All organizations that accredit, approve, or recognize educational programs have guidelines and a process for handling complaints. Complaints are infrequent at NAACLS but, when received, are taken seriously and addressed by following a written process. The guidelines and process used by NAACLS are designed to provide the complainant and the program in question with respect and fairness and achieve consistency of decision-making over time.
Complainants may be students, graduates, parents, an employee at a clinical affiliate and sometimes a faculty member at the sponsoring institution. Complainants may be almost anybody who has concerns about the quality of the program curriculum, faculty, resources, student services, outcomes, or other aspects of the program. What a complainant may NOT be is anonymous. NAACLS responds only to written, signed complaints and rigorous attempts are made to preserve the anonymity of the complainant. Verbal complaints are not accepted and complainants are advised by staff to “put it in writing.”
NAACLS adheres to the policy of reviewing only those complaints that can be applied to one or more NAACLS Standards. Should a complainant address only issues that fall outside of NAACLS’ purview – something that cannot be categorized under one or more Standards – the complainant is advised by staff that the complaint will not be reviewed.
Yet another guideline NAACLS employs is that, to be reviewed, the complainant must explain efforts made to seek satisfaction by the processes set forth by the sponsoring institution. NAACLS policy encourages resolution of problems at the program and/or sponsoring institution level prior to review by NAACLS.
When NAACLS receives a written signed complaint that may be categorized under one or more Standards and the complainant reports that a satisfactory resolution was not achieved by following the sponsoring institution’s processes, the complainant is notified that it was received and the complaint is forwarded by staff to the appropriate review committee (PARC or RCAP) leadership for review. The leadership has three possible options, including a: 1) determination that there was no violation of Standards; 2) determination that there was a possible violation of Standards, or 3) request for additional information. If it is determined that no violation of Standards occurred, the complainant is advised of such and the matter is closed. In either of the other two situations, staff or the review committee leadership communicate with the program in question about the general nature of the complaint (but not revealing the identity of the complainant!) and the program is asked to respond specifically regarding one or more Standards.
Responses are once again forwarded to the review committee leadership for further review. If the leadership determines that the program response was adequate, the complainant is notified that the matter was reviewed and no further action is necessary. A summary of the complaint (but not the complainant’s identity) and program response are shared with either the RCAP or PARC membership. If the program response is deemed inadequate, several scenarios may ensue. It may be determined that a site visit, planned or unplanned, is necessary. When a site visit is necessary, the site visit is conducted within one year. The site visit report and documentation are reviewed by NAACLS Board President, CEO and the appropriate review committee chair, and this group determines whether or not the program is in compliance with the Standards and if further action is required. Upon resolution, the complainant is informed that the matter was reviewed and closure achieved.
Through the guidelines and process described, NAACLS attempts to maintain the optimal balance between responsiveness to complainants, fair and equitable decision-making regarding accreditation or approval of programs, and responsibility for public service.
Dianne M. Cearlock, PhD