18 October 2005
Dr. Belle S. Wheelan
Commission on Colleges, SACS
Dear Dr. Wheelan,
Thank you for your time on the phone earlier today. In anticipation of your meeting on
Friday, I will in this letter summarize the key issues that are directly related to what I
would describe as "the accreditation crisis” in the southern region with regard to the
accreditation of courses in human anatomy and physiology. I will send this letter by
email and a hard copy will follow through the mail.
In terms of general background: The 2-semester/3-quarter undergraduate course usually
known as "Human Anatomy and Physiology" or simply "Anatomy and Physiology" is
one of the larger introductory level courses, with approximately 450,000 students
enrolled each year in the US and Canada. Nationwide, roughly two-thirds of these
courses are taught at community colleges, and the rest primarily at universities. This As
an introductory level survey course, A&P covers a diversity of topics, including not only
anatomy and physiology, but introductory biochemistry, cytology, histology, molecular
biology, genetics, immunology, nutrition, embryology, and pathology. The coverage is
so diverse, and the principles so relevant to a general understanding of modern biology,
that a 1-semester version of this course is often used to satisfy the general biology
requirements for non-majors students.
The majority of students taking the 2-semester A&P course are planning a career in the
health sciences. The career paths include nursing, occupational therapy, physical
therapy, radiation technology, laboratory/medical technology, dental hygiene,
pharmacology and other related disciplines. Students majoring in physical education,
sports training, or kinesiology make up a smaller component of the classroom population.
At community colleges the course is often taken in the first year of college, without
college-level prerequisites. Entry into any one of the career programs listed above is
usually contingent upon successful completion of the A&P course with a grade of C or
above; in competitive programs, the grade requirements may be much more restrictive.
It is important to note that pre-med students and biology majors do not typically take this
course because it is an option that does not count towards their degree requirements.
Instead, they will take Majors Biology (or Zoology/Botany) as freshmen, followed by
more specialized and detailed upper level courses in their junior and senior years.
Two-semester A&P courses are usually taught from the Biology, Zoology, or Natural
Sciences departments; in rare cases, the sequence may be offered by another academic
division (e.g. a department within an associated medical school) as a service course. As
a result, the diversity of faculty roughly approaches the diversity of topics presented
within the course. The minimum criteria for teaching the introductory level A&P course
nationwide are (1) a Masters degree in one of the biological sciences and (2) 18 graduate
credit hours in related courses. A professional degree incorporating both anatomy and
physiology (M.S.N., MD, DO, or DVM) is generally accepted as fulfilling these
It has been reported to HAPS that the revised SACS criteria for accreditation of an A&P
course is a Masters degree in human anatomy or human physiology (or A&P) and 18
graduate credit hours in human anatomy, human physiology, or related (human) courses.
Comparative and clinical courses are specifically excluded from consideration. This is
not only a departure from past criteria, but it is simply not supportable in terms of either
the logistics and content of the course or the course topics available to faculty during
their graduate careers.
In terms of course logistics, please review the HAPS Core Curriculum Guidelines
provided as Enclosure 1. As you can see, the instructors must be prepared to integrate
intro-level chemistry and biochemistry not only with anatomy and physiology, but with a
variety of other relevant topics in biology, including cytology, cell physiology, histology,
organology, microbiology, immunology, embryology, and nutrition. Because of the
interrelatedness of topics in biology, a graduate level course in any one of the ancillary
topics above must of necessity include a significant amount of anatomy and physiology.
Using the HAPS Curriculum Guidelines as a reference, Enclosure 2 lists the graduate
level courses that are relevant to the teaching of anatomy and physiology at the
In terms of coursework options at the graduate level, the following should be noted:
Opportunities to obtain a degree in "anatomy and physiology” are extremely
limited. I am aware of degree programs with that description at Boston
University, Kansas State, the University of Delaware, the University of Bristol
(UK), and the University of Guelph (Canada). Even those degrees are in A&P
and not human A&P; in some cases (e.g. Kansas State) DVM courses count
toward the credit requirements of the degree program, and the graduate research
projects typically involve experimental procedures using laboratory animals rather
The term human is seldom applied to the course description or syllabus for
graduate level courses in the physiological sciences because the core principles of
physiology are consistent not only across the vertebrate lineage, but across major
animal phyla. As a result, the laboratory experiments and demonstrations use a
combination of vertebrates and invertebrates, as appropriate. For example,
cockroach nerve plexuses are used to demonstrate neural wiring patterns and
reflexes; squid axons are used to study action potentials; frog skin is used to
investigate ion transport mechanisms; and turtle hearts are used to demonstrate
basic cardiovascular physiology.
Because the basic anatomical, physiological, histological, and developmental
patterns are found across the vertebrate lineage, mammalian physiology courses
and comparative anatomy courses are directly applicable to all forms of A&P.
Note that A&P courses perform dissections as part of the laboratory component,
and the animal most often dissected is the domestic cat. Although cats and
primates are distinct, the basic patterns of anatomical organization are directly
comparable. (Courses may also use rabbits, rats, fetal pigs, cow hearts, sheep
brains, and other non-human materials as part of the laboratory component.)
On behalf of the membership of HAPS, I need to point out that should Dr. Sullivan’s
accreditation criteria be widely applied in colleges across the country, it would disqualify
at least 90% of current instructors, both full-time and adjunct. This would be devastating
for both academic departments and students who need the courses to advance in their
career paths. In one instance (Edison College), the administration has removed all A&P
and Microbiology courses from the Spring 2006 schedule and will reassign or lay off the
faculty who were to teach them. Obviously students will be stranded and have to seek
those courses elsewhere, if they can find them at all, and the loss of these courses will
have a downstream impact on all of the allied health programs that accept students only
after they have completed A&P. This would place SACS in the position of exacerbating a
shortage of health care professionals in a region where the problem is already acute. In
summary, the impacts of the revised accreditation criteria are all negative, and the
duration and severity of those impacts are difficult to predict, but whatever happens will
be directly attributable to the accreditation criteria imposed by Dr. Sullivan, acting with
the tacit approval of SACS.
I have devoted my professional life to improving the quality of A&P education for
undergraduates, as have many of our members. The issue here is that the criteria Dr.
Sullivan is proposing do not match the reality of the courses, do not accurately reflect the
relationships among topics within Biology, and fail to consider the options available to
faculty during their graduate careers. Dr. Sullivan’s revised accreditation criteria threaten
not only the departments affected, but health care programs and facilities. It is my hope
that after reviewing these materials you will take immediate steps to restore the historic
accreditation criteria in A&P and avoid further disruption of departments and faculty in
your region. HAPS stands ready to work with you to examine the previously existing
standards in terms of their suitability and effectiveness, a step that should be completed
before radically new standards are imposed.
I will look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Frederic Martini, Ph.D.
firstname.lastname@example.org // email@example.com
Enc: 1 – Course Curriculum Guidelines
2 - Graduate course listing
cc: Dr. Margaret Sullivan, Dr. Laura Lindsay
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