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Thursday, April 04, 2013
From Hawaii to Virginia, are College Accreditors Overstepping their Authority?
By Andrew Walden @ 3:37 AM :: 4437 Views :: Higher Education

by Andrew Walden

Just one day after Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC) pushed back against Hawaii State Senate investigators by threatening the accreditation of the University of Hawaii, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) responded to a remarkably similar “wrongful intrusion of college accreditors in state governance matters” by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) directed at the University of Virginia. 

Here is the rundown:

WASC: Legislature Endangers UH Accreditation

News Release from WASC March 11, 2013: “…significant tensions are present that now raise questions regarding the compliance of the University's governance systems with Commission Standards….”

read … WASC

  *   *   *   *   *

Greenwood defends UH to academic watchdog

SA March 22, 2013: The Western Association of Schools and Colleges had warned earlier this month that the episode had included inappropriate external interference from government officials and "revealed the fragility" of the university's autonomy.

In response to that warning, UH President M.R.C. Greenwood said in a letter to WASC on Thursday, "The media coverage has not been as measured as one would hope, but we acknowledge that what you have read reflects a serious decline in the quality of interactions and relations among the various parties."

Greenwood also addressed several bills introduced this session that WASC said could interfere with the university's autonomy.

"The bills and resolutions that were sponsored in the early days of the legislative session have, for the most part, not progressed, and there seems to be a genuine effort to differentiate between ‘external interference' and appropriate levels of accountability," Greenwood wrote.

Background: WASC: Legislature Endangers UH Accreditation

read … Greenwood

  *   *   *   *   *

ACTA appeals to secretary of education on accreditation

News Release from GOACTA, March 12, 2013

ACTA has asked Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to prevent the wrongful intrusion of college accreditors in state governance matters and called for an alternative system of quality assurance.  In a letter to the Secretary, ACTA argues that SACS’ action falls outside its legitimate authority and amounts to the wielding of federal power in violation of the principles of federalism and the U.S. Constitution. SACS’ contention that the UVA Faculty Senate should have received advance notice of the board’s intention to terminate a president truly stretches policies on shared governance beyond any reasonable interpretation.

Read the full press release here.

ACTA Calls on Secretary of Education for Accreditation Reform

Says SACS’ Placing the University of Virginia on Warning Constitutes Misuse of Federal Power
News Release from ACTA March 12, 2013

Washington, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni today asked Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to prevent the wrongful intrusion of college accreditors in state governance matters and called for an alternative system of quality assurance that would end interference in institutional autonomy.

In late December, ACTA filed a complaint with the Department of Education, arguing that SACS acted without authority when it put the University of Virginia on warning, with its contention that the Faculty Senate should have been notified in advance of the board’s decision to terminate the president.  No question was raised about UVA’s academic quality.

ACTA’s letter to Duncan appealed the recent staff determination that there was no reason to take action against the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The letter to Duncan suggested “if the Department is unwilling or believes it is unable to step in when accreditors act outside their rightful authority, it is time to reform the Higher Education Act and develop an alternative system of quality assurance.”

The letter pointed the Secretary to an alternative accreditation system that received bipartisan support in 2012 from members of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, who advise the Secretary on accreditation.

“SACS leadership must answer to the fact that they are overreaching their legitimate power as gatekeepers of federal funds, while ignoring their primary responsibility to ensure educational quality,” said ACTA President Anne Neal. “While SACS was busy interfering with the governance of the University of Virginia, it notably was ignoring the long list of schools it accredits with six-year graduation rates less than 50 percent.” 

“Accreditation, which was designed to ensure that federal aid flows only to schools where students get a quality education, has become costly and ineffectual, as President Obama himself suggested following his State of the Union address,” Neal said. “Rather than protecting the taxpayer, accreditors like SACS are more interested in protecting the prerogatives of faculty and administrators who benefit from the status quo.  It’s time we had a quality assurance system that protects the American people.”

  *   *   *   *   *

WSJ: The Rise of the Accreditor as Big Man on Campus


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