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Air University earns SACS Ph.D. accreditation

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has upgraded Air University's membership to Level V, a move that will allow the university to offer up to three doctoral programs.

Dr. Bruce Murphy, AU's chief academic officer, said the SACS action is "a significant step in the life of Air University." While the first Ph.D. program will be offered through the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, the Level V status applies to all of Air University.

"This is a maturing of Air University," he said. "The first step was accreditation; now we've received the upgrade from Level III to Level V membership. All members of Air University should be proud of this."

Dr. Murphy said the process to establish the doctorate program involved restructuring the SAASS curriculum in a way that allows Air University to grant SAASS graduates a Master of Philosophy in Military Strategy degree, and students who attend the next SAASS class will be the first to receive that degree. He said graduates from that class may apply for the Ph.D. program. If accepted, they will move on to SAASS graduate assignments for two to three years where they will also work on their dissertations. They will then return to Air University as fellows to complete and defend their dissertation and be awarded Ph.Ds.

"One advantage of the new program is that from now on, all SAASS students will receive a master's of philosophy degree, which is considered a higher level degree, but, of course, not all SAASS graduates will receive a Ph.D.," he said. "Also, aside from the technical degrees granted at (Air Force Institute of Technology) and the Naval Post Graduate School, we will be the first of the federal degree granting institutions to offer a doctorate program."

Dr. Murphy said the new Ph.D. program targets potential senior-level strategic thinkers to prepare them to be the "ultimate warrior scholars." It also prepares students to effectively communicate with senior-level government officials.

He said the next step in the process is to receive Department of Education approval. It is hoped that will happen in 2011. Dr. Murphy and Dr. Dorothy Reed, Air University chief of academic affairs, traveled this week to the DOE to present the program. A key selling point is that Air University is offering a degree that cannot be obtained through civilian sector schools.

"Also, within the next six months we will have a SACS on-site visit that is part of the process," Dr. Murphy said. "We said a lot of things in the perspective, like we have a top-rated research library, and SACS will probably want to come and see that library. They may also want to talk to staff and faculty members. SACS is essentially coming to get eyes-on and make sure everything is correct."

He said SACS will then write a report, and the best scenario for that report will be "no recommendations," indicating they found nothing to change.

Dr. Murphy said a "great deal of credit" goes to Dr. Reed who put in "lots and lots of hard work." She collaborated closely with Col. Timothy Schultz, SAASS commandant, and Dr. Steve Chiabotti, SAASS academic adviser, to keep the program proposal on track. He said a "special thanks" goes to the Air University Board of Visitors, who put together a subcommittee that made "significant and remarkable contributions" to the project.

"The BOV being involved for such a long period of time made a tremendous difference. The kinds of things they did really helped," Dr. Murphy said. "I also want to thank Dr. Dianne Barron, dean of Troy University's graduate school, who came in, gave us some great ideas and helped us stay objective. This was a team effort all the way."