Coming after U: Why Colleges Should Fear the Accrediting Cartel

Article excerpt

A tiny "Great Books" college in California, tucked away in a mountain meadow, would seem an unlikely minuteman in a struggle for the academic liberty of America's colleges, universities, and professional schools. But so it is. Thomas Aquinas College, named for the 13th-century Italian saint and patron of Catholic education, was among the first to resist the imposition of non-academic standards by regional accrediting agencies. Now the accreditors, who grant a scholastic seal of approval--and with it, access to federal assistance--are hoping to consolidate and centralize their power over dissident institutions.

Armed with an agenda that includes politically correct notions of "diversity," an alliance of accreditors and Washington-based educrats is trying to establish a national accrediting body that would oversee every institution of higher learning in the country. No school that receives federal money would be immune from attack: By threatening to withhold accreditation, and thereby close off millions of dollars in government loans and other assistance, a centralized body could impose a political agenda at will.

This is precisely the lesson in the recent flap over the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which insisted that medical schools require training in abortion procedures or else forfeit accreditation.

If the move toward a centralized accrediting body succeeds, the private, collegial character of the review process will be in peril. Advocates of diversity and multicultural standards instead will be pitted against institutions striving to preserve high academic standards along with their own distinctive missions. The autonomy and quality of these institutions will be put in jeopardy.

This is not a hypothetical fear. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, a nationwide agency, recently voted for ideological reasons to deny accreditation to any obstetrics and gynecology program that fails to provide mandatory training in abortion procedures. A similar imposition of ideological mandates could occur if accreditation of colleges were centralized in one monopolistic organization.

Accreditation has long been a valuable process in higher education. Until recently, it has involved private, professional peer review to make sure that colleges and universities actually provide the quality of education they claim to provide. Now proponents of "diversity" are using the process to impose politically correct educational standards on institutions striving to preserve their distinctive missions. In the name of advancing diversity within each institution, they are imposing their own version of conformity and threatening true diversity among institutions. At stake is America's historical commitment to the integrity, quality, and independence of its colleges.

THE AQUINAS MODEL

Since its founding in 1971, Thomas Aquinas has offered only one kind of degree: a bachelor of arts in liberal education. Our curriculum is composed of the seminal books of Western civilization, and we are unabashedly Catholic. There are no majors, minors, or electives. There are no textbooks; we rely only on the original works of those who have thought deeply about man, nature, and God. There are no lectures; we hold seminars in which professors guide students toward an understanding of the authors before them. With its clear and distinctive academic vision, the college offers an exemplary version of a classical liberal education.

We pursue no "affirmative action" for persons or texts. We look for the best teachers, the best books, and students willing and able to undertake the life of reason. As Catholics, we hold that one intellectual tradition is superior, and we ask our students to study in that tradition, as well as to read prominent critics of that tradition such as Marx and Nietzsche. We are not about the study of "culture," as the word is used today; we will not base our curriculum on authors consciously selected for their race, gender, or sexual orientation. …