Accreditors Are Now Enforcing Political Orthodoxy

Since the 19th century, regionally-based accrediting bodies that use peer-based evaluation have determined which colleges and universities can stay open. Knowing the power that these agencies hold, schools usually march in lockstep to accommodate them. After all, the consequence of losing accreditation means a loss of federal funds (most commonly, student loan dollars). The mission of most accreditation agencies is firmly concerned with issues of academic and financial quality. But what happens if an accreditation agency decides to impose an ideological standard on a school as well?

This is effectively the question that Gordon College, an evangelical school in Massachusetts, now confronts. The Boston Globe reports that New England Association of Schools and Colleges’ (NEASC) has decided to review GC’s accreditation after examining the school’s longstanding practice on not hiring gays and lesbians. The move comes after GC President D. Michael Lindsay, along with 14 other religious leaders, sent a letter to the White House requesting a religious exemption to a forthcoming executive order barring federal contractors from hiring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

A school in Canada has also encountered a similar conflict. Trinity Western University, a school in British Columbia devoted to “Christ-centered higher education,” recently opened a new law school that requires students and staff to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage.” The Law Society of Upper Canada, Canada’s largest professional organization for lawyers, refused to grant accreditation to Trinity Western, with one voter on the matter saying “I cannot vote to accredit a law school which seeks to control students in their bedrooms.”

These cases have enormous implications for religiously-affiliated institutions of higher education. If an accreditation agency adopts adherence to a regnant cultural attitude as a criteria for accreditation, what happens in 10, 15, or 20 years, as the culture becomes continually more tolerant of homosexuality, but orthodox Christians in higher education do not? Juwan Campbell, a senior at Gordon, believes some kind of accommodation is possible: “I think it can hold to its Christian roots while still having a neutral standpoint on homosexual activity and behavior.” But Campbell misses the point. Under the current cultural trajectory, there will be no neutral standpoint on the issue of gay rights vs. religious liberty. The seemingly unstoppable force of gay rights and the immovable object of Christian conviction are in direct conflict. If accreditation agencies decide to dispense legitimacy on the basis of a school’s view of homosexuality, Christian schools will have to sacrifice more than the use of a town hall. They may find themselves out of the higher education business altogether.

David Wilezol

David Wilezol

David Wilezol is the co-author of "Is College Worth It?" with former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

9 thoughts on “Accreditors Are Now Enforcing Political Orthodoxy

  1. The real solution, the only real solution, is to set up an independent conservative accrediting body. Make sure it is tough on academic standards, and challenge the feds to not recognize it — in court or in congress, if necessary.

    It’s futile to try to work with the existing accrediting agencies, they are filled with hard core left wingers. “…action by Congress restricting the use of accreditation agency approval be strictly limited to academic and financial factors.” would be completely futile. The existing accreditors wouldn’t change their goals, or their beliefs, they would just have to be less open and honest in discussing them with the press.

    But really, the most serious damage the existing accreditors is doing has nothing to do with ramming homosexuality down the throats of a Christian College, it has to do with the fact that the accreditors are turning a willing blind eye to the erosion of standards in curriculums across the board; substituting dumbed down, politically correct left wing propaganda for actual education.

    An independent, CONSERVATIVE accreditation body, dedicated to academic excellence, could publish honest reviews of the lack of intellectual rigor of the existing liberal arts programs at leading universities, exposing how they are short changing the students. And documenting the far higher quality of the programs at schools that haven’t succumbed to left wing ideologues.

    Time to bring some reputations down to where they belong.

    1. So you would basically allow 2 competing acreditation bodies. That might work. Although one problem I could see is the conservative religiously orientated accreditation body might also do some politicisation on their end, not by banning a religious orientation, like the leftist bodies do, but by mandating one, and mandating a conservative orientation on various issues. The best way to stop that would be to staff the early versions of these with both conservatives and libertarians.

  2. Rumor has it that accreditors demand gender/women studies centers and diversity programs of a certain size and scope. Why should they have the power to do that?

    1. That is what will always happen with any acreditation body, for either coleges, occupations, or business. Unless extremely tight restrictions are placed on what they can consider (and more importantly not consider) for acreditation, eventually they will become corrupt and politicised, mostly by leftist dems, but sometimes by crony capitalist repubs as well.

  3. How does this relate to medical licensing? Without licensing, there is no reason or justification for accreditation of medical education. If one is not bothering to accredit medical education, why bother with doing so for a BA in Fine Arts? The simple existence of power means that sooner or later that power is going to be abused for personal or political reasons, and this fact alone is a good reason never to endow seats of power that are not existentially necessary.

  4. The imposition of ideological standards that conflict with religious convictions interferes with the freedom of religion. Therefore, the continued use by the US government of the accreditation for allocating federal funds is a constitutional violation. Thus the accreditation agency has to get by on whatever “legitimacy” they can give to subordinate schools that doesn’t involve federal funds.

    No need for a lawsuit, just action by Congress restricting the use of accreditation agency approval be strictly limited to academic and financial factors.

    1. Unfortunately the dem senate will never pass a bill restricting acreditation to just academic and financial factors, and Obama would probably veto it, since they agree with the current agenda to oppress religions institutions. So the courts may be the only way out, until repubs gain control of the senate and executive.

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