A college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that suspended its operations this week is mobilizing its alumni and supporters to write to Nebraska's governor and other elected leaders about a recent decision to deny its request for change of control.
According to its Board of Regents, Dana College firmly believes that its change of control request met the criteria set forth by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), which accredits degree-granting post-secondary educational institutions in the North Central region.
“We are firm in our belief that politics, not substance and reason, drove the ultimate decision,” they wrote in a letter to Dana College alumni and supporters this past Wednesday.
Last month, Dana College’s Board of Regents decided to commence the closing of the Blair, Neb., school after their request for change of control was denied.
The ELCA college had agreed in March to sell itself to the for-profit Dana Education Corporation (DEC) in an effort to “resolve long-standing financial resource issues.”
HLC, however, voted to deny Dana’s request for a change of control and informed the school of its decision in an official notification that reached the college on the last day of June.
In announcing the notification, the school claimed the commission’s decision was “inaccurate, unfair and based on speculation and information not included in the required change of control request.”
“We are devastated that despite meeting all requests and assiduously working to meet all requirements, the HLC decision does not allow for Dana’s continuing operation,” remarked Dennis Gethmann, president of the Board of Regents.
In its latest remarks, the board continued to express its disapproval of HLC’s decision, attaching to its note the final letter received from HLC indicating its denial and a second document that provides "facts and comments which refute their conclusions."
The board also went as far as to accuse the accrediting body of being "more interested in its own survival in the current political environment.”
“HLC rules do not allow for a college to make its case directly to the HLC board. Their meetings are held in secret, and their decisions on transfers of control may not be appealed, even if based on errors or misrepresentation,” the Board of Regents noted. “By every stretch of the imagination, this does not resemble the principles of due process that we as Americans understand and hold dear today.”
While the board noted that action against, and reform of, the HLC is too late for Dana College, they expressed their desire to see no other college or its community have to endure “unwarranted devastation” as they had to.
In their letter, the board urged Dana alumni and supporters to write to their elected officials to get them to force the Department of Education to investigate their case so that other institutions do not share the same fate without an opportunity to be heard.
They also asked for prayers for Dana’s students, faculty, staff and the Blair community.
“We are heartsick that this has happened to our beloved Dana College,” they stated before concluding their letter.
“We have worked fervently to ensure Dana’s survival against tremendous odds, and are devastated at this outcome when such hope and opportunity were so close,” they added.
According to the news agency of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Dana’s board voted this past Monday to suspend operations effective immediately rather than to close the school as originally planned.
The suspension will secure Dana's accreditation, thus allowing students enrolled in summer courses and internships to receive academic credit for their work and allowing seniors the opportunity to receive a Dana diploma, should they desire, reported Dana board chair Dennis Gethmann.
"If we voted to close [the college] the accreditation would cease," Gethmann told the ELCA News Service.
While the closure of Dana College will occur at some point, there is currently no date set for the board to take that vote.
The vote will happen soon, Gethmann reported, "we just do not know exactly when."
With the closure of Dana, ELCA will be left with 26 colleges and universities. Earlier this year, on Jan. 8, Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, was sold to a for-profit company, ending the college's affiliation with the ELCA.
With 4.6 million members, ELCA is the largest Lutheran church body in the United States.