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Seven Steps to Surviving a Self-Study

Tom Tanner made this presentation when he was Vice-President of Academics at Lincoln Christian College and Seminary. He has since joined ATS as director, accreditation and institutional evaluation.

1. Get 'out of town'
2. Develop a Plan
3. Choose Wisely
4. Expect Something Significant
5. Don't Expect Equality in Writing from the Groups
6. Don't Rush the Process
7. Don't Push Dirt Under the Rug

Transcript of Dr. Tanner's Presentation, Seven Steps to Surviving a Self-Study

I've been asked to identify the do's and don't's of the self-study process, and I'm going to do that in the form of seven suggestions. Four do's and three don't's.

So, here's suggestion number one for self-study. Do get out of town. My recommendation as you begin a self-study process is to go to an ATS workshop on self-study, which is what we're doing this week. It's not only an advantage, an opportunity to get to hear experts from the ATS staff, but also to dialogue with others who are in a similar process as you are and, perhaps most importantly, to talk to people from your own school with whom you don't often get this kind of an opportunity for an extended occasion. So, suggestion one is to get out of town.

Suggestion two is to develop a plan. You need to know where you're gonna go to do self-study. And it shouldn't be simply a checklist off the ten standards or the program criteria, but rather it should be something that is unique to your institution that will help you move from being a good seminary to a better seminary. In our case, I actually was given a sabbatical and was able to use the first part of that to help develop a plan. It really began on the back of a napkin when our president and I were at a self-study workshop and were reflecting over lunchtime break about what we needed to do, and we decided to develop a plan that would correlate with our strategic plan and move that into self-study.

Suggestion three is to choose wisely. If you remember the line from Indiana Jones, the last movie, about choosing wisely the Holy Grail. And by choosing wisely, I mean choosing your team wisely. We actually had a fairly large team. We're a seminary of about 350-400 students and an undergraduate school of about 800, and we were doing a self-study - a three for one, if you will - one for ATS, one for our regional, North Central, and then one for another accrediting agency for our undergraduate school. So, we actually had about 12 people on our steering committee. There were three of us who formed the inner core. In hindsight, one of those was chosen very, very well and one perhaps not as well. But still, I'd encourage you to choose your team wisely for the steering committee. Make sure you get people who can create instant buy-in, who are influential leaders on your campus.

The fourth suggestion is to expect something significant. When I first began the self-study process, I invited two faculty members over to discuss this process. They smelled my invitation coming to join the steering committee, and one of them quickly said, if this is just a rehash of what we've done in the past, simply a checklist of standards, I'm not interested. But if it's something significant that will make us a better seminary, I'm your man. That's the plan that we took. We wanted to make this something that would be most of all a 'self'-study, a study looking at us that was very selfish looking about how we might become a better school looking at the issues that most affected us.

Those are the four do's. Get out of town. Develop a plan. Choose wisely. And expect something significant. The last three suggestions are in the form of don't's. The first of those is don't expect equality. By that, I mean, especially in the written reports from the various sections of the subcommittees, if you will, of your steering committee. In fact, if I had to do it over, we'd have turned all the reports that were written as white papers that would inform our self-study report but not be simply chapters in the self-study report. So, some people are excellent writers and will write something that will blend very well into your self-study report, and others will provide some good data, some good context, some good information, but needs a lot of massage. You can probably avoid a lot of hurt feelings if you treat them all as white papers up front rather than as chapters.

The sixth suggestion, the second don't, is don't push the process, don't rush it too much. We were actually fortunate. We began the process in the spring of 04 for a spring of 06 visit, and we assembled our steering committee, and we met with them early in that spring of 04, and we told them at the end of that, here's what we'll be talking about, here are the issues around which our self-study will adhere, and yet, we want you to take the summer off. Think about the questions we're going to ask. We entitled our self-study a conversation around great questions. But it began with a little bit of a pause. And then we met monthly as a steering committee after the summer. We used times off campus for retreats and worship experiences. Make the self-study process an enjoyable one where you can pace yourself.

And the last suggestion, suggestion number seven, the third don't, is don't push dirt under the rug. Accrediting teams are very wise. They are your peers. They know that no school is perfect. There's no point in trying to hide something. Teams do not like surprises. You have your strengths. By all means champion them. But concerns, weaknesses, you have, be very transparent about those, and in the end, make your self-study just that, a study of yourself, all of yourself.

Thank you.