating officer of the college) was unaware of the Clery Act, the Violence Against Women Act and the Family Education Right to Privacy Act,” the letter said.

The commission said it’s very concerned because its auditor first identified these practices as significant findings more than six months ago, yet there is no evidence that they have been addressed by the institution to date, according to WSCUC’s letter.

Despite the infractions, the school’s accreditation will continue for seven months and a special visit is scheduled for November to address areas of non-compliance, the WASC letter states. However, while an institution is on probation, any new sites or degree programs must be approved.

WSCUC’s letter said, “The commission is concerned about the capacity and willingness of the institution’s leadership to operate with integrity, high performance, appropriate responsibility and accountability,” due to the reasons outlined.

Many members of the college’s board are employed by the institution or another organization over which the university president has authority, which violates WSCUC requirements, the letter states. “Additionally, the team learned through individual interviews and confidential emails from significant numbers of faculty and staff that there is a disturbing climate of fear, intimidation and bullying at the institution.”

School leaders said the board and staff are working intensively with the accreditation group to resolve every area of concern, according to the prepared statement.

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