Probation to continue for TMU, Seminary

The Master's University.
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Accreditation officials who placed The Master’s University and Seminary on probation last year announced the probation will continue due to ongoing issues relating to campus climate, operational integrity and board independence.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ Senior Commission on Colleges and Universities (WSCUC) placed the university and seminary on probation following a visit from an accreditation team in spring 2018. A special follow-up visit to the institution was held in November to check on the institution’s progress in addressing WASC’s concerns.

On Saturday, WSCUC released a report — and accompanying action letter — that was developed in response to the “special visit” occurring last year. The letter serves as a formal notification and official record that WSCUC will continue to impose the sanction of probation upon TMUS.

“The commission found that The Master’s University and Seminary is not in compliance with WSCUC Standards 1 and 3 and acted to continue the sanction of probation,” the letter states, explaining when an institution fails to meet one or more of the Standards of Accreditation, then the commission will notify and give the institution no longer than two years from the date of the action to correct the deficiencies.

If an institution has failed to remedy the issues within two years, then the commission is required to take adverse action, “which in this case would take the form of withdrawal of accreditation,” according to the commission’s action letter.

Officials with TMU could not be reached for comment Monday, but the WSCUC report concludes by acknowledging a sincere attempt from TMUS to resolve the issues raised in the latest commission action letter.

Previous problems
WSCUC has previously outlined a number of issues happening on-campus at the local private university, including allegations of conflicts of interest regarding student financial aid, and what the commission described as “a disturbing climate of fear, intimidation and bullying” at the university.

According to a WSCUC report dated March 2018, “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 were hired without job descriptions being provided or searches being conducted, and other institutional leaders appeared to lack higher education experience, preparation and knowledge of key higher education regulatory expectations and professional standards, according to the commission. “For example, when asked by the visiting team, the (chief operating officer Kory Welch) was unaware of the Clery Act, the Violence Against Women Act and the Family Education Right to Privacy Act,” the 2018 letter reads.

“Since that visit, the institution has taken steps to move Mr. Welch into an advisory capacity for the Office of the President,” but numerous confidential email reports made to the commission teams were “notable,” according to WSCUC officials.

The most recent WSCUC letter states, “Some of those messages addressed the ongoing concerns of Mr. Welch’s role on campus, while many of those reports referenced sexual assault matters from years ago but indicated an ongoing concern about TMUS’ handling of such complaints.”

The recently released documents added the visiting team found that TMUS has made progress in the area of campus climate. “However, staff and faculty reported fears that the climate may regress after WSCUC stepped away.”

President and board
As previously reported, TMUS made a commitment to transition its CEO John Macarthur from the position of president to chancellor of the seminary within 18 months of the date of the visit, the report states. “Yet, at the panel interview, the president mentioned that the board has extended that date and had still not taken steps to define the requirements and job description for the institution’s next president.”

The WSCUC Governing Board Policy states a governing board must minimally demonstrate independence to ensure that all board actions are taken in accordance with the institution’s best interests and those of the students it serves, but according to the most recent report, “The commission observes that the board continues to take direction from the president rather than fulfilling its role of overseeing the president and maintaining priorities that are consistent with advancing the institutional mission.”

As a result, “The commission is concerned that TMUS still struggles in the area of operational integrity and transparency,” and requires the institution and its board to respond by taking the appropriate actions, the new letter says.

These actions include: ensuring a successful succession and transition of the presidential role, conducting a national search prior to Dec. 31, 2019, and continued communication with constituents in the TMUS community regarding personnel actions and leadership succession. TMUS should also establish and implement a formal procedure that allows for a safe environment for staff and faculty to express grievances and ethical concerns, according to the action letter.

Another meeting between the WSCUC staff and representatives of The Master’s University and Seminary is required to be held within 90 days, the letter said. The purpose of the meeting is to further clarify the commission’s findings and reasons for its decision.

It will also be used to review the actions taken by TMUS since the two sides last met, “with particular attention (being paid) to the WSCUC Independent Governing Board Policy,” the letter states.

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