Why NASD Membership Is Important
NASD Membership involves far more than a periodic accreditation review that includes self-study, an on-site visit, Commission action, and public notice of accredited institutional membership. It provides more than the immediate benefits and improvements that usually occur during and after this process. Participation in NASD also means shouldering important institutional responsibilities for dance, and particularly for its place and role in higher education. This brief paper outlines the principal ways NASD supports institutions and faculties, and how NASD combines the strengths of all members to serve the whole field.
What Membership Signifies
Institutional Membership in NASD represents a strategic choice. It signifies a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between the work of individual institutions and the work of the entire community of institutions that prepare dance professionals at the collegiate level. It signifies a willingness to connect with others, both in order to give and to receive. It signifies that individuals with high levels of capability, expertise, and experience in dance must take leadership responsibility in accreditation and related areas lest a vacuum be created for non-dance professionals to fill. It signifies a pledge to continue what NASD has always done: seek optimum learning conditions for dance students and develop the strength and quality of dance in higher education by assisting institutional members and their faculties to do their best work.
No one of us ever sees all the work or knows all the people that are helping us accomplish our purposes. Although NASD works quietly, preferring that attention go to the work of its member institutions, each faculty member can be assured that his or her work is supported by NASD day after day and year after year. The following points explain why.
Membership and Standards
NASD member institutions develop national accreditation standards and guidelines in consultation with other individuals and organizations. Only the member institutions have a vote when standards are being set, however. Professional consensus among the faculties and administrators of approximately 84 institutions produces authority. It enables the standards to protect as well as to inform. The standards are referenced many times each day at all levels of education. They promote good decisions because they focus attention on artistic and educational essentials.
The standards are effective because they create a framework of basic competencies and operational conditions rather than a blueprint for standardizing programs. The approach to process is based on support for each institution’s fulfillment of its mission, goals, and objectives. Through NASD, its member institutions have a common means for centering critical responsibility for standards and assessment in dance while respecting the prerogatives of individual institutions and faculty members to create, develop, and evaluate local programs.
For these and many other reasons, NASD institutional Membership means investing in the stature and health of our own profession, in the maintenance of conditions and resources necessary for student learning, and in a system of national review and accountability that we ourselves own and operate. No organization or group outside the field could fulfill these comprehensive and interlocking responsibilities for us.
Standards and Local Action
Each NASD member affirms two things. First, mutual support and the development of a common standards framework are continuing necessities. Second, relationships between support and the framework are magnified and rendered increasingly influential when institutions use the standards as the basis for self-study and peer review of their own programs.
The power of this influence is used to serve institutions and all the people working in them. Because faculty usually serve for many years, they are often the greatest long-term beneficiaries of NASD’s direct support. NASD Membership thus establishes an optimum relationship between giving and receiving, and between each dance department or school and all of the others.
The productive power of the Membership commitment of each institution serves the institution’s own aspirations by connecting them to the aspirations of the field as a whole. The accreditation process emphasizes improvement and advancement. On-site evaluators and members of the Commission on Accreditation are committed to understanding the unique situation of each institution and to helping it grow and flourish in its own place and time.
Therefore, NASD institutional Membership places the combined expertise, dedication, and goodwill of all members in the service of the artistic and educational work of each member.
Local Action and NASD Support
Because the focus is on local purposes, achievements, and aspirations, the Self-Study is the most important part of the review procedure. To avoid duplication of effort and to help develop consistent planning processes, the NASD Self-Study can be combined with other reviews, or analyses prepared for other reviews can be part of the Self-Study document for NASD. Whatever the specifics of the procedure, each institution takes an in-depth look at the relationships among purposes, aspirations, curricula, resources, and achievements, and then formulates next steps for correcting deficiencies and making improvements. This analysis also provides the basis for a document that enables visiting colleagues to be effective based on a comprehensive set of data and analysis that the dance school or department has produced. For most NASD member institutions, the NASD review every five or ten years is the primary occasion for comprehensive, in-depth strategic evaluation and planning centered in dance. Normally, it produces ideas, plans, documents, and actions that serve long after the NASD review is complete.
The NASD accreditation review is not primarily a search for problems, but rather a common effort to nurture wise courses of action based on relationships between accountability to national standards and institutional aspirations. Both the courses and the searches for them are primarily each institution’s responsibility.
NASD reviews are conducted by colleagues, not regulators. These colleagues serve in NASD member institutions. Those reviewing will also be reviewed. NASD visitors and Commission members recognize that everyone–from students to faculty, to arts administrators, to provosts, to presidents–is to be learned from, assisted, and served.
NASD Support and Faculty
NASD works constantly to strengthen the relationship between individual capability and the work of the field as a whole. All of these efforts by NASD and its member institutions are dedicated to helping each dance student. The goal of helping students cannot be reached without a constant effort to support faculty. NASD standards for undergraduate programs, for example, expect a comprehensiveness that requires a range of faculty specializations. The standards also provide a variety of degree formats that support distributions of curricular time that enable faculty attention to student learning and to their own professional development.
Through both accreditation and advocacy, NASD has been in the forefront of efforts to explain and defend the work of dance faculty–content, scope, depth, connections between art making and intellect, and so forth–to those outside the field. It advocates fair promotion and tenure policies for dance faculty, seeking parity with faculty in other disciplines.
NASD standards address resources and policies such as library, instruments, equipment, facilities, technology, teaching loads, faculty development, and so forth. Reasoned efforts by NASD on a broad range of fronts have enabled improvements in every member institution, sometimes to spectacular effect.
NASD also supports its member institutions and their faculties by organizing projects that can only be accomplished through national cooperation among institutions. Among these is one of the largest institutional research projects in American higher education: the Higher Education Arts Data Services (HEADS) project. The result is annual composite statistics that support decision-making at all levels, particularly with regard to budgets and faculty salaries.
The Association is deeply engaged in policy analysis, watching the context for challenges and opportunities. It regularly produces reasoned positions on such issues as assessment and evaluation, minority recruitment, distance learning, interdisciplinarity, and so forth. It monitors many other areas–copyright, dance education for children and youth, tax policies as they affect nonprofit organizations, federal legislation and regulation on higher education in the arts, for example–and takes action when necessary. All of these efforts promote the best possible environment for the work of faculty.
A Fundamental Strategic Decision
Every dance program in higher education is a citizen of several communities. Most are within institutions where dance is one of many majors offered. Each is also part of the dance community in higher education with all its specializations and interests, the higher education community as a whole, the professional dance community, and a local community.
Each of these communities makes decisions that affect dance schools and departments. Many of these decisions are made by those with little or no in-depth understanding of dance. This fact creates the need for professional presence and action.
As a unique discipline, dance has special needs and interests. Primarily, these are the responsibility of those educated and trained in the field. These responsibilities cover a broad range, everything from artistic matters and agendas for scholarship to management structures and accountability, from student recruitment and graduation standards to repertory and production policies, from facilities to student health and safety. In these and many other areas, dance professionals have a choice. They can fulfill each responsibility themselves, or they can leave it primarily to others.
The decision of the dance community in higher education to establish NASD in 1981 and develop it to parity with organizations in other professions constituted a strategic decision: institutions devoted to developing dance expertise will establish standards, conduct reviews, and create a forum for professional exchange and learning rather than leaving these responsibilities to others.
This decision is important in and of itself, but it also reflects and thus strengthens other critical principles. In the United States, accreditation is a private sector responsibility. It is responsible for affirming quality based on standards and for protecting institutional autonomy, programmatic innovation, artistic and academic freedom, and the mobility of credits and credentials.
NASD thus represents higher education institutions that teach dance in the most broadly accepted evaluation procedure in higher education as a whole. Its work in accreditation and beyond is a reference point for others in the field, and is especially valuable for decision makers without a dance background.
Institutional Membership in NASD is a strategic choice to join work in fulfilling these important responsibilities for the field of dance and to gain local support from a community of peers dedicated to service.