Striving for Excellence: Hillel's Accreditation Process
July 25, 2005Comments (0)
| E-mail this to a friendHillel's accreditation process solves one of the greatest problems that confront international organizations: ensuring a uniform standard of excellence in every location.
"We wanted to be sure that an organization like this had some quality control," said Edith Everett, the first chair of the board's Accreditation Committee. "It's the only thing that can give us a handle on what's going on on campuses."
Edith and her late husband Henry created a pilot program in 1991 that set standards for Hillel operations, governance, programming, development and Jewish community relations. Fourteen years later, 71 Hillel Foundations in the United States and Canada have received accreditation.
Working toward Hillel accreditation is admittedly a daunting process. From completing the initial paperwork and board questionnaire and coordinating site visits to creating an action plan for improvement, the process can span two years and requires a significant commitment from Hillel professionals, board members and students. But according to the stakeholders at two Hillels that have recently received accreditation, it is an invaluable way to identify changes that can be made today to strengthen their Hillels in the future.
"Most people are probably hesitant about it, but the process energized me," said University of Oregon Hillel Executive Director Hal Applebaum. "It really helped us to identify our strengths and challenges."
The University of Oregon Hillel Board embarked upon the task in 2003, collecting data on programming, communications, governance and fundraising, and completing self-assessment surveys. A team of Hillel professionals and board members visited in February 2004 and drafted a report in the following months. After responding to the report and formulating an action plan, Oregon Hillel was granted accreditation by the Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life Board of Directors.
"The accreditation process was an opportunity for us to step back and look at how Hillel was functioning, what the standards were and how we could improve," University of Oregon Hillel Board President Martha MacRitchie said. "At the end, it gave us a real road map and jump-started us to make changes."
Such changes include creating a Jewish student life committee, hiring a program director and restructuring the board to include members beyond the university's hometown of Eugene. The process also helped the board focus its priorities overall, MacRitchie said.
"Our role is much clearer now than prior to accreditation," she said. "The board is here for strategic planning and to stimulate fundraising and development."
Oregon Hillel's Board of Directors viewed the accreditation as a tribute to their late chairperson, Linda Michels, who succumbed to cancer while the process was underway.
"We were able to honor Linda and complete the process," Applebaum said. "She would have been so proud to see us achieve it."
At the same time across the country at Hillel at the University of Delaware, the board was also undergoing the accreditation process at a time of transition. Executive Director Susan Detwiler had just started a year earlier, along with other new professionals, and the board was in the middle of a renaissance as well. But like their counterparts in Oregon, board members found the process to be extremely helpful in strengthening their Hillel.
"It confirmed that our standards would be at the highest levels," said board member Sam Asher, who is also the executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Delaware. "We were able to really cement some of our goals for fundraising and programming."
Though the board formed an accreditation committee to spearhead the process, all members helped complete the self-assessment survey, and the entire team of professionals at University of Delaware Hillel were involved in data collection and other tasks. During the site visit in March 2004, the accreditation team from the Schusterman International Center met with more than 30 students, as well as federation executives and the university provost. Detwiler said that getting all stakeholders on board underscored the importance of the process.
"I wanted the accreditation team to get a true picture of UD Hillel," she said. "It cemented our footing within the university by getting so many people involved and aware that we take what we do seriously."
The fact that its accreditation certificate is in the mail demonstrates that the Hillel community takes University of Delaware seriously, too. Now board members are moving forward on a number of changes that became apparent during the process, such as launching a committee focusing on programming and strengthening the board with new members. And in looking back, members reflected positively on their journey.
"This was a very useful process, not an adversarial process," said Professor Bob Denemark, the board's vice president of human resources. "People are interested in sharing their strengths and directions."
Campuses with accredited Hillels represent a broad range of Foundation profiles: small and large schools, residential and commuter campuses, as well as public and private universities. Every Hillel has been assigned a date for participation, with the goal of accreditation for all Hillel Foundations. Click here to read more about accreditation.