The healthcare system, General Motors, financial institutions. It seems the Federal Government sees business in America as a target rich environment ripe for takeover. Now, the Department of Education appears to be moving to control the content of private higher education. Under the guise of a new program entitled “Program Integrity Issues,” a proposed rule change states that institutions of higher education “would be required to have a document of state approval to operate an educational program, including programs leading to a degree or a certificate.” If approved, the new rule would place private institutions of higher education under the control of the state bringing an end to any semblance of free speech rights.
Right now, private institutions of higher education are held accountable by the accreditation process established by independent educational councils. The accreditation requirements are stiff, requiring hundreds of hours of preparation time and mounds of paperwork offered as documentation. When my institution, North Greenville University, recently completed its reaccreditation process we worked on the report for over a year. Our accrediting agency, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, required over 250 pages of program documentation which was thoroughly reviewed by an off campus committee made up of professional educators and administrators from all fields of higher education. After the offsite committee submitted their report, we had less than six months to respond to close to 50 pages of suggested changes. The entire report was reworked from top to bottom as all of our programs were reviewed, tweaked, and then reviewed again. Everyone on campus got involved in completing the rewrite of the main report. I personally spent hours and hours working on my department, making sure every “T” was crossed and every “I” dotted.
The revised report swelled to over 300 pages and was resubmitted to a second committee that would go over the report to make sure all of the suggested changes had been made. That committee then came and spent three days on our campus. During the campus visit, the team members met with students, professors, staff, and administrators conducting hours of personal interviews and checking to make sure all of our reports were accurate.
At the conclusion of the on-campus visit, the committee submitted their final report to the institution and we went through another internal revision process before everyone was satisfied our report was ready for final submission.
As you can see, the accreditation process is painstakingly detailed and completely thorough. The last thing we need is for the Federal Government to mandate state interference into the process.
Once the State is allowed to step in, it can choose to ignore the independent accreditation process and force private Christian universities like North Greenville to adhere to practices that would violate our commitment to be a place where “Christ makes the difference.” The State could force us to stop our twice a week chapel services where, every year, hundreds of students come to know Christ as Savior. The State could stop the preaching of the gospel and force us to abandon our Christian principles in hiring and even change the way we hold our students accountable to Scriptural principles.
Speaking of the Department of Education proposal, Senator Bill Armstrong, who now serves as president of Colorado Christian University, said “I think it is the greatest threat to academic freedom in our lifetime.” Armstrong is encouraging members of Congress to look into the situation. Most regulation changes made within departments are not made known to lawmakers until the information comes out after the regulation takes effect.
Syndicated columnist, author, and political observer Cal Thomas weighed in on the matter in a recent syndicated column. Thomas said, “Imagine the outcry if someone identified with the tea party movement had made similar demands of a Republican administration concerning what is taught at Harvard or UC Berkeley. There would be protests in the quads and a lawsuit by the ACLU.”
According to critics familiar with the new proposed regulation, the state will be required to set standards, establish guidelines, and enact rules and regulations by which each college and university will be judged. It is nothing less than an assault on academic freedom and institutional autonomy. It will nullify the work of independent accrediting agencies and allow an imposed agenda from hiring to textbook content to course approval.
Academic freedom is one of the bedrock freedoms that support the dream that is America. We must not allow the state to have the final say in how private institutions of higher learning educate future generations. We have already surrendered too many of our freedoms to progressives who would transform this great country from a lighthouse of freedom into a darkroom of socialist control.