An accreditation board has placed St. Paul College on probation just two months after its president announced his intent to step down amid allegations of fostering a “climate of fear and intimidation.”
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) issued a two-year probation Thursday, citing concerns about high staff turnover, inadequate record keeping and underqualified instructors.
A six-page report outlining the board’s rationale also referenced an April 19 letter signed by most full-time faculty identifying campus climate as an ongoing problem. Faculty members lamented that “their opinions are not taken seriously by the administration in the decisionmaking process.”
But the criteria that ultimately triggered probationary status was the failure to properly assess student learning.
“We knew this was a likely outcome,” said Ron Anderson, senior vice chancellor for the Minnesota State system. “I have every confidence that, as challenging as this is, they are going to come out of it stronger and more resilient.”
St. Paul College is the first and only school to be placed on probation within Minnesota State’s network of 30 state colleges and seven universities.
The public two-year college will remain accredited through 2021 but is required to notify its 7,000 students — and even prospective ones — of its probationary status. Interim President Deidra Peaslee said the school is working hard to address HLC’s concerns and assured staffers that the accreditation decision would have minimal impact on students.
“Our students’ ability to begin or complete their course of study and access financial aid are not affected,” Peaslee said in a statement. “To further assure that our students are not affected, St. Paul College’s leadership is reaching out to our four-year college partners to reaffirm existing credit transfer agreements and practices.”
Over the past several months, St. Paul College has taken steps to rectify troubled findings, including the submission of a balanced budget, funding 21 vacant staff positions and addressing three faculty members who failed to meet minimum qualifications for teaching in a career-technical field.
Once the school provides evidence that it has met the accreditor’s concerns, it can be removed from probation in June 2021. That’s assuming the institution passes a new site evaluation beginning in December 2020.
Peaslee, former vice president of academic and student affairs at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, replaced longtime President Rassoul Dastmozd this month. Dastmozd retired June 30 after harsh critiques of his leadership style by the faculty union.
HLC’s accreditation team, which began evaluating the college last fall during a routine 10-year review, previously noted that employees feared reprisal if they spoke candidly and were concerned about remaining anonymous if they provided information.
“Faculty reported their voices were not heard and that there is a general lack of transparency throughout the institution. Faculty also indicated that even the budget itself is not publicly available,” the report states.
Dastmozd now works in the chancellor’s office at Minnesota State as an assistant for special projects. An agency spokesman said his contract remains in effect until June 2020.
Maggie Zimmerman, head of the college faculty union, attributed some of the recent turmoil to the school’s “constant state of reorganization.”
Rapid administrative turnover has made it difficult to follow through on policy changes, she said. Probationary status is disappointing, but Zimmerman believes the faculty is ready to take on the challenge.
“We remain an excellent school,” she said. “The classroom experience has always been good and will continue to be. This is just an opportunity to get better and tighten up our ship.”