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Published: Wednesday, 10/9/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Infighting imperils UT’s psychology program

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A University of Toledo psychology program suffers from internal hostility stoked by personality conflicts, according to reports by its accrediting agency, and its future is possibly imperiled.

The American Psychological Association could place UT’s doctoral clinical psychology program’s accreditation on probation, a step that could eventually lead to the loss of accreditation if concerns aren’t rectified. The association conducted a special site visit to the program in late March, revealing discord among faculty that “negatively affect the quality of education and training clinical students receive.”

The bevy of concerns, which appear to stem from frequent leadership changes and a faculty split into adversarial camps, has led to open disputes within the program.

“The hostile environment that has developed over the years and likely exacerbated during the last year interferes with the provision of high quality clinical education and training to the students,” the American Psychological Association, or APA, wrote to UT.

The university has until February to respond to the APA before it decides on probation, and in the meantime has decided not to admit new students into the program as it investigates the allegations. The findings put in peril a doctoral program with about two dozen students that UT officials — according to the APA report — consider “one of the stronger doctoral programs in the university.”

University officials took a hard line on the program, saying that discipline — including termination — could result if the allegations are confirmed, especially if staff disputes had allowed education to suffer, and if faculty had used students to promulgate personal grievances.

“It is unconscionable and unacceptable, and I intend to create an environment of zero tolerance toward anything that could possibly be described as a hostile learning environment,” UT President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs said.

Dr. Jacobs said he was “deeply saddened,” by the allegations, and said an internal review would look for who at the university knew what about possible problems within the program.

The turmoil was described in correspondences to the university by the APA that The Blade requested more than a month ago from UT and received Tuesday. The APA’s Commission on Accreditation provides psychology program accreditation, and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

The APA’s commission reviewed the program in 2010 and accredited it for seven years. But since that decision, the commission has sent several correspondences to UT raising concerns about the program, which eventually led to the special site visit.

In its report to UT, the commission listed several findings of the site visit, including the result of interviews with students in the program. The site visitors found that all students had felt the impact of the negative climate — some more than others — and that several themes emerged, including a “hostile learning environment, a lack of professionalism among and between faculty members, poor communication between faculty and students, and the division in the faculty leading to limitations in the overall training offered.”

The site visitors reported they felt faculty do not trust each other, a schism that comes from theoretical views on psychology and personality conflicts. Both faculty and students have split between two camps.

The report claims a lack of civility among faculty that leads to frequent “high levels of emotion,” and cited as an example the fact faculty communicate through group emails apparently to create a paper trail of conversations.

“Faculty are explicitly described [by students] as poor role models in terms of their professional interactions,” the report states.

While most faculty told site visitors they did not believe students were aware of the discord, students said they avoided some courses or practicum opportunities because of which faculty member was involved, fear retaliation for expressing concern, and cope with the environment by “keeping their heads down.”

The report also details repeated leadership changes at the program, department, college, and university levels. Since the program was accredited in 2010, there have been three directors of training and three department chairmen, according to APA correspondences.

Susan Zlotlow, director of the APA’s office of program consultation and accreditation, said she could not comment specifically on the UT program. She said it is not common, though not unheard of, for programs to be labeled as “accredited, on probation,” by the APA. It’s much rarer for a program to lose accreditation, she said.

If the commission decides to place UT’s program on probation, the university will then have to show it has rectified the concerns. It would have between one and two years to prove its made appropriate changes.

University officials could not recall a UT program that in recent years had its accreditation status threatened. When asked if any immediate action might be taken by the university to ameliorate the situation, Dr. Jacobs said he could not discuss that because it may involve personnel action.

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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