Redevelopment of the ATS Accreditation Standards: Your Input Requested!

ATS Accreditation
Submitted by Debbie Creamer, The Association of Theological Schools

As many ATLA members are likely already aware, the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) is currently engaging in a comprehensive redevelopment of its accrediting Standards and Procedures. The last such major revision was in 1996 (the revisions in 2010-2012 were more modest), a generation after the previous redevelopment in 1972. It seems timely then that the ATS membership voted at its June 2018 Biennial Meeting “to authorize the ATS Board of Commissioners to undertake a comprehensive redevelopment of the Standards of Accreditation and the Commission Poli­cies and Procedures expeditiously and with a substantial participation process.” The unanimous vote was based on a five-point rationale and was followed by a membership discussion of key questions and concerns. The ATS Board of Commissioners appointed a 19-member Task Force to lead the redevelopment process.

Redevelopment of ATS Accreditation: First Year

The current timeline for the redevelopment envisions a two-year process (June 2018 to June 2020), with regular membership involvement throughout the process. The first year (2018-2019) is called “a year of listening, researching, and reflecting” during which time the Task Force will intentionally engage a wide variety of audiences. ATS’s Colloquy newsletter and a redevelopment website will be updated periodically with other ways in which members can offer their perspectives in the process, and anyone can email comments or questions at any time to redevelopment@ats.edu.

Librarians are a key constituency group for ATS and are well represented on the Redevelopment Task Force, which includes Tom Tanner (previously library director at Lincoln Christian University, now director of accreditation at ATS and staff liaison for the redevelopment process), Debbie Creamer, (previously library director at Iliff School of Theology and now ATS’s senior director of accreditation), and Mitzi Budde (head librarian and professor at Virginia Theological Seminary). In addition, one of the designated working groups is focusing on libraries and technology. Debbie and Mitzi are leading this workgroup and will be seeking input from interested ATLA members in a variety of ways, including focus groups, webinars, presentations at regional ATLA gatherings and the annual conference, and other opportunities for librarians to speak into this process. Watch the ATLA Newsletter and ATLANTIS for further updates, or feel free to email me for more information.

Key Questions

Here are some of the questions that we will be asking along the way:

  • How have the current Standards (or Procedures) helped your school in better achieving its mission? Or, more generally, what would be helpful in any new Standards/Procedures?
  • How have the current Standards (or Procedures) hindered your school in better achieving its mission? Or, more generally on what would be harmful in any new Standards/Procedures?
  • What are some things in the current Standards (or Procedures) that you hope will not change?
  • What are some things in the current Standards (or Procedures) that you hope will change?
  • Is there anything you would like to tell the Redevelopment Task Force, especially in areas related to your work in theological education?

Librarians who are giving input are encouraged to review the current ATS Standards, with particular attention to Standard 4 (Library and Information Resources) but also noting the ways in which libraries and librarians are addressed throughout the entirety of the Standards (for example, libraries and librarians are also discussed under Standard 3 on Curriculum, Standard 5 on Faculty, the Educational Standard, and the Degree Program Standards). At the same time, it is important to remember that this process is described as a comprehensive redevelopment and not just an updating of the current Standards – and so, at this point, we are interested in feedback on general themes and commitments, rather than editorial changes to the current Standards, recognizing that the future Standards may take a different organizational structure than the current ones. Among other things, the Task Force envisions less focus on specific practices and more on strong framing principles that “promote the improvement and enhancement of theological schools to the benefit of communities of faith and the broader public” (the ATS mission).

Redevelopment of ATS Accreditation: Second Year

Looking ahead, the second year (2019-2020) of the two-year redevelopment process is called “a year of writing, revising, and recommending,” during which the Task Force anticipates proposing two public drafts for input from the membership. The first draft will be distributed in late fall 2019, and the second draft in early spring 2020. The second draft will be followed by a series of regional meetings and webinars to further inform the membership and to invite additional feedback before the Board of Commissioners makes its final recommendation for a revised set of Standards and Procedures in April 2020. The revised documents will then be distributed to the membership in May 2020 for a vote at the June 2020 Biennial Meeting in Vancouver. After approval, the Board would provide a grandfathering process over the next year or two (with details to be provided before the final vote).

The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada is a membership organization of 279 schools across the United States and Canada that offer graduate professional theological degrees to support professional leadership for communities of the Christian and Jewish faiths; the Commission on Accrediting is the recognized accrediting agency for ATS and includes 255 accredited members and 6 candidate members. For more information about the redevelopment process or about ATS more broadly, please feel free to contact me at creamer@ats.edu.

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