Until now, I thought no one was acting to oppose the imposition of an iron cage of accreditation review, an additional layer of bureaucracy championed by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. But according to an article in Inside Higher Education, I'm not alone in thinking that the Bush Administration initiatives are bureaucratic madness:
The accreditation panel is by far the most controversial of the rule making committees, because unlike the others, there have been no recent changes in federal law regarding accreditation, and some college officials have questioned whether the department has the legal grounds to consider some of the changes it is considering — most of which were prompted by the work of the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education.I'd go even further and ask that university cooperation with this initiative be ended as soon as possible. In the interests of academic freedom and defending the one element of our educational system that is really a model for the world--higher education--I'd ask Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to stop the Bush Administration's accreditation reform madness, before it completely destroys the liberal arts in American colleges and universities...
Over several months, the negotiators — a mix of college administrators, accrediting agency officials and others — have engaged in pointed and at times tense debates about a range of issues, most of which boil down to: how far the federal government should go in demanding that accreditors set minimum standards for the performance of the colleges they oversee, most notably on how much their students learn.
As the department’s various proposals have evolved over the weeks and months, they have become slightly less intrusive at each turn. Most recently, the department issued draft regulatory language — based, its officials repeated again and again, on a proposal that some of the “non-federal” negotiators had suggested — that would no longer require accrediting agencies to dictate to colleges the levels of performance they must achieve in student learning (for non-vocational programs, at least; for vocational programs, all accreditors would still be required to set such standards, which agencies that accredit for-profit career-related colleges already must).
But because the government would still require accrediting agencies to judge whether the standards that colleges set for themselves and their success in meeting those goals are sufficient — and because the accreditors would be doing so knowing that the Education Department can (through its process for recognizing accrediting agencies) punish any accreditor who doesn’t set the bar high enough to satisfy department officials — some members of the negotiating panel argued Tuesday that even the less-aggressive changes amount to federal control of accreditation, and ultimately of higher education.
“We are taking a system of quality review driven by cooperation and replacing it with a parent-child relationship,” where the parent (the accreditor) is “controlled by the federal government,” argued Judith S. Eaton, president of the Council on Higher Education Accreditation, which coordinates accreditation nationally and recognizes 60 accrediting agencies. “When the accreditor stipulates the level of the performance indicators and the performance expectations, the institution has lost the opportunity to set its own direction, and that’s where the problem is ... We should say yes to accountability and to the goals of accountability, but no to this way.”