In a comprehensive internal review produced as part of the Emerson’s reaccreditation process, the college found it needs to better integrate academic departments, increase physical space, and grow its financial resources for upcoming projects.
This 94-page review — called a “self- study” — is one element that Emerson’s peer institutions in the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) use to assess and assure the college’s quality. The reaccreditation procedure, which occurs every decade, will conclude in April.
The self-study has not yet been finalized. Students and faculty received a draft of the document in early December, the seventh of nine planned revisions.
“Our goal for the final is January 30,” said Linda Moore, vice president for academic affairs and co-chair of the reaccreditation process.
Moore said there were over 100 people — including students chosen by former Emerson President Jacqueline Liebergott, faculty, and staff — who have contributed to the report since its composition began in the fall of 2011.
One concern that the self-study highlights is a lack of integration between the Institute for Liberal Arts and the seven other academic departments.
“Emerson College’s academic organizational structure has been in place since 1997, and until recently appeared to be working well,” states the report. But, it continues, “It is frequently difficult for students to enroll in courses outside of their own major.”
The report suggests that this segregation stems, at least in part, from having each department draft its own curriculum, rather than having a campuswide committee.
“Over the years, some faculty members have lamented the ‘silo’ approach to the college,” the study says.
Moore said that she does not know the intentions behind the current academic structure — she came to Emerson five years after the structure was developed — but said this is an important area to consider.
“It is time to step back and reevaluate,” said Moore. “We will see what needs to be tweaked. It is a natural process.”
The self study also examines Emerson’s financial resources, focusing on sparse fundraising as an area of concern. According to the assessment, 93 percent of the school’s budget comes from student tuition and fees, one percent is drawn from the endowment, and the remaining is from fundraising, alumni donations, and other sources.
“Until recently, the college has been weak in the area of fundraising and development,” says the study. “Although late, Emerson is beginning to address this charge with vigor.”
Moore agreed, and said the college had not paid enough attention to raising money from external donors.
“Over the years we have we have grown tremendously, but not all areas have grown the same way,” said Moore. “It seems like fundraising is one area that has lagged behind.”
In an effort to rectify this deficiency, the college hired Jeffrey Schoenherr as its new vice president for development and alumni relations last year. Moore said she hopes Schoenherr’s experience raising money at Harvard and the University of Michigan can be applied to Emerson’s efforts.
Schoenherr’s work will likely become more critical as Emerson embarks on capital-intensive construction projects, including the LA campus, which the report says is already more expensive than the college had anticipated.
“Projections for this academic initiative were seriously underestimated,” says the study, adding that six years ago, Emerson calculated it would cost $30 million. “The total project cost for the Los Angeles site is $110 million.”
This unexpected spending has already caused two major ratings agencies, Moody’s Investors Service and Standard and Poor’s, to lower Emerson’s credit rating, and might force Emerson into “reexamining” elements of its current five-year strategic plan, according to the evaluation.
While the self-study is nearly complete, Moore said she and her colleagues will add an overview of the college this weekend, which will discuss the initiatives that President M. Lee Pelton announced during his inauguration last September.
“Keep in mind that this is just a snapshot; it is not where we want us to be,” she said. “This will show us how we can improve and where we want to be.”
Students will be able to give feedback directly to members of the NEASC, who will visit campus from April 7-10.
“This whole process,” said Moore, “is the campus looking at itself.”
Jackie Tempera, Beacon Staff, contributed to this report.