Norris honored with Meritorious Service Award for “invaluable” accreditation leadership
Published on Monday, March 21, 2022
By: Andrea Wright Dilworth, firstname.lastname@example.org
When Dr. Mitzi Norris received a call last year from the president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, she didn’t know what to think.
As executive director for academic effectiveness and liaison to SACSCOC, she and her team had just completed the self-study portion of the accreditation report, the culmination of a four-year process, and she knew the SACSCOC peer-review team was reviewing UMMC’s documents that week.
So she assumed the call was about the report.
“I knew it was either very good or very bad,” Norris said.
It was the former: very good.
Dr. Belle Wheelan, SACSCOC president, had called to tell Norris she’d been awarded the Carol A. Luthman Meritorious Service Award, which she formally received during its annual meeting in December, held virtually.
The award recognizes service to the Commission above and beyond, said Wheelan.
“Dr. Norris has served on some institutional review committees that were extremely complex,” Wheelan said. “As a member of the committees, she gave invaluable professional recommendations for improvement to the institution and shepherded the members of the committees to consensus.”
Dr. Ralph Didlake, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said he nominated Norris for the honor as soon as the solicitation for nominations form came across his desk because it “just screamed Mitzi Norris.”
Norris’ importance to accreditation goes beyond SACSCOC, Didlake explained, as she is also deeply involved with and adds value to 14 other discipline-specific programmatic accreditations that are contingent upon UMMC’s institutional accreditation.
“She has created a culture in which accreditation is not just something we have to do but rather a process that adds value to what we do,” Didlake said. “I would have been shocked had she not received the award.”
Earlier this month, SACSCOC gave UMMC a stellar review with no recommendations, the best result an institution can receive. Norris led the team of more than 100 that compiled the report. The peer-reviewed evaluative process occurs every 10 years.
Norris, who joined the staff in 2006 as director of accreditation, has elevated the profile of institutional accreditation in ways that have both improved regulatory and documentation practices, and made fundamental changes in the Medical Center’s operational structure, policies and culture, said Didlake.
“These changes have allowed continuous quality improvement across UMMC’s education enterprise and most importantly have helped to maintain excellent student learning outcomes.”
Didlake said Norris’ impact on accreditation also includes mentorship of young faculty and administrative staff, creating a large cohort who have become both fluent and deeply engaged in accreditation practices. She also played a key role in forming the Health Science Center Group, an independently-accredited organization that shares best practices among SACSCOC institutions.
Norris, who said other recipients of the award have included college presidents, is proud to be among those whom she has held in such high regard. She is only the sixth Mississippian to receive the honor, said Wheelan.
“I value the accreditation process and the validity and transparency it brings to our educational programs,” said Norris. “Carol A. Luthman’s service to SACSCOC was the embodiment of that process”
“I was honored and humbled to receive the award named in her honor.”