The Denver Post (Link) - Bill Armstrong and Hank Brown (September 20, 2010)
Should the nation�s colleges and universities be subjugated by federal and state government? That�s what is going to happen if the U.S. Department of Education goes ahead with its proposal to turn both private and public schools into �authorized� institutions.
The plan, scheduled to go into effect in November, entails a heavy cost in time and money. But what is more ominous is the whole idea of political supervision of higher education.
As a practical matter, the department�s power grab carries with it an implicit invitation for various pressure groups to seek legal mandates requiring colleges and universities to implement their pet theories about curriculum, degree requirements, faculty qualifications, teaching methods, textbooks, evolution, phonics, ROTC, climate change, family policy, abortion, race, sexual orientation, economic theory, etc.
If adopted, regional accreditation will be denied to any institution that has not first been given �substantive� state �authorization.�
Virtually all colleges and universities are already licensed or registered by one or more states. Many are already registered to do business in all 50 states, which means they are subject to state fraud and consumer-protection laws, have a registered agent within the state, and can be sued by students, vendors, employees or others who have a complaint against them.
But this is not what the Department of Education has in mind. Although details are sketchy, the department�s proposal calls for �substantive� oversight, not �merely of the type required to do business in the state.� Moreover, this legal authorization must be �subject to adverse action by the state,� and the state must have �a process to review and appropriately act on complaints . . . and to enforce applicable state laws.�
In other words, the state will be required to set standards, establish guidelines, and enact rules and regulations by which each college and university will be judged.
This assault on academic freedom and institutional autonomy is a slap in the face to regional accreditation agencies whose peer reviews have been bulwarks of integrity and academic quality for decades. Loss of accreditation is literally a death sentence.
The department�s new regulatory scheme doesn�t do away with regional accreditation; it adds another approval layer, state �authorization.� Some states will undoubtedly exercise this power with restraint, at least at the outset. But who can doubt that various interest groups will soon begin to clamor for ideas to be mandated by law as requirements for college classrooms?
Moreover, do we want the nation�s colleges subjected to political supervision by federal and state government? Our nation is well-served by public colleges and universities, many of which have managed to remain somewhat free of explicit political control, wrestling with important ideas, competing for students, faculty, staff and philanthropy.
Education Department officials also plan to subject private institutions to the same kind of state supervision as public colleges and universities. If such control of these schools is not unconstitutional, it ought to be.
For-profit colleges and universities are cheating students, government officials allege, lying to them about job opportunities for graduates and falsifying loan applications. These are serious charges, and if true, deserve swift punishment. But these actions, even if true, are already criminal acts under existing law. If the Department has knowledge of wrong-doing, they should call for prosecution. There is no demonstrated need to put all schools, public and private, religious and secular, nonprofit and for-profit, on the government leash.
Legislators must start sniffing around this mess, ask questions, and demand justification. If that happens, this plan is doomed. Write your congressman and senator, today. �