This last week our school had an accreditation visit. Accreditation has long been a fact of life at many institutions. It involved, for us, a good dearl of tension, stress, anxiety, etc. The visit went reasonably well, I think, and we await a formal report in coming weeks. All of us, faculty and staff both, are breathing a little easier now that the visit is behind us, after months of report writing, copious editing, a good bit of pondering and a bit of hand wringing. The evaluation team came and queried and left, and now it is all done.
But what really happened?
The experience – for me – finally wasn’t about accrediting the institution and its programs, nor the never-ending obsession with outcomes, and goals, and measurement that has become the way of institutional life – although it was about these. The experience, rather, gave me the opportunity to understand anew how we work as a team, revealed in a rich way in our being together last week. The phenomenon of the visit set my colleagues in relief even while the quantifying means of evaluation could not measure the quality of our community.
How do you measure the hallway conversations that result in new ideas and new directions for scholarship? How do you quantify the kind of encouragement that comes from two colleagues who decide (voluntarily) to join me in an impromptu, and unscheduled, meeting with evaluators who want more information? How do you count the cohesion formed around cups of coffee enjoyed first thing each morning? What would a score card for worship look like?
Of course, you cannot measure these. To be fair to the evaluating visitors, they know this. They know this because they work in institutions like ours, institutions that have spirits not subject to the canons of outcome driven evaluations. Please do not misunderstand me, there is value for institutions in setting goals that are linked to outcomes that need concrete ways for determining success. But somehow, an assessment of an institution that does not look to the soul stories that sustain people fails. Assessment, I think needs to be assessed, and metrics need to be set against the canon of meaning.
I learned much this last week. I learned that I am remarkable blessed to work with people who care, and whose care is concrete in commitments to one another. I learned, anew, that learning is a mystery, and happens in ways that are not simply subject to the machination of planning, even while planning is a necessary part of learning and the institutions that support it. I learned, again, that grace comes despite our expectations of worst case scenarios and cynicism about processes that sometimes seem labourious and incursive.
I learned that I am not alone in this work. This is no small mercy, and I thank God for it.