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Examining CSWE accreditation policy. (Letters To The Editor).

To the Editor:

We would like to contribute to the dialogue on accreditation that began in the Journal (Spring/Summer 2001) with Gambrill's editorial, "Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards: Do they work for clients?" At its June 2001 meeting, the CSWE Board of Directors approved the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS), the new standards that will guide BSW and MSW programs for the next eight years. The vote was unanimous, with two abstentions, in support of the new standards. Under the Council's bylaws, the board was not permitted to amend the standards, which had undergone review and substantial revision during the previous year. The board's only option was to vote the proposed standards up or down.

In the discussion prior to the vote, several members of the board, including the authors of this letter, expressed serious misgivings about the restrictive nature of some of the standards. We are particularly concerned about Standard 3, which we believe too narrowly defines the necessary credentials of the chief administrator of social work programs. At the February 2002 board meeting, these concerns were acknowledged with a commitment to move quickly toward an appropriate resolution. However, no significant progress has as yet been made and the issues remain unsettled.

We continue to be deeply concerned about the impact of this divisive issue on the future of social work education and the Council.

EPAS requires that "the chief administrator of the social work program has either a CSWE-accredited master's social work degree, with a doctoral degree preferred, or a professional degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program and a doctoral degree" (Standard 3.0.3). By requiring that the program head hold a CSWE-accredited degree, this standard fails to recognize the historical importance of interdisciplinary contributions to the development of social work knowledge and social work education. It fails to recognize scholars and educators with international degrees in social work and related fields. It denies advancement into top administrative positions of undergraduate and graduate faculty with excellent qualifications and manifest qualities of commitment and leadership, but without the required social work degree.

Social work education has unprecedented strength, not just in numbers but in diversity and in contributions to our various colleges and universities. The profession has matured to the point that a doctorate has become recognized as necessary for academic appointments in many institutions. With maturity, however, there is also the expectation of a broader vision for the profession than protection of its special interests. Indeed social work has always welcomed scholars and leaders with academic credentials in other disciplines and from other countries. Deans like Eddie Lawlor and Jim Midgley are in the tradition of Ben Youngdahl, Fedele Fauri, Peggy Rosenheim, and Milton Chernin who made significant contributions towards the present high status of the profession. Let us not rule out the possibility that those within our ranks who may not hold a social work degree from a CSWE-accredited program, but who have shown vision and commitment and who demonstrate outstanding qualifications, can assume administrative leadership. Established professions seek the most highly qualified candidates for leadership positions without regard to academic or professional degree. This is certainly true for medicine, law, engineering, business and, education, which social work most resembles. Their educational programs, like ours, are grounded in the academy, with practical training in the community. Social work education has less in common with clinically-based fields like occupational therapy, physical therapy, nursing and counseling, where faculty and administrators have direct responsibility for on-the-job training. Our survey of the accreditation standards in these fields shows this dichotomy: standards for medicine (Liaison Committee on Medical Education of the American Medical Association), law (American Bar Association), education (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education), engineering (Accreditation for Engineering and Technology) and business (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) do not specify the professional qualifications of deans, directors or program heads. In contrast, accreditation standards in occupational therapy (Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy), physical therapy (Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education), nursing (National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission) and counseling (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs) require the professional degree and, in some cases, licensing or other practice credentials.

In recent years, accreditation for institutions of higher education and for professional programs has focused on mission, goals, and outcomes, and away from specific or quantified standards for personnel or resources. Some sections of EPAS reflect this change. However, the specificity of Standards 3 and 4 may have placed the Council and social work education in a collision course with the Association of American Universities (AAU, an association of research universities), National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), and the provosts and presidents of a number of major universities. These are powerful adversaries. Further, these standards have pitted social work educators in academic institutions with different missions against each other. Some believe that the Council can no longer accommodate diverse institutions and suggest that a new or additional accrediting body, whose values more closely reflect those of research universities, should be formed.

We would do well to remember that it was an accrediting crisis that led to the birth of the Council on Social Work Education and the dissolution of its predecessor organizations, the American Association of Schools of Social Work (AASSW) and the National Association of Schools of Social Administration (NASSA). Presidents of a number of state universities and land grant colleges, displeased with certain of the AASSW accrediting standards, initiated a campaign to get rid of them. Using the power of the NASULGC, they created NASSA as a competing accrediting body. After two decades of an internecine struggle and the final denial by a National Committee on Accrediting of all accrediting authority for social work education, the total profession of social work united to create the present Council on Social Work Education, which was then officially recognized as the sole authority for the accreditation of social work education.

The underlying principle of the new organization asserted that responsibility for the development and advancement of social work education must be shared by the educational institutions, all the members of the social work community, the professional membership, and the general public. For 20 years, to the great advantage of the Council, that principle was embodied in its structure and programs. As representatives of the general public, members of other professions played a significant role in the House of Delegates, on the Board of Directors, and on commissions and committees.

The current threats to the accrediting authority for social work education and to the future of the profession are no less real and formidable than they were in the 1930s and 1940s. In the years ahead, as the number of social work programs with all their diversity increases, our challenge will be to build upon both our strengths and our differences. We need an approach to accreditation that broadens rather than restricts the vision of what is needed for administrative leadership. Social work has overcome seemingly intractable problems before. We can do so again.
Jill Doner Kagle
School of Social Work
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Katherine A. Kendall
Honorary Lifetime Board of Directors Member
Council on Social Work Education
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Author:Kagle, Jill Doner; Kendall, Katherine A.
Publication:Journal of Social Work Education
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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