Published on April 1, 2015 by Mary Wimberley  

Samford University’s department of theatre and dance has received full accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST).

The designation puts the Samford program in an elite national group of 182 fully accredited institutional members that rank among the finest theatre training programs in the country.

 “This is a major triumph for the faculty, staff and students of Samford theatre, and places our program among the best in the nation,” said Samford School of the Arts dean Joseph Hopkins. “Accreditation is an acknowledgment of what we have known for many, many years---Samford has an outstanding theatre program. This recognition helps place the high standards of our department alongside the highest national standards.”

For theatre and dance department chair Donald Sandley, accreditation represents the culmination of an intensive four-year effort.

 “This recognition is the result of years of work and support,” said Sandley, who received the good news at an NAST conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, last week.

Full accreditation with no conditions or deferments is the highest level awarded by NAST, which establishes national standards for undergraduate and graduate degrees and other credentials. The designation means a 10-year approval for Samford.

The quest involved self-study, accreditation reports, curriculum design and redesign, student record management, facility renovation, fund raising, consultations, site visits and conference representation.

Sandley said that the NAST site evaluators were highly complimentary of the teaching, artistic and spiritual mission, and curriculum.

 “But the thing that stood out to them about Samford was how much the students and faculty genuinely cared for and about each other,” Sandley said. The evaluators, he said, acknowledged that the department “truly felt like an artistic family.”

The academic groundwork for an accredited program began in the 1990s, when then department chair Harold Hunt helped create a theatre major in the Howard College of Arts and Sciences. Under the leadership of then president Thomas Corts and then associate provost John Harris, noted Sandley, a School of Performing Arts (now School of the Arts), was formed to include theatre and music.

 “That they had the vision to create a school devoted to the arts is, in large part, how theatre was able to grow and prosper to the place where accreditation is possible,” Sandley said.

Over time and under the leadership of current dean Hopkins, the changes allowed the department to double in size, create a bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theatre, strengthen the dance curriculum and repair the physical infrastructure of the performing arts facilities. The department now regularly enrolls 70 to 80 theatre majors.

 “The Samford community has always supported our work,” said Sandley, department chair since 1997. “We want to thank our colleagues in the other academic units for their many years of cooperation and support, without which we could not have arrived at this day.”

 “The commitment to the performing arts from president Andrew Westmoreland, vice president Buck Brock and provost Brad Creed has been instrumental in making this accreditation a reality,” added Sandley, who also credited theatre faculty and staff members Eric Olson, Mark Castle, David Glenn, Mary Gurney, Laura Byland, Tanya Camp and Clayton Winters, along with many other supportive employees and students.


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.