A Day in the Life of a Middle States Working Group Co-Chair

Our guest blogger is Dr. Brent Satterly, BSW Program Director and Associate Professor in the Center for Social Work Education.  He serves as co-chair of Working Group VII:  Governance, Leadership, & Administration.  As former Faculty Chair, Brent has been involved in university governance and interdisciplinary program development in social work.  We are grateful to Dr. Satterly for sharing his story!


As any Faculty Chair of Widener University can tell you, the processes of governance and administration are complex…and critical. As former Faculty Chair, having the opportunity to serve as co-chair of Working Group VII: Governance, Leadership & Administration has given me the chance to collaboratively examine the efficacy, transparency, and systems surrounding such processes for Middle States. How could I say no?

I woke to the sound of my alarm at 6 AM last week—my alarm being my 27- pound cat sitting on top of me. Even so, I got up in a good mood. In fact, I was looking forward to getting to work (it’s true!). I had a busy day of teaching ahead of me, but I was also excited to sit down with my Working Group in the afternoon. Our plan was to review the 11 working outlines that each of our group members had crafted based upon their analyses of documents and varied interviews in response to our Middle States Standard.

You see, earlier in the week, my co-chair, Linda Durant and I had been asked to submit our latest group outline to use as an example for the Middle States Steering Committee to analyze. We readily agreed. While we scrambled to complete the document, it felt much easier than I had expected. After all, I’ve never participated in the Middle States accreditation process before. Frankly, when we started, the task seemed daunting. I have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of systematic support, learned guidance and timely feedback we have received from both the Steering Committee and the Tri-Chairs. It has made the process thus far much more seamless.

At the Steering Committee meeting, the Tri-Chairs put our outline up for all to see. While I can come off as a self-confident ham (shocking), I also have my own moments of uncertainty. This was one. After all, this is MIDDLE STATES. It involves the accreditation of our entire university! At that moment, the future of Widener rested on our proverbial shoulders! Just kidding. That was hyperbole.  : )

With a gulp, my co-chair and I began explaining the document. Honestly, I surprised myself as our analyses rolled off my tongue using exemplars to highlight our findings. The Steering Committee reviewed our work with great enthusiasm and constructive feedback. Having such a diverse group of Steering Committee members made for robust discussion, with genuine praise and helpful input offered in order for us to make a better final product addressing the Middle States Standards more clearly. I thought this process was an excellent example of collaborative learning at its best.

This brings me back to our Working Group. I recently heard of the term “helicopter professor” as coined by Berlin Fang. Basically, it refers to faculty who hover over their students and rush in to fix things the minute a student begins to struggle. As co-chairs of our Working Group, Linda and I decided not to be “helicopter chairs.”   Rather, we wanted to empower our individual group members with guidance and direction to run with their charge using their perspectives and skills. They didn’t disappoint.

Now understand, our Working Group has representatives from across the university much like other groups. Ranging from two members of the Board of Trustees to faculty from five schools, to staff from multiple departments and a student, our Working Group has coalesced into a well-oiled interdisciplinary machine. My co-chair and I regularly respond to the myriad of emails from everyone inquiring about document locations, interview inquiries, and general questions. Linda and I agreed early on that we would tag-team these questions to ensure a timely response to our members.

Later that day after having taught my class, I grabbed my Middle States binder (which is getting heavier by the day) and hurried across campus to our Working Group meeting with a bag of chocolate in tow (Take it from a Social Work faculty member: always feed them). Linda and I have been especially thrilled that the majority of our members have been able to attend all of our meetings.

Over the course of that last meeting a few weeks ago, our Working Group reviewed the outlines, revised components of each, problem-solved potential barriers, and planned for how to improve them. We mapped out next steps for merging the 11 outlines into a master outline representing Working Group VII by December 1st. I will admit that it was with a sense of Widener Pride that I witnessed the interdisciplinary (slow, but steady) process of Middle States reaccreditation happening right in front of me.

Of course, it helps that our Working Group gets along swimmingly. While our conversations are work-focused at times, there are certainly interruptions of raucous laughter and collegiality. Such is the Widener Way, IMHO. In fact, when Linda and I mentioned that this was our last Working Group meeting of the semester, I swear they were disappointed. I think I might have to make them thank-you gift bags.

I left the meeting, tasks in hand, feeling a sense of accomplishment. As I crawled into bed that night flanked by two cats, I began planning in my head how I was going to start merging the outlines. Of course, I had to grade about 70 papers first, so Middle States would have to wait. Accreditation is important and all, but students come first. And I think at the end of the day, that is the Middle States point, don’t you?

Now I know that all this rather sounds like I am an academic geek. And I will happily admit that I am just that.  Goodnight.


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