Posted by: clholoman | September 20, 2011

The Muses are weeping

There is just so much wrong with this story, it’s hard to know where to begin. File:Parnaso 05.jpg

  • Based on the headline, I was preparing to post about the disturbing intervention of the Feds into peer-driven accreditation, especially since it was dealing with the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SACS) (that region’s equivalent of Middle States). SACS is generally thought of as the toughest, or at least the most nit-picky detail-oriented of the regional accreditors. And that would be a big concern. Except that
  • SACS does, in fact, seem to have dropped the ball here. The issue is around a General Education core curriculum revision, in which, it seems students can graduate without a course in the humanities and fine arts. (The story on the  original letter to SACS from DoE is here.) Now I suppose reasonable people can disagree about whether or not this is an appropriate standard (although they shouldn’t), but the fact remains that it is in SACS own rules! And their response is unsatisfactory. They say they looked at this and it’s not a problem of the design of the curriculum, but an issue to be addressed through advisement. Anybody who has worked in higher ed and advisement for more than a week knows that this is crazy–if students can avoid a “requirement,” they will.
  • But the thing that really adds the cherry on top is that the only way the DoE got involved is because 2 faculty members complained about the Gen Ed revisions to SACS and when they didn’t get a response went to the feds. Ugh! So much for shard governance. Read this excerpt from the earlier Chronicle article:

“Two Northern Kentucky faculty members who objected to the university’s revision of the general-education requirements, which are called “Foundation of Knowledge,” filed a complaint with the Southern Association. The professors also complained about how the university had gained approval of the changes on the campus.

One of the two faculty members was Robert C. Trundle, a professor and coordinator of the university’s philosophy program. Mr. Trundle and a colleague began contacting the association in March 2010.

At the time of the complaint, many faculty members at Northern Kentucky were concerned that the curricular changes were not only inadequate, but were also being rushed through by administrators who falsely warned that the university would lose accreditation without the changes, Mr. Trundle said.

But college administrators ignored the complaints, Mr. Trundle said, and even challenged him to alert the accreditor. When the association didn’t take any action after eight months, Mr. Trundle and his colleague raised their concerns with the Education Department.”

Now read one of my touchstone quotes (I think I’ve posted it here before) from John Bennett’s Academic Life:

“Engaging in, rather than avoiding, conversation about the raveled edges of contemporary higher education
can rejuvenate initial enthusiasm and provide hope for the future.  We might find answers to some of our questions:…
Why do so many faculty profess their right and their desire to be involved in governance issues only to disappear when it is necessary to commit
time and energy?  Why do so many administrators become inaccessible and secretive?”

Plenty of blame to go around here, it seems, and it only feeds into the first concern, the erosion of a system where higher education monitored itself.

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