We hope this finds you and the members of your families and communities well.
The theatre community in American higher education is strong, resilient, and successful because of its decades-long applications of expertise, fortitude, patience, cooperation, and unending effort. The National Office staff has had the honor and pleasure to speak with many individuals since this pandemic began. It is clear that the NAST membership’s commitment to these virtues remains strong. Administrators are working to ensure the good and continuing health, the positive well-being, and the spirit of each individual, each institution, and our art form. There is no talk of quitting. Instead, administrators are seeking the means to triumph over adversity and discouragement. They know that their institutions cannot look the other way or await generic answers to specific local problems, no matter how large and small. Individuals are seeking to make thoughtful decisions recognizing that individually and collectively, each has the power to envision, create, recast, and advance as each takes the actions needed to meet today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.
Theatre administrators always face many issues. They must make many decisions. Every day, issues in considerable number and breadth appear and require reflection, analysis, and action. Local parameters, professional expectations for theatre teaching and learning, and community-wide educational cultures and procedures are springboards as theatre executives employ their skills to gather information, shepherd conversations, assemble consensus, and develop courses of action. When successful, such efforts not only produce positive results, they also increase trust in decision-makingelements and processes. Confidence is built from such successes and other components as well; for example, operational fealty to a clearly articulated and shared vision; factual, true, and genuine information analyzed and applied carefully; and considered conclusions and stable mechanisms that inform and assist individual and small group operations, work, and evaluation. Clearly, trust is a critical common element, and must be built in many dimensions and on many levels.
The accuracy and quality of information are major ingredients in building and maintaining trust. Whether facing the effects of the coronavirus, or whatever will come next, good and real information is key, as is honesty about the true status of information based on estimates: the ways and the extent to which estimates may be accurate at any given, but not necessarily in the next, moment. But there is more. It would appear that a characteristic shared by the most successful theatre administrators is that of a desire to seek virtuosity in understanding detail by studying, evaluating, distilling, synthesizing, and formulating information-based conclusions for others to review, or to use in their own efforts, or to employ while cooperating with others. These information-based results are usually institution-specific. Most often, they do not spring forth from raw information itself, but rather from a process that includes reviewing specific issues in light of multiple contexts, starting with core purposes and functions and moving on to current local, regional, and at times, national conditions and climates. These administrators also master the art of leading, of making changes when new information indicates that a previous decisionshould be altered. Such careful considerations are oriented more to makinginstitution-specific choices than to discovering and following what is being said, thought, or done elsewhere. The rhetoric in such environments is almost always pure and focused on actions that are designed to serve the greater good.
Of course, time is an issue. Most theatre professionals seek efficient use of time because there is always so much to be done. Usually, it takes time to be thorough and discerning. Many issues are complex, many problems do not have single answers. At times, it takes time to define a problem clearly in terms of one’s specific situation. Simple, singular, and quick answers may be appropriate when such approaches fit the nature of the problem. Most likely, however, hastily made decisions as they pertain to complex matters create difficulties down the line and postpone the formulation of ways forward that address both the short- and long-term aspects of an issue in relationship with other issues and goals. Virtuoso administrators are careful about setting precedents, or ending with solutions that work in one sector, but do damage in others, or being insufficiently aware of the local context or the full set of real costs and risks associated with a specific course of action. They are willing to take the time necessary to be thorough, to look at options in light of the full range of operational and resource issues, and in consideration of prospective conditions in areas critical to the continuing success of their students and colleagues in the field of theatre now and in the immediate future.
Providing these principles as context, NAST offers this third 2020 communication, similar in nature to those released previously, A Challenging Time – COVID-19 and Related Issues and Pressing Forward – Continuing Our Work During Uncertain Times. This communication offers a substantial amount of information in a variety of areas. Some information is pertinent to what our country and therefore we face from day to day. Some addresses changes to federal requirements. Some is pertinent to the long-term health and well-being of theatre as a field of study, a concern which remains in our sights even though at times our daily attentions may be diverted elsewhere. Some may be pertinent to your current realities; some less so. Different institutions have different missions and face different sets of realities. As suggested above, please study and consider the information below and all information in hand, and determine its applicability carefully, particularly as it may apply to your local situation. Should further information or analysis be required regarding the topics highlighted in this text or on other topics, seek specific guidance and wisdom from those with the expertise to assist you. Then, having developed confidence in your research and study, you will be in a good place to make broadly conceived decisions that will move initiatives on behalf of the work of your institution or department forward. It helps to remember that decision-making is not a one-time event; it is an unfolding and ongoing process, in part because conditions are always changing. Each decision is merely a piece of a puzzle that must be solved for a time. The more volatile and unstable the conditions, the more difficult the daily and the long-term puzzles, and the more choices of answers there appear to exist.
Title IX.The following is an update outlining federal activity pertaining to regulation and guidance released by the United States Department of Education (ED) as they pertain to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
As a reminder, in November of 2018, the Secretary of Education proposed to amend regulations pertaining to Title IX. The Department of Education sought feedback on the proposed rules through a comment period which closed on January 28, 2019. Over 124,000 comments were received. Subsequently, on May 19, 2020, the Department of Education published in the Federal Register the Final Rule entitled, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance. As the regulations span over 2,000 pages, the Department of Education simultaneously published a summary of major provisions of the Final Rule. The Final Rule will be effective August 14, 2020.
Significant provisions of the final regulations include: an amendment of the definition of sexual harassment for Title IX purposes; the role of the Title IX coordinator; mandatory response and reporting obligations; grievance processes and procedures, including processes and requirements related to investigations and hearings; and each institution’s confirmation of the standard of evidence now in place as it relates to Title IX investigations.
The published rule is extensive and complex; implementation of the rule will affect various daily practices at institutions of higher education. Litigation from various individuals and organizations seeking to challenge the provisions and/or delay implementation of the rule has begun; further legal challenges are anticipated.
Office of Postsecondary Education Guidance for Interruptions of Study Related to Coronavirus (COVID-19). Subsequent to the declaration of a national emergency on March 13, 2020 due to the effects of the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE), a division of the Department of Education, released on March 5, 2020 guidance as it pertains to interruptions of student academic study due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Two additional communications, each of which expands upon the previous, were released on April 3, 2020 and May 15, 2020.
For those institutions participating in federal financial aid programs, these three documents (dated March 5, 2020, April 3, 2020, and May 15, 2020) offer guidelines which address issues such as the movement from on ground to online learning platforms, federal work-study programs, modifications to the length of an academic year, changes in student enrollment status, the stewardship of Title IV funds, and institutional reporting responsibilities (see also the section below entitled, Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund Reporting-Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students). Institutions designating NAST as their gatekeeper for the purpose of participation in federal aid programs should note that distance education is included in NAST’s scope of recognition as approved and listed by the U.S. Secretary of Education.
In reviewing federal responsibilities outlined in this guidance offered by the Department of Education, institutions are reminded to 1) ensure that any course of action which varies from stated and written institutional procedure be vetted as appropriate and ideally by counsel before implementation, regardless of newly offered Department of Education flexibilities and exceptions/exemptions, 2) publish as required and document for institutional records changes to approaches, procedures, and protocols, and 3) review the provisions of the Clery Act, specifically as they apply to issues related to COVID-19. General aspects of the Clery Act and the application of its provisions are addressed in the April 3, 2020 communication.
As confirmed by the Department of Education in these communications, it is important to note that temporary cessation of educational instruction due to effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) will not unto itself result in the loss of institutional eligibility or participation in federal financial aid programs. Institutions considering such an option are reminded to review carefully the wording and potential application of Department of Education policies, as specific conditions and restrictions apply.
Questions regarding the guidelines offered in these announcements should be directed to the Department of Education (COVIDfirstname.lastname@example.org).
Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund Reporting-Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students. On May 6, 2020, the Office of Postsecondary Education at the United States Department of Education published guidance offering further detail regarding reporting requirements noted in Section 18004(e) of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) as related to funds available for distribution to students as provided for in the CARES Act. As indicated in the noted section, the Act stipulates that “An institution receiving funds under this section (Section 18004) shall submit a report to the Secretary, at such time and in such manner as the Secretary may require, that describes the use of funds provided under this section.” The reporting requirement was further defined in Section 4.(c) of the Recipient’s Funding Certification and Agreement noting that:
In consideration for the advanced funds and as conditions for their receipt, Recipient warrants, acknowledges, and agrees that: …(c) Recipient shall promptly comply with Section 18004(e) of the CARES Act and (i) report to the Secretary thirty (30) days from the date of this Certification and Agreement and every forty-five (45) days thereafter in accordance with 2 CFR 200.333 through 2 CFR 200.337, or in such other additional form as the Secretary may specify, how grants were distributed to students, the amount of each grant awarded to each student, how the amount of each grant was calculated, and any instructions or directions given to students about the grants; and (ii) document that Recipient has continued to pay all of its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures to the greatest extent practicable, explaining in detail all specific actions and decisions related thereto, in compliance with Section 18006 of the CARES Act.
The newly published guidance offers further requirements to participating institutions regarding the publication by type, function, and location of information to be placed on the institution’s primary website as it relates to distributed CARES Act funds. It is recommended that institutions review and consider guidelines pertaining to student privacy rights as they prepare their required reports.
Federal Financial Relief. The federal government has authorized the availability of approximately three trillion dollars in coronavirus relief aid in four separate actions approved over the last two months. A fifth consideration, the HEROES Act, has been approved by the House, but has yet to reach the Senate. Institutions taking advantage of the provisions of these Acts should conduct a careful review of their provisions, including the fine print. A brief but informative overview of the flow of funds is available here. NAST encourages institutions to stay abreast of ongoing developments. Specific information regarding the availability and use of these funds is available on the Department of Education coronavirus webpage (https://www.ed.gov/coronavirus?src=feature). Also of note as provided by the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. Senate is a summary of supplemental appropriations (direct federal spending) included in the CARES Act which was signed into law on March 27, 2020.
Department of Justice Final Judgment. NAST has been following since 2017 a possible restraint of trade concern held by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as it may pertain to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) specifically with regard to changes made by NACAC to its Code of Ethics and Professional Practices in 2017. Although NACAC amended its Code provisions in September of 2019, the concern resulted in a complaint filed by DOJ against NACAC in December of 2019 (see Federal Register dated January 10, 2020). Comprehensive information regarding the DOJ proceedings, which have now come to a close, may be found here. The DOJ Final Judgment dated April 17, 2020 may be found here. Given the provisions of the DOJ Final Judgment, NAST will be offering in the form of Proposed Revisions to the NAST Handbook 2020-21, modifications to specific provisions of the current NAST Code of Ethics. Proposed Revisions will be forwarded to the membership for consideration in the winter of 2021 following NAST review protocols articulated in the NAST Handbook 2020-21. A vote of the membership is expected to be taken in March of 2021.
The text of the NAST Code of Ethics remains unchanged at this time. However, when applying the provisions of the NAST Code, it is suggested that institutions become mindful of and attentive to the provisions of the DOJ Final Judgment. Although certain specific activities are now prohibited as outlined in the DOJ Final Judgment, it is important to remember that 1) a hallmark of the work of NAST accredited institutional members is the continuing and unwavering regard held for ethical practices that are fair, applied equitably, and continue to serve and protect both institutions and students, and the field, and 2) such practices may be freely exercised absent the presence of articulated requirements. The Code of Ethics is based upon long-standing NAST principles, which remain today. Approaches and initiatives which 1) uphold the spirit of the NAST Code and the principles upon which it rests firmly, and 2) attend to the letter of the DOJ judgment should be considered as appropriate and can be implemented consistent with the provisions of each. Should questions arise, please contact the Executive Director directly.
NAST COMMISSION MEETING AND REVIEWS
As announced in the May 1, 2020 communication, the 2020 Commission on Accreditation meeting was rescheduled and now will take place August 3–7. All institutions originally slated for March 2020 Commission review will be reviewed in August. The amended submission deadline for consideration of institutional applications at the August 2020 meeting is July 1, 2020. It is important to note that institutions are not required to amend materials that were submitted for March 2020 review. However, if new or more current information is available prior to July 1, it may be submitted to NAST and included in the institution’s dossier to be reviewed by the Commission on Accreditation in August of 2020. 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 meeting. At this time, NAST requests that all new submissions intended for review by the Commission in August 2020 be submitted in hard and electronic copy (i.e., USB flash drive).
NAST deeply appreciates the understanding, patience, and flexibility exhibited by those institutions that were slated for and anticipated a March 2020 Commission review.
Should questions arise regarding Commission submission requirements, please contact NAST staff (email@example.com).
POSTPONEMENT OF COMPREHENSIVE REVIEWS
Institutions finding it necessary to postpone comprehensive accreditation reviews from one academic year to the next (i.e., from 2020–2021 to 2021–2022) for good cause may wish to review NAST’s Policy on Postponements. As a reminder, formal requests for postponements require approval and therefore should be submitted to the National Office. Should questions arise regarding the policy or its application, please contact NAST staff (firstname.lastname@example.org).
SELF-STUDY SUBMISSION REQUIREMENTS SUBSEQUENT TO A POSTPONEMENT
If a site visit has been postponed, updates and amendments may be offered as they pertain to an institution’s Self-Study, but the Self-Study need not be rewritten and resubmitted unless the information provided within the original document is no longer reflective of the theatre unit’s/institution’s operations, intentions, and initiatives. Should new information have come to light since the Self-Study was written/submitted, this information should be provided to the visiting evaluators and National Office prior to the visit, and to the Commission as part of an institution’s Optional Response submitted after receipt of the institution’s Visitors’ Report. Questions regarding submissions may be directed to NAST staff (email@example.com).
ANNUAL REPORTING REQUIREMENT CLARIFICATION: THE AFFIRMATION STATEMENT
On June 1, NAST informed accredited institutional members of their responsibility to submit an Affirmation Statement. This three-page questionnaire requests information intended to provide assurance that all curricular programs under the purview of NAST and meeting NAST listing requirements have been or will be submitted for review and approval, and that substantive changes—past, current, and/or projected—have been or will be submitted for review and approval. Affirmation statements are an important part of the Association’s system for documenting continuing compliance with NAST standards.
Please note that temporary short-term changes implemented in response to the effects of the coronavirus (i.e., the movement of coursework from on ground to online) need not be reported on the Affirmation Statement Questionnaire. Changes made that are substantive in nature and intended to be permanent (i.e., the creation of new curricular programs which fall under the purview of NAST) should be noted on the Affirmation Statement Questionnaire. Should questions arise, please contact NAST staff (firstname.lastname@example.org).
ACCREDITATION STATUS IN LIGHT OF ANTICIPATED CHANGES
An institution making changes in direct response to unfolding circumstances may wonder whether NAST will take an immediate action which could jeopardize the institution’s current accreditation status. It is 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 comes to conclusion only after thorough consideration of all salient information has been accomplished (see NAST Handbook 2020-21, Bylaws, Article I., Sections 4.–6.). Changes anticipated should be considered in light of current standards. Should an institution desire feedback regarding the potential impact of an anticipated change on the institution’s continuing ability to comply with standards, please contact NAST staff (email@example.com).
It is recommended that accredited institutional members continue to work with staff on one-to-one bases 1) as they consider possible ideas and options that will enable them to address existing and anticipated challenges; 2) to discuss the application of the national standards as they pertain to institutional initiatives and plans, particularly given modifications that are or will be necessary to address constraints resulting from the effects of the coronavirus; 3) as materials are being prepared for Commission review; and 4) in their ongoing efforts to attend to responsibilities related to accredited institutional membership. Please do not hesitate to contact members of the staff for assistance. A list of staff members and their assigned responsibilities is provided here.
Thank you for your continuing efforts and your fortitude. There is no question that the challenges faced are daunting, but as well, opportunities that may not have been evident in the past are arising, which may assist us to advance our work in ways previously not thought possible.