Thursday, March 02, 2017

University accreditation: Stakes high in political game of chicken

Last week EKU finished a very successful reaffirmation site visit from SACS-COC (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the SACS name for higher ed accreditation). As a Regent at EKU, that process afforded me the opportunity to discuss university governance issues with the visiting SACS-COC officials.

(Perhaps this is a good time to remind readers that all opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect any official position of the institution, the Board of Regents, or any of the university's members.)

Going into that conversation, I was ready for our visitors to dodge any questions related to governance implications at UofL and how EKU might be affected. To my surprise, they didn't dodge anything. Rather, I was reminded that the SACS-COC standards are already in place, and that actions by states that threaten an institution's standing against those standards could be acted upon at any time. Just because UofL was placed on a one-year probation does not mean that SACS-COC will necessarily wait a year to act, if in the view of our academic peers our universities have become subject to undue political influence. UofL's loss of accreditation is mandatory if the university fails, or is unable to address SACS’ concerns.

For his part, Gov. Matt Bevin has said, "We don’t answer to accrediting agencies."

The Morehead News reported that the situation has "left [UofL] twisting in limbo while politicians in Frankfort play a game of chicken with the university’s accrediting agency."

This from the Morehead News reprinted in the Richmond Register:
Lawmakers wrong about colleges
We are disappointed and concerned that the Republican-controlled General Assembly is willing to put Kentucky public higher education at risk by stroking the ego of Gov. Matt Bevin.
Most lawmakers in the Senate and House apparently have drunk the Republican Kool-Aid and believe that the governor’s whims must be written into statute.

Without regional accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), academic credit earned at any of our public universities and community and technical colleges will be worthless.

The University of Louisville currently is on SACS probation because of the governor’s dissolution of its Board of Trustees and his creation of a new board by executive order.

Accrediting agencies like SACS know that political interference is a threat to academic freedom at universities and colleges and that such conduct must be avoided at all costs.

Senate President Robert Stivers told his colleagues that last week’s bill to give the governor statutory authority to remove college board members would not be a problem with SACS accreditation of UofL.

It is obvious that bill is a direct response to the successful legal challenge by Attorney General Andy Beshear which reversed Bevin’s heavy-handed interference at UofL.

With Republicans controlling the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature, those lawmakers seem determined to bring legitimacy to Bevin’s actions at UofL.

We believe Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, was right when he described the bill as a “power grab” that conveys too much power.

He and five other Democrats, including MSU alumni Robin Webb and Johnny Ray Turner, voted against the bill but it passed 32-6 and moved on to the House where another Republican super majority waits to add its rubber stamp to Bevin’s “my way or the highway” approach to governing this state.

We find it interesting that the 91 Republicans in the legislature apparently are convinced that the governor is smarter than all of them.

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