Obama Regulations Threaten Colleges; Feds Shouldn't Be Involved in Schools' Accreditation

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Armstrong, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Within weeks, the federal government, through the Department of Education, will have the regulations in place to control potentially what's taught in our nation's private colleges and universities.

The idea is so startling, and so at odds with the concept of academic freedom and the fundamentals of American liberty, that it's tempting to dismiss it as one of those classic it cannot happen here scenarios. But the danger is all too real, and one that I and many of my colleagues believe is the greatest threat to academic freedom in our lifetime.

While this obviously strikes personal alarm in those of us who run private universities and colleges, it should profoundly disturb every American.

The new regulations, to be finalized Nov. 1, will mandate that America's private higher-education institutions must follow new federal guidelines in order to be accredited. Also at stake is whether those private institutions could accept students with government loans or grants.

Under the present system - which has served the country well for more than a century - both public and private institutions are vetted through an independent, nonpolitical accreditation process. The system, a network of six regional and national bodies, objectively measures whether an institution has maintained high academic standards. A classic example is the requirement that professors hold the appropriate degrees to teach in a particular discipline. It's a system that has been implicitly recognized and trusted by generations of parents, college-bound students and potential employers as a seal of academic quality. It's never been an imprimatur on the quality of the institution's ideas.

But under the new mandate, a government panel - its format yet undetermined - will take into account public complaints and objections to an institution's curriculum and content. Under the principle of adverse action, the state would have the power to deny an institution's accreditation because of those negative findings, or because they may (theoretically) challenge some element of state policy.

At its starkest level, the new rules represent an administrative nightmare, requiring the addition of staff and man-hours to already overstressed college and university budgets.

Far worse, they open the way to pressure groups that seek to influence - or shut down - educational content at a private university. Any issue that might engage a college campus today, from climate change to abortion rights, even the presence of ROTC, could become grounds for complaints and government interference. …