In October, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo will host a team representing the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), the accrediting agency that will assess how well our university is fulfilling its mission in educating students and serving our community.
When they come to visit, they will meet with university students, staff, administrators, campus governing groups, alumni, and community members. They will review reams of data and reports and study how well our students learn, how the university addresses issues of equity, and how we manage our financial and personnel resources.
The Core Commitments of the Organization are the same as our own: Student Learning and Success; Quality and Improvement; and Institutional Integrity, Sustainability, and Accountability. All these commitments reflect the framework in which we operate every day.
In addition to reviewing the institution’s following of the Core Commitments, the team will look to how well our students acquire the Core Competencies: written and oral communication, quantitative reasoning, information literacy, and critical thinking.
Other values, such as an appreciation for diversity and civic engagement are qualities they will look for in our graduates, as well as the so-called soft skills such as working well with others. All the ingredients of a high-quality education will be reviewed and suggestions will be offered.
The process is designed to be collegial and allow our peers (a team of administrators and faculty) to make suggestions so that we can improve. The team understands the challenges we face, particularly as we have had to navigate the pandemic by moving most of the curriculum online and dealing with constrained budgets. It is not a time for trying to cover up our challenges and potential weaknesses, but to demonstrate how we address them and how we plan to improve.
At UH Hilo, our resilience and resourcefulness will be on full display: we know we are not perfect, but we also know that we have overcome challenges and will continue to do so into the future.
The visit will also give us an opportunity to present our plans for the future. The UH System is embarking on a revision of general education, and faculty from across the ten campuses will be engaged in this process, keeping those WSCUC competencies firmly in mind.
UH Hilo will also present its strategic plan to the visiting team. Our goals of strengthening our commitments to students, community and ‘āina, and one another, align quite well with the WSCUC commitments.
Our strategies for addressing these commitments will include such things as increased collaboration across the campus and with our community partners; creating connections across academic fields to prepare students even better for working in a world where many different sources of knowledge need to be applied to the big issues of the day; and creating more opportunities for hands-on learning.
In order to provide our students with the skills they will need into the future, those of us who work on campus need to keep learning and growing and improving how we go about fulfilling our educational mission.
One of those things that WSCUC looks at is how the whole campus engages in these efforts, and the many listening and talk story sessions leading up to the strategic plan will provide ample evidence to our attempts to get everyone involved. From visits to campus units to our “Seeds of Opportunity” strategic planning summit, to our strategic doing projects including our island podcast, Ka Leo o ka Uluau, and our storytelling events, Wailau, we have hopefully given everyone an opportunity both to weigh in on the forthcoming plan and begin to taste its fruits.
I look forward to what we will learn from the team when they come this fall. Our institutional mission—ʻAʻohe pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi (One learns from many sources)—includes learning from colleagues from outside our university, who will be able to look at us with fresh eyes and fresh perspectives. We can always do better, and our students and community deserve our best.
Bonnie D. Irwin
Chancellor, UH Hilo