There is no question that these are unprecedented times. There is no question that the challenges faced and hardships endured will test our fortitude, patience, and resolve. But there is also no question that our individual and collective efforts as a community of thoughtful, wise, and dedicated arts administrators have served us faithfully for decades and have assisted us to prevail during previous crises, and that such efforts will enable us to address the widespread effects of this pandemic as well.
What awaits us when this crisis has subsided is a looming unknown. In all honesty, what awaits us tomorrow is unknown. Understandably, any level of planning and decision-making comfort to which we have become accustomed may now have been replaced by a palpable level of uncertainty. The responsibilities before us may seem daunting, and rightfully so. However, the abiding principles which guide our work and in which we believe, stand behind, and articulate remain as sure and certain as they ever did.
Certain are we of our shared vision for our artform, which at its core places above all else the health, well-being, and intellectual development and advancement of all involved. Certain are we of the trust we place in ourselves and our colleagues to face, consider, and address challenges that arise. Certain are we of the value of our work and through this work, the means developed to educate thousands of students, bind in collective focus our faculties, and bring together our communities in fulfillment of artistic, scholarly, and educational visions.
It remains imperative that we not only recall and recommit to our institutional and shared visions, but continue rallying our wills, our efforts, and the resources necessary and available to sustain our work, and our efforts to address the complex and challenging issues we face.
NAST continues to monitor national and international conditions, and the effects local, state, and national pronouncements and policies intended to stem the spread of COVID-19 are having or could have on the work of its member institutions and constituencies. NAST’s intention and comprehensive efforts to work with representatives from institutions directly and on a one-on-one basis continue – this to ensure that each institution has in hand information which pertains to its current and particular situation – information which can assist administrators as they consider local options, opportunities, and possibilities. In support of and in addition to these efforts, NAST provides the information offered below.
Ongoing Compliance with NAST Standards
Latitude and Flexibility. Applications, approaches, and methodologies established by institutions and accepted as common practice based on years of their proven efficiency and effectiveness may no longer be practical, or in some cases, possible. Many institutions have adopted or may adopt temporary practices, procedures, and policies in response to the current situation. Disruptions, such as mandates which require social distancing or individuals to shelter in place, require institutions to find new ways to address functions once served by long-standing virtually ubiquitous practices. Practices that pertain to issues such as the delivery of course content, rehearsal and performance participation, grading policies, admission procedures, and the like, are being reconsidered, recalibrated, and reintroduced in creatively modified ways. Although NAST standards are set in a framework which offers flexibility and provides latitude, a framework which encourages experimentation, innovation, and the development of new approaches to curricula which enables institutions to address the functions expressed in the standards and their fulfillment in various ways, many institutions are left to wonder whether their planned initiatives (i.e., new curricular programs, substantive changes) and/or newly and swiftly implemented policies will enable them to continue to adhere to applicable NAST standards. Should such reasonable questions arise, administrators are asked to contact the National Office staff swiftly and without hesitation. Please remember that the National Office staff exists to serve NAST members and constituencies. Though the Commission on Accreditation holds singular authority and responsibility to ascertain compliance, the National Office staff can provide information, assistance, and advice. Please feel free to take advantage of the assistance staff can provide to you as you unpack and consider issues of concern and work through scenarios that not only enable the institution to address current realities but attend to NAST requirements. It remains important for NAST member institutions to meet the letter and spirit of the standards as appropriate – standards expressed in functions which indicate to students, the public, and state/federal agencies the basic content and level of rigor expected in theatre education and training, and the skills, knowledge, and competencies that students enrolled in these programs of study are expected to acquire and master.
Looking for Solutions. Ideas and feedback provided by peers can be invaluable. However, a practice that may work well for some, accepted as a panacea for all, may be less effective in addressing individual challenges faced by other institutions. It is important to remember that each institution and situation is unique, and therefore that each situation requires careful thought, consideration, and decision-making which specifically addresses the issues before the institution. One of the strengths of our higher education system is the freedom available to each institution to create, design, and implement initiatives and curricular programs which align with locally stated missions and intents, and the ability these freedoms provide to institutions to solve problems on their own terms given local conditions and the availability of resources. Administrators should seek information pertinent to current situations from appropriate and confirmed authorities, but use this information specifically and perhaps, uniquely. Information and analysis that specifically targets an institution’s particular challenges can inform decision-making processes in invaluable ways. Implementation of a one-size-fits-all, “off-the-shelf” solution may exacerbate, rather than ameliorate, existing undesirable conditions. This approach may require time to collect information and consider various options. However, such an approach may provide to the institution the most comprehensive set of means to assist it to find the most effective way forward.
The Long-Term View. Noting the changes being made by institutions in direct response to unfolding circumstances, some wonder whether NAST will take immediate negative action which could jeopardize the accredited status of a current institutional member. It is important to remember that NAST reviews each institution against the standards as they apply to the institution given its current and planned programs and initiatives. NAST will continue to ascertain what has been promised to students, whether these promises are being fulfilled, and whether in fulfilling its promises, the institution continues to meet applicable standards expressed primarily in functions rather than methods. It is also important to remember that all NAST Commission reviews operate within an existing, established, and published system of due process – a system which opens conversations; welcomes dialogue; offers the opportunity to discuss comprehensively an institution’s initiatives, and based on these initiatives, its ongoing ability to comply with standards; and reaches conclusion only after consideration of all salient information.
Comprehensive Reviews and On-Site Visits
Every accredited institutional member is required to schedule its next comprehensive accreditation review and conduct its associated on-site evaluative visit in timely fashions and in accord with NAST Procedures. The next scheduled year of institutional review may be found in the NAST Directory Lists. In addition to the information found on the Association’s website, the following is provided in reply to inquiries received by NAST during the last several weeks.
- Self-Study materials in support of comprehensive reviews must be sent to visiting evaluators and the National Office no later than four weeks before the visit. Institutions are reminded that the Self-Study itself must be submitted in hard copy, but that the Management Documents Portfolio may be submitted on a USB flash drive.
- Institutions finding it necessary to postpone comprehensive accreditation reviews from one academic year to the next for good cause may wish to review NAST’s Policy on Postponements. As a reminder, requests for postponements require staff (one-year) or Commission (beyond one year) action.
- Institutions that were scheduled for Spring 2020 on-site evaluative visits whose timelines were extended to Fall 2020 need not resubmit or amend existing Self-Study and Management Documents Portfolios materials. However, they may utilize the Optional Response procedure to provide new information and/or notice of changes if desired.
- Evaluators (and consultants) who have incurred expenses as a result of on-site reviews are asked to submit their expense forms with receipts for reimbursement at the earliest possible time, noting the address to where the reimbursement should be directed. Individuals seeking information regarding expenses or reimbursements may contact NAST staff (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please note that information regarding expenses, including expense forms and associated receipts may be submitted electronically for expedited service.
March 2020 Commission on Accreditation Meeting
On March 23, 2020, the Governor of Maryland issued Executive Order Number 20-03-23-01, a statewide stay-at-home order that prohibits all public and private in-person gatherings of more than ten individuals until the termination of the state of emergency. Therefore, noting national, regional, and local conditions resulting from the spread of COVID-19, and as confirmed in previous email notices sent to NAST members and constituencies on March 13 and March 17, 2020, the NAST Commission on Accreditation meetings scheduled for March 21 – 25, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland were cancelled.
Remaining aware of events related to the outbreak, coupled with a desire for the Commission to complete its important work to support in a timely fashion those institutions that were slated for a March 2020 Commission review, NAST is proceeding to schedule a summer 2020 meeting of the Commission August 3 – 7, 2020 in McLean, Virginia. Although NAST is moving forward in this regard, it remains the intention of NAST to work within its abilities to ensure the safety of its members and constituents while continuing the work of the Association. NAST will remain abreast of unfolding developments as they relate to the national challenge. Should current events result in the necessity for NAST to modify this plan, updates and announcements will be provided.
All institutions originally slated for March 2020 reviews will be reviewed in August of 2020. Should new information have become available that you wish to include with or in place of previously submitted materials, you are most welcome to amend your institution’s dossier. Also, any institution that may have new applications ready to submit for an August review may do so. Materials for the anticipated August meeting must be submitted to the National Office no later than July 1, 2020. Please note: institutions are not required to amend previously submitted materials. Instructions regarding the nature and format of Commission submissions may be found at the addresses as follows: Optional Responses, Responses and Progress Reports, Plan Approval and/or Final Approval for Listing applications. Commission Action Reports will be sent to institutions thirty days after the close of the meetings.
NAST deeply appreciates the understanding, patience, and flexibility of those anticipating a March 2020 Commission review. Should this delay in Commission review pose to any institution an insurmountable hardship, the theatre executive of the institution to be reviewed is asked to contact the office of the Executive Director directly.
Should questions arise regarding the general nature of the August Commission meetings, including submission requirements, please contact NAST staff (email@example.com) in the National Office.
Applications for Plan Approval and Substantive Change
If an accredited institutional member plans to add a new curricular program which falls under NAST’s purview, or make substantive changes to current curricular programs, policies, and/or operations, applications for Plan Approval or Substantive Change as appropriate and applicable may be required.
Institutions are asked to note the following:
- Guidelines and requirements applicable to Plan Approval and Final Approval for Listing may be found in the NAST Handbook 2019-20, Rules of Practice and Procedure, Part II., Article VI. and the NAST Policies and Procedures for Reviews of New Curricula; Substantive Change may be found in the NAST Handbook 2019-20, Rules of Practice and Procedure, Part II., Article V.
- Should questions arise regarding the potential necessity to submit applications for Plan Approval and/or Substantive Change, please contact NAST staff (firstname.lastname@example.org) prior to submission. Staff will work with each institution individually to ascertain and confirm the necessity for submission.
- Institutions are reminded that programs in which more than 40% of the required coursework is delivered through distance learning means will be designated as distance learning programs by NAST and in NAST publications, and will be required to be submitted for review by the NAST Commission (see NAST Handbook 2019-20, Standards for Accreditation III.H.). Please note: this pertains to programs that are planned to be offered on an ongoing basis. Institutions to which these guidelines apply are asked to contact NAST staff (email@example.com) to ensure the necessity for submission.
NAST 2020 Annual Meeting
As confirmed in email notices dated March 13 and 17, 2020, the 2020 Annual Meeting of the Association, including all professional development sessions, pre-meeting workshops, Board of Directors meetings, and Commission on Accreditation meetings scheduled to take place during the period March 21 – 28 at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inner Harbor, was cancelled. To fulfill the Association’s operational obligations to carry out its important and required work, please note that the:
- Board of Directors convened in special session by electronic means on April 3, 2020, at which time its business slated for consideration in March 2020 was conducted and completed.
- Open Hearing scheduled to take place during the 2020 Annual Meeting as part of the Association’s comprehensive review of standards was conducted via electronic means on April 8, 2020.
- Membership of the Association was asked to consider and provide comment pertaining to items slated for action in March 2020 including: the minutes of the 2019 General Session of the Association; the 2020 Report of the Treasurer; the 2020 Slate of Nominees for Election; and the Proposed Revisions to the 2019-20 NAST This call for comment was sent by NAST on April 16, 2020. On April 20, 2020, the members of the Association were asked to cast their vote regarding the specific action items. If you have yet to cast your vote, we ask please that you contact NAST staff (firstname.lastname@example.org) at this time. The outcome of the membership vote will be provided in a subsequent email notification.
Though we sincerely regret being unable to meet in person in Baltimore, Maryland for the 2020 Annual Meeting, we hold every hope and intention of being together again in St. Louis, Missouri for the 56th NAST Annual Meeting, which will be held March 24 – 27, 2021 at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch. Information regarding the next Annual Meeting will be available on the Association’s website later this year.
There exists at this time an abundance of information pertaining to the coronavirus and its effects, as well as planned initiatives anticipated to be taken by the federal government and states. Provided herein are several particularly relevant sites: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States Department of Education (ED), and the U.S. Federal Student Aid Office. We ask that you remain abreast of federal and state requirements that may affect the work of your institution.
As of March 17, the National Office staff has been working remotely following normal Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (EDT) office hours. Staff continues to work directly with administrators seeking assistance with regard to accreditation matters and standards compliance. As you bring this semester to a close and continue to plan for the summer and fall, the National Office staff remains available to serve you and encourages you to call or email if questions arise or assistance is needed. A list of staff names and assigned responsibilities may be found on the NAST website staff page. As well, please do not hesitate to contact me directly if I may offer assistance (email@example.com; (703) 437-0700, ext. 116).
During these times, the company and assistance which can be offered by members, colleagues, and friends in the NAST community is inestimable. We hope that each of you will not hesitate to extend a hand when available or request one when needed.
There are many lessons that can be learned during hardships. In the past several weeks, we have been reminded countless times of the adaptability, flexibility, and thoughtfulness of our members and colleagues. Every encounter appears to be framed by a desire on the part of each individual to work through or around problems, finding ways to ensure that our individual and collective work continues. Thank you for the depth of your commitment and for the work you have done and will do during this difficult time. Thank you for the work you do to protect and advance that which matters to your students, their parents, your community, and to this artform we have the good fortune and honor to serve. Please remain safe, and well, and positive.