By Richard Vedder
Whenever university educrats get together, they tend to speak in an incomprehnsible gibberish of acronyms -- talking about ACE's position on this, or NAICU's stand (always negative: David Warren, the National Association of Independent Colleges and University's president, is the Dr. No of Higher Education) on that, etc.
One acronym that only the most intense higher education watchers are familiar with is NACIQUI (nuk-SEEK-ee, as distinct from NYE-cue). NACIQI stands for the National Advisory Commiittee on Instituitional Quality and Integrity, and is presided over by Carol d'Amico, with a new Vice Chair Geri Malandra, a Texas sidekick of Charles Miller (chair of the Spellings Commission), who, in turn, is very close to Margaret Spellings. Both Charles and Secretary Spellings have privately told me that NACIQUI, in its role of "accreditor to the accreditors" has a lot of latent but never used power. The gloves are off, Spellings is stacking NACIQUI with activist reformer types, and the war is about to begin. I say, let the best woman win.
NACIQUI can say to the regional accreditors, "we will not let any student attending one of your accredited schools receive any federal financial aid UNLESS you force those schools to start to provide measures of value added to their human capital during their college experience." It should say that. The war will begin when the accrediting groups say, "you have no authority to say that to us" and things end up in court. If I were a czar in an earlier age, I would then have the accreditors shot. In our kinder and gentler age, I would urge the Secretary to make life miserable for the colleges and the accreditors unless they get on board. I believe cooler heads -- and I am specifically thinking of Judith Eaton, who heads the accreditation umbrella organization, CHEA, the Council for Higher Education Accredition might prevail, and effect a compromise wherby the regional accreditors insist on some form of value added indicators, but allow for considerable discretion as to which indicators are used (my own preference would be for a relatively small number of permissible indicators, allowing some interuniversity comparisons by parents, in keeping with the Spellings Commission recommendations).
Into this battle of the women (Margaret Spellings, Judith Eaton, Carol d'Amico, Geri Malandra, occasionally Anne Neal, etc.), add another very important name: Sara Martinez Tucker, who should be confirmed today in Senate committee, en route, I hope to full confirmation before this Congress goes very shortly to its unlamented death. Sara is perfect for the job of Undersecretary, and will be an articulate person who will push reform, but do so in a civil way that may have a chance of success, despite the protestations of the Doctor No's of the world. On the Spellings Commission, Sara and I pushed long and hard to have Diet Coke available for the commissioners, with considerable success. Sara is capable of even greater accomplishments. I worry that the naysayers like NAICU might ultimately prevail, but Sara will put up the good fight, I think, with some class.