Proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine accreditation potentially in jeopardy

The proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine’s accreditation process might be terminated this week following a review by the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA).

The multimillion-dollar program is designed to focus on the primary care needs of rural and underserved Texans. There is a need in the Lone Star State as Texas ranks 47 in primary care physicians per 100,000 population, according to the Texas Physician Workforce Profile, and Sam Houston State University has been planning the proposed college since 2015.

According to Dr. Charles Henley, dean of the proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine, COCA sent a cease and desist letter in September for promoting a tentative 2020 launch date for the proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine on a page on the SHSU website. According to COCA rules, proposed launch dates should not be promoted or advertised before the program is formally approved. The site was taken down last week following the publication of The Houstonian article “SHSU answers call to healthcare needs in Texas.” For the same article, University Spokesperson Emily Binetti also mentioned the tentative 2020 launch date in an interview with The Houstonian. COCA found the article and the mention of the proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine on the SHSU Capital Campaign webpage.

“The accrediting body is just very serious about this issue,” Henley said. “Telling anybody, especially in writing that we are actually something we aren’t. We don’t have any level of accreditation yet.”

The article was brought to the attention of COCA, who then sent a formal cease and desist letter to the university requesting the retraction or correction of The Houstonian article, according to Dr. Richard Eglsaer, provost and vice president of academic affairs. Following vocal concerns from the SHSU Office of Communications, The Houstonian pulled down the article for a 48-hour review. The editorial staff conducted an extensive review in conjunction with The Houstonian’s faculty adviser Dr. Marcus Funk, Department of Mass Communication Chair Dr. Jean Bodon and Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication Dr. Ronald Shields.

Houstonian editors worked with Marketing and Communications staff to draft a joint statement to send to COCA, but did not issue a retraction. Instead, The Houstonian republished the article with an editor’s note that acknowledged factual inaccuracies in a photo caption in the print edition, which erroneously stated the College of Osteopathic Medicine was already approved. The Houstonian also acknowledged that the lead sentence may have been ambiguous, and emphasized that the proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine is still under review. The Houstonian also reiterated that all quotes and information in the article originated from legitimate sources, and were written over email.

It also published a screenshot of the SHSU webpage promoting the tentative 2020 launch date, alongside a screenshot of the terminated webpage a day later.

“The Houstonian was very kind to write a letter,” Eglsaer said. “We sent that to them [COCA]. Hopefully, that’ll take care of it.”

According to Eglsaer, COCA will review those documents this week, and potentially make a decision regarding the fate of the accreditation of the proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“This is our accreditation, this is our life,” Henley said. “They have the power to say ‘We’re just going to withdraw your application. You’re done. You’re not going to have a school.”

“This is still going to have to go to the COCA commission and they’re going to have to decide.”

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