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Phillips Graduate Institute Dealing With Probation

Yolanda Nunn, the new president of Phillips Graduate Institute is finding opportunity amid turmoil. Since the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), an accrediting commission, placed the institution on probation in February, Nunn has been leading efforts to create a new vision for the school. “Situations like this can be disconcerting when it first happens but if you take a step back you can see it as a very clear opportunity to re-engage members of your organization in a process that really looks at the future and sets a very clear path for reaching your vision for that future,” she said. Phillips Graduate Institute, a school dedicated to training students for human services related professions, was placed on probation after WASC determined that the institution had serious issues of noncompliance with the Commission’s standards in defining institutional purposes and ensuring educational objectives; achieving educational objectives through core functions; developing and applying resources and organizational structures to ensure sustainability; and creating an organization committed to learning and improvement. While on probation, the institution is subject to special scrutiny by WASC, which has scheduled a special visit to Phillips Graduate Institute on June 24 to evaluate its progress in addressing the commission’s concerns. Losing accreditation can lead to financial uncertainty for academic institutions, as well as a reduction in student enrollment triggered by the perception of the institution’s reduced credibility. Nunn was appointed president on May 9 replacing Lisa Porche-Burke, who resigned amid criticisms from the WASC Commission pertaining to her leadership effectiveness. “Right now we’re involved with strategic planning, really thinking about the future and setting priorities; planning is the first step to really helping us address many of the concerns that were raised by the WASC commission,” Nunn said. One of WASC’s concerns had to do with the effectiveness of presidential leadership. A special report submitted by Nunn addressing WASC’s findings, which was posted on the school’s website reads: “Of significant concern [to WASC] was the president’s accountability in fulfilling her leadership role. According to the Commission, several recommendations from previous team visits were not acted on ‘in a meaningful or timely manner’. These included appointments of key leadership positions, lack of progress in raising funds, and in addressing the other challenges that Phillips faced.” Porche-Burke could not be reached for comment. Nunn, who has over 20 years of experience as an organizational consultant specializing in nonprofit management, has already started on a path towards getting the institution out of probation by engaging faculty, staff and alumni in the development of a strategic plan for the future of the school, she said. As a first step, she said the school has created a timeline with goals to accomplish, and posted it on the school’s website. The Board of Trustees is also actively working to recruit new members that can bring new resources and expertise to the institution and can assist with raising funds for the organization, she said. “I couldn’t be more positive, optimistic and confident concerning the probation issue,” said Barry Levitt, Chair of the Board of Trustees at Phillips. He said the current president has taken steps to be more engaging with the faculty, staff and student body and her efforts have garnered a lot of positive feedback. He also emphasized that Nunn has been very proactive in engaging new students and retaining already enrolled students. The financial circumstances of the school have been improving as well, he said. “Certainly it’s disappointing that the WASC governing board saw fit to put the school on probation but it definitely raises the bar for our school. We’re looking at this as the glass half full – as them giving us a roadmap for success,” Levitt added. Nunn began her tenure at Phillips in 2004 as the institute’s strategic planning consultant and was subsequently appointed Chair of the Organizational Consulting Doctoral Program in 2005, and Dean of Academic Affairs in 2008. “Strategic planning allows us not only to look at the concerns that were raised by the WASC commission but gives the school and members of our school community the opportunity to really understand what our strengths are, what our challenges are, and to create strategies to address those issues overall.” Nunn said. Located in Encino, the Phillips Graduate Institute offers programs in Psychology to about 300 students and employs about 100 core and adjunct faculty members.

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