Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Saint Anne the First

By Richard Vedder

The Accreditor of the Accreditors, NACIQI, met yesterday and if Doug Lederman's superb account of the meeting is accurate (and it always is, I have found), I am glad I was not there, given my history of hypertension.

To begin with, the group had a training session, a little bit of an insult to an ensemble of highly professional persons of stature; the message to the group: "be nice or you guys will be out of a job, because Congress doesn't like you." Cool the attacks on the accreditors and the universities --sound like you want standards, but don't push TOO hard.

Saint Anne the First, better known as Anne Neal, the feisty, annoying, troublesome, but oh so necessary head of the American College of Trustees and Alumni, started asking hard questions. How do you know if the kids at the schools you are accrediting know anything? What if only 10 percent are literate by the standards of the National Literacy Survey? Don't you have any standards beyond ones that the colleges set internally? Embarrassing, naughty questions. But SOMEONE has to ask them.

Meanwhile, the accreditors behaved deplorably. They said things like we believe in "self assessment"—meaning the universities can declare their own wishy-washy goals and announce that they have achieved them. Then WHY HAVE ACCREDITATION AT ALL? The Jerk of the Day, one Steven Crow of the North Central Association, gloated that he would have eaten better at lunch if he had known Anne would not be questioning him.

And why did Anne Neal NOT question him? She was forced to recluse herself because she is an unpaid member of an advisory panel for a proposed new research center at the University of Illinois, which is accredited by North Central. Get real!!! She also works with trustees of universities that belong to all the regional accreditors in her PAID job --but that is not a conflict of interest? The excuse used to muzzle her was pretty pathetic, even by Washington standards.

The whole thing is a charade. The first commenter on the INSIDE HIGHER ED web site this morning, Fred Lapides, got it right: name one school that has accreditation for simply being bad --academically deficient. Glen McGhee, a regular writer to the web site whose views I greatly respect, was similarly thoughtfully critical of attempts to stifle measurement of academic performance.

The Higher Education Establishment is doing its utmost to keep the Spellings Commission call for accountability and transparent measures of academic achievement from being implemented. The Accreditors are their partners in crime. Pox on both of their houses. All this puts me in a foul mood as I contemplate what I am going to say when I address members of the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) at its forthcoming annual conclave. It is not likely going to be pretty.

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