The following is a transcript of the Ensign College All-Hands Meeting which took place on Tuesday, October 13, 2020.
President Kusch: Brothers and sisters, as you know, last Wednesday morning we concluded our virtual visit with the accreditation panel and the evaluators that were assigned by the Northwest Commission. Overall, I think it was a very positive experience. We will get a final report from the panel soon that we'll have an opportunity to comment on, and then we'll begin looking at how we begin to implement some of those things that they recommended.
As we prepare for a January meeting with the full commission to review the results, I want to again acknowledge the work that everyone did in preparation for those two-plus days. We worked for two years to be ready for two days, and all of the efforts, I think, paid off very nicely, and it put us on a path for continuous improvement that will continue to bless the institution as we go forward. So, I'd like to turn the time to Tracey Anderson. Tracey is going to give us a detailed overview of the experience, and then when Tracey's finished, we'll open it up for questions from everyone.
Tracey Anderson: As President said, this has been such a monumental undertaking for all of us. So, I just wanted to start by saying, "Thank you." We couldn't have done this without everybody participating. I wanted to specifically thank the Accreditation Task Force. There's been a version of a task force for more than two years now, so it's had a variety of different members. Some of us were part of that the entire time. It's been really great, and thank you for your preparations. The event went as smoothly as possible. We were a little sad that the peer evaluators weren't physically able to come but recognize that the Lord is good and so He blessed them to feel His Spirit, and it was evident in their reactions and their time spent with us that the Spirit was strong.
We had six peer evaluators total who came to our campus. One served as the chair for the committee. One was our liaison with Northwest, Selena Grace, and then there were four evaluators. Two were assigned to the Standard One report and two to the Standard Two report. It was just a really great visit. For those of you who don't know, in the past, there were a different set of standards that Northwest had, and they had recently revised those. They gave institutions the opportunity to decide whether we wanted to report on the previous standards or the new standards. After some training and discussions and counseling with some peers and with Northwest, we made the institutional decision to go with the new standards. Previously, there were 114 elements. The new standards had about 47 and really spoke to a focus on student learning and achievement, and I feel that at the completion of the visit, it was really evident that we made the right decision to be moving forward with the new standards. At the conclusion of our visit, we received three commendations and three recommendations.
Northwest has a practice of providing a quick formal insight of some great things that they see going on our campus, and then some areas that they would recommend that we focus on or continue to focus on. We do not have that language verbatim yet, so this is just a high-level look at the combinations. I love that they tie into their practice praise as well as recommendations. From a very high level, they gave us commendations on our intentional focus on deep and immersive learning experiences in alignment with student success practices. I think that speaks to a lot of the great work that President Kusch has led out on over the past several years. There's a lot of great things that the faculty are doing in their classrooms and just a variety of support measured in that way. It was really exciting for me to see that they recognize that we are seeking to truly develop capable and trusted disciples of Christ, as we teach to know, do and become. There were commendations for gatherings such as this, our use of Teams and All-Hands Meetings to cultivate a strong and close-knit campus community. It was evident to them in meetings where they had evidence from workgroups, task forces and their gatherings of cross-functional groups, that we are seeking to be united and connected on our campus. They gave us a commendation for our investment in a highly qualified IT department, who has effectively upgraded our technology and led us gracefully through this recent transition with our name change. I thought that was a really exciting piece.
As we all know, Christina Baum and her team have worked really hard not just with our name change this year, but with our Workday transition, and just a variety of department-level support needs and institutional-level needs. They could see that not only have we invested, but the Church has invested in making sure that we're provisioned well. The recommendations complete the work we've started, which I thought was just a testament to the great work that was going on. None of their recommendations were outlined in a way that they felt like we weren't accomplishing work in all of the standards. They encouraged us to complete the work we've started, to evaluate the quality of our learning of our programs, which is an alignment with standard 1.C.5. And then to complete the work we've started in relation to standards utilizing disaggregated student achievement indicators, specifically in relation to comparisons with our parent institutions. We've recently launched an institutional research website that has some comparisons of us and some regional national peer institutions on a variety of metrics. These standards, 1.D.2 and 1.D.3, are new standards, so I felt like they recognized the path we've already started to be aligned with those standards, and they've encouraged us to continue the work there.
Northwest is really seeking to close any equity gaps that there may be for students and ensure that we look at disaggregated information, whether that's by gender or ethnicity or age - a variety of metrics that they've outlined for retention and graduation and persistence. So, that's, in a nutshell, the commendations and recommendations that we were given. In the report that the President mentioned, they will send this full report based on their entire review of the Standard One and Standard Two reports. I assume that there will be other kudos throughout the report as well as other areas for our consideration. The President and I will receive that, and we’ll have one week to correct any errors of fact, for example if they spelled someone's name wrong or their title wrong or a department title wrong, or they've misquoted a number or statistic from one of our reports. If they've written about something that we don't love, but it's just their perception, we don't get to alter that, and then we send that back to them. Upon completion of their review of our remarks, they will give us their complete report that they sent the commission. And then, as President mentioned, in January he will be invited to a meeting with the full commission, and they will make a final ruling on those commendations and recommendations - at which time it would become final. At that time, the commission could choose to give additional commendations or recommendations or remove any of the reports as they currently stand from the peers who came. It's their recommendations to Northwest on our behalf, and then after January, we would get that official report and feedback from the commission themselves.
The consistency is built in through Selena Grace being in attendance at our entire visit as one of the commission members, as well as Scott Carnz, who was the chair for our visit. He will be part of those discussions as well and represent their findings and information and any questions. President will represent the institution for any questions that they may have for us. It was a really great visit. They met with a variety of people and they had their schedules pretty full for Monday and Tuesday. And then Wednesday morning was simply a conclusion where they read to us the information and findings. They met with President individually first and then College Council. And now we're just anxiously awaiting the report.
Cathy Carey: I don't have a concern, but something just dawned on me. In that second recommendation that you read to us, I was asked about that in my Director of Curriculum meeting, and the evaluator said to me, “We don't expect you to be doing this.” She said, “This is a new standard. Every place that we've gone we found that people needed to work on this.” So, I'm feeling even better about the recommendations because that light just went on with me. And that kind of a recommendation is one that they're probably making to many colleges and universities who have adopted the new standards. So, I think that it went fabulous, and now I'm even feeling better about it because she said to me, “I don't expect your institution to be doing this perfectly now because nobody is.”
If we compare ourselves to other institutions, I think we probably got one recommendation. Everybody is getting, I think, that second recommendation just because the standard is so new. That's what she indicated to me anyway when I was in my Director of Curriculum meeting with her.
President Kusch: One additional thing is that as we get that data compiled, we’ll make it publicly available on our website so all the world can see it and know the things that we're doing, and in that way, be as transparent as possible.
Tracey Anderson: Yes, we've loaded some information already publicly, and they had asked me about when we were going to load student outcome indicators for our programs. I let them know that those were discussions that we're planning to have this next year and that we'll get a phased approach to adding more information to that public-facing website. For those of you haven't yet seen it, and encourage you to check it out, it's located at www.ensign.edu/institutional-research . It has some different reports and comparisons already, and we will continue to expand that information. Currently, the information is based on IPEDS comparisons. Some of them look old, but that was just the most recent report for IPEDS.
President Kusch: Tracey, Troy had a question here and it is a great question, “What has our accreditation team learned that they didn't know before?”
Tracey Anderson: Maybe we could let some other Accreditation Task Force members talk if anyone wants to pipe up, but I think one of my favorite things that we had the opportunity to learn was getting to engage in mock interviews with so many of you and to learn and see the love that you all have for the roles that you play, and how well you know your jobs. I think the most interesting thing we learned was that people are committed to their work and that they know their work. And I think that's just a testament to all of you. I think we learned that accreditation was a new concept to a lot of people, as far as the details. We had a lot of opportunities to educate on practices and information, but I would just ask if there are others of you on the task force that would speak up and share other thoughts.
Cathy Carey: For the academic team, and this also goes for faculty and the academic leadership team, we've been working on this since the mid-cycle review. It continually reminds me that accreditation is something that we do every day. It's something that we've got to keep at the forefront of everything that we do because it rolls around very quickly. I remember thinking back at the mid-cycle review, we've got so many years before they're going to be here, and then we blinked our eyes and they were here again. It's something that we're always working on and Tracey, this is a tribute to you, I think that you've been very good about helping us see accreditation as a helpful thing instead of something that we need to be afraid of or worried about or stressing about. You've been really great on the task force of reminding us that they're not out to get us. They want to help us so that we can be the very best institution that we can be. And I appreciate that, and I appreciated the shift that you brought.
Tracey Anderson: I love Gail’s comments. Yes, it's part of our work, and we don't want it to be something that we fear. I think it's really important that we know about our work. We represent our work. We need to be familiar with the standards, but we'll continue to break that down, and we'll manage this year-by-year instead of a quick call every three and a half years. We'll take constant looks and be looking at continual improvement, and that's what Northwest desires. They desire for our students to be successful. They're not out to get us or to be punitive in any way, they want us to stay and be successful.
Cathy Carey: I also think that relationships are important. I feel that we've always had a great relationship with Northwest, and I think the President has done a lot to cultivate that. I think when we went up to Seattle and talked to them about the BAS degrees, that it's important with the relationship with Northwest, that we keep it on a very open and positive level because they're there to help us and we want to keep that relationship really positive.
David Brooksby: One of the really enjoyable parts with the task force was the mock interviews that we had with all of the faculty and staff. Hearing how each department applies the mission of the College to their work - from how a class is taught, to how compliance is approached, to how helping people get a job. The way those kinds of efforts were taken was just something really cool and inspiring. My favorite comment came from Alex and Career Services during the mock interviews where he described Ensign College as a place of healing. And that's what this place is. I've been on this campus as a full-time employee for over nine years. That happen for students, it happens for the people invited to come to work here. It really, truly is a place of healing.
President Kusch: Tracey, here's a question from Kirk Rawlins: “As part of the accreditation process, do we gain any insights about how we compare with other similar institutions? By compare, I mean, do we have the same challenges? Are we handling them in similar ways or is it only about measuring our processes against our stated outcomes and mission?”
Tracey Anderson: As part of their formal review process, they don't offer a comparison view to others, but as far as our relationship with Northwest, we get that feedback regularly - as far as what they're seeing and what they're working on. When we go to training, these are common discussions. Northwest is good at hosting regular webinars or topics of discussion for their institutions to get connected. Another thing that we haven't done in the past that we could consider is making our reports available to other institutions. Some institutions have those on their websites, and we've able to see their recommendations and communications with Northwest. But as part of the formal view, they don't give us a write-up, as far as comparisons look. They do expect us in our work to be mindful of the standards for our own look in our own mission fulfillment, but as far as from a training aspect - regularly those discussions are held, but not as far as part of the formal process. It’s a self-evaluation process.
We're first and foremost looking at ourselves. It's a self-reflection - they want us to be heavily ingrained and involved in what we do and how we can do it better in serving our students.
President Kusch: I'd like to pose a question to the group. As a sort of preface, I’d like you to think about Elder Bednar's recent general conference talk. And then I'd like to ask the question: Why does this accreditation experience matter to us as an institution? And why do all the preparation? And how we respond by the actions that we take - why does it matter for us as an institution? Why is it important?
Melanie Conover: With all the federal aid that we issue to students, accreditation's part of that and part of our institutional eligibility. So, financial aid really helps a lot of them finish school.
President Kusch: Yes, it does excellent.
Tracey Anderson: I think one of the things is that it's to show that the Lord trusts us and that we're using that trust wisely. I think that as we seek to prepare and prove ourselves, it matters to be capable and trusted ourselves as we seek to develop those traits in our students, and that was really evident for me in this process. It's kind of like temple service. A lot of times we talk about it like we're doing it to save our ancestors, but what a blessing to us. And I feel the same way in our work here in that it's really evident that we're seeking to develop ourselves and each other in this work.
President Kusch: Megan Rice would you be willing to expand a little bit on what you just posted in the chat area?
Megan Rice: One of the things that I was really impressed with when I was helping Tracey with this report, was how vulnerable and open she was about things that she identified as our gaps. This is something I shared with the Accreditation Task Force as well, and I think that was one of the reasons that our recommendations were so few because Tracey really did a great job encouraging everyone in being fearless in identifying challenges and problems, and proposing solutions to those challenges, and identifying them. I think that's something that Northwest was impressed with.
President Kusch: Yeah, I know that when the President's Executive Council met with them, we tried to be as open and honest and forthright as we could be, and to just talk about some of the challenges that we've had as an institution - some of the things that we've gone through. I think that they sensed the depth of our preparation, but I think they also sensed the sincerity by which we responded to the things that they were asking for. This wasn't smoke and mirrors - let's just try to cover up things. I think we were as open and honest and forthright and transparent and every other cliché word that we could use in doing this. I want to just read one small paragraph from Elder Bednar's talk. He said:
As you may already know from personal experience, tests typically are not part of the learning process that students like the most!
But periodic tests absolutely are essential to learning. An effective test helps us to compare what we need to know with what we actually know about a specific subject; it also provides a standard against which we can evaluate our learning and development. (Bednar. D, 2020, October, We Will Prove Them Herewith)
I think that really summarizes exactly what we've just gone through. This was a periodic test. It was an evaluation. We know what the standards were, and we compared it as we prepared our reports. I think we compared our current state to the standard - commented on that, and we now have a better idea of how we respond and what we know and how we should respond. Our responses going forward will be every bit as important, and probably more important, than what we prepared to be evaluated.
There's a lot of work that went in to prepare for these meetings, and the work continues. The work continues. Other thoughts and comments about why this matter for us, and what should be our takeaways from this experience?
David Brooksby: President, I wanted to add that it also shows that we're officially approved to be an institution of higher education learning. I think that strikes home with us because we understand how the Lord works. His house is organized, and for us to go through this process, it shows that we're still on the right path, and then we're doing the things that we should because too often it’s too easy for us to sometimes break off and sometimes not follow that compass. So, these accreditation visits help us to make sure that we're still on that straight and narrow path, and we're excited. Tt was exciting to see us go through this in what I called the War Room, but when we were in the War Room, it was peaceful there. Everybody was going through their processes. It was really neat to see that we’re doing those things that Northwest would like us to.
President Kusch: The way I described it to the evaluators was that you're going through an experience like this certainly with a little bit of anxiousness because you don't know exactly what's going to happen. But I don't think any of us went into this with any sense of panic. We were prepared, and Tracey had us prepared. Tracey and the task force and everybody that worked on it. We're prepared because of the effort, and I think that was recognized. I think the Lord magnified everybody because of the work that was put in before.
Mark Richards: President, I'm reminded of Doctrine & Covenants 11:21. “Seek not to declare my word but seek first to obtain my word. Then shall your tong be loosed.” Because of the preparation that Tracey had us go through, we did obtain the words and learned and listened so that we were able to do those things that brought about a very positive experience.
Sue Taylor: As for the why it matters, I was thinking how the College is an institution, but it's us who make the institution. As we continue to improve, the college institution improves, and it's not just a college - it's our growth and how that impact is to our students which are also part of the College.
I don't remember where Elder Uchtdorf said this, but I think it was during the general conference. He talked about how the purpose of the mission of the Church wasn't to be the most effective organization. There are ways to do that by hiring experts or paying for the best. It was for our growth. The Lord's purpose is to bring the pass the immortality and eternal life of men, and that happens through growth. And that's why this is important because it helps us grow personally - we take a look at how we can do what we do better and work with each other better.
President Kusch: Gail, would you take a minute and just share your thoughts about this whole experience?
Gail Singley: Yes, it's been interesting because along with several others, I’ve been on this task force. And it's been interesting to watch the genuine humility and willingness of the entire College to come together, to knit together into one purpose. President, you talk a lot about unity, and as we started this project of accreditation, there were definitely some challenges - some bumps, some bruises - as we charted a new course. We started putting together information on the old standards that inevitably helped us to get ready and get prepared.
We had to overcome some trepidation and some fear of everyone just being all in. And it's just been beautiful too, as Tracey said, to go through the mock interviews, to feel the Spirit and the love that everyone on campus has for our students. I was sitting in a mock interview with the IT department, and it was interesting to me to look at stereotypes of what you would consider IT people to be like, and I just found so much warmth and love in that group as they poured their hearts out about the work that they're doing to improve the students' experiences.
So, it's just been wonderful to see the Lord's hand and everything that we learned and grew from in this process of accreditation. I think a beautiful thing about it is that this doesn't have to stop just because accreditation is over. I see the momentum that has built and look forward to seeing it propel us into the future with all the changes that will be continued to happen in the Lord's time.
President Kusch: Thank you, Gail. I want to just briefly share an experienced that came to mind as you were talking about the importance of our IT people and how that fits in with the attitudes. Many years ago, I remember sitting in a meeting in the McKay Library at the BYU-Idaho campus and it was a meeting about databases. I will admit that I didn't go with a very happy attitude to this meeting. The things that were being discussed didn't necessarily have a direct application to my work. It was peripheral and related to my work, but it wasn't directly something that I was involved with very much. I remember sitting there in the meeting and thinking to myself. This is a waste of time. I don't have any idea why in the world I'm here, and I don't even know what the point is of all of this stuff. And just about as quickly as I had that thought, I was chastised by the Holy Ghost. He basically tapped me on the head and said, “Hey Bruce, don't you realize that this is all part of the work of the kingdom?” I won't ever forget that experience, and I think that was a day for me when I had an appreciation of things that I didn't have an appreciation for earlier.
So, the body has need of every member, and we couldn't do our work without the support and the functions that are provided. We wouldn't have this meeting today if it wasn't for our IT folks and the technology that they make available for us. So, thank you, Gail, for that reminder, and thank you everyone for the way that you do your work.
Gail Singley: I just have one more comment. We've all talked today about how great a leader Tracey has been through the accreditation, and I completely agree. The one thing that I wanted to mention though is if she's leading and nobody's following, we don't go anywhere. So, kudos to the entire organization for how willing they were to get on board and learn about accreditation and the importance of accreditation. So, thank you all. Thank you.
President Kusch: Tim Sloan is not with us today, but I want to take a minute and maybe just talk about the current state of the semester and COVID plans and just where we're at. We had a lengthy PEC meeting yesterday where we talked about a number of these things. Everything is subject to change, given the dynamics of the situation, but I believe that Tim and Troy had this conversation with the academic team. I have every reason to believe that we will go into the Winter Semester just like we went into the Fall Semester.
I don't anticipate any changes at all. I think it's working; it's working fairly well; it's working as well as it can be. I would not want anyone to contract the disease, but I think we've been fortunate that the cases have been relatively few. I think we're doing okay.
I think we're doing as well as we could under difficult and challenging circumstances. I think we'll go into Winter that way, and frankly, it wouldn't surprise me if we went into the Spring Semester in the same way. We're looking at a number of things - just in terms of as we go into the next year - how we deal with certain issues. We haven't made any decisions yet regarding Commencement in April, but I will just tell you that I don't envision any circumstance under which we would pack 3,500 people in the Tabernacle the second Friday in April. I just don't see it happening. From what little I know, I'd be surprised if April General Conference was much different than the April or October conference of this year. We'll just have to see. So, that means that there are some decisions that we would have to make, and I'm just, you know, talking openly and freely here. I could see us socially distancing in the tabernacle with graduates, but not with friends and family. I don't even know if that would be possible, so we've got some decisions to make there. Jared Plumb suggests we all do VR, so we'll just get headsets and we'll just have a virtual experience in the Tabernacle. That would be a great capstone project for all you programmers.
I want to conclude, brothers and sisters. I've shared this before on a number of occasions, but I just want to share it again. I think we will look back on the calendar with 2020 as a remarkable year in the history of this institution. Royce, I'm going to just ask that maybe you take an action item to work with, maybe a task force to actually document 2020 as a historical record of Ensign College. When you think about what happened, beginning really on the 25th of February, a name change - and that came right on the heels of the work on Workday, with implementing Workday. The dust hadn't settled on the Workday implementation when we started with the implementation of some major adjustments in the institution with the name change.
And three bachelor's degrees and all the associated things that go along with that, and then the additional work with BYU-Pathway Worldwide and what's going on with that, and all the background work, all the system stuff, all the URLs, all the documentation, all the webpage changes - everything that goes along with that. And at the end, finishing up getting ready for our year-seven, which was actually the year-eight accreditation visit. And all the work that had to be done there. And let's just throw a global pandemic on top of that, just for grins and amusement to see how much this institution can accomplish under adverse circumstances.
And to do it the way that it's been done is nothing short of a miracle. It was the Lord magnifying people and resources and time, and let's ask the person that was in charge of accreditation to go through a life-threatening illness. Let’s just throw that on to Tracey and see how she does with that. And we all know how she did. So, in moments of reflection and pondering, the way I've described it to other people is it feels to me a little like children of Israel being at the waters of the river Jordan, and we're ready to cross and they had to dip their feet in the water a little bit first before the ground was dry. Once we were in alignment with the Lord's prophets and the Lord's timing and the Lord's will, He went before us to make the way.
This wasn't just about a name change. It wasn't just about bachelor's degrees. It wasn't just about more online curriculum. It wasn't about just getting ready for an accreditation visit. It was about a fundamental change to the heart and soul of this institution.