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Lamborn, Coffman Defend Academic Freedom, Blast Government Takeover of Higher Ed Accreditation

September 16, 2010

Congressmen Doug Lamborn (CO-05)  and Mike Coffman (CO-06) are calling on the administration to abandon a proposal by the Department of Education to significantly change the accreditation process for colleges and universities. The administration wants to take the accreditation process out of the private sector and turn it over to state bureaucrats.

The congressmen have sent separate letters to the Department of Education outlining their concerns.

In an excerpt from his letter, Lamborn states:

The proposed rules will ultimately place public and private colleges and universities under the direct control of state governments instead of long-established independent accrediting agencies. The rules, as currently written, threaten to undermine the academic freedom and First Amendment rights of colleges and universities by forcing them to meet potentially arbitrary standards set by state bureaucrats. Additionally, the proposed government regulations are ambiguously worded and would create uncertainty for institutions of higher learning in an already uncertain economic environment.

In an excerpt from his letter, Coffman states:

The proposed regulations, if made final, will mandate a one-size-fits-all federal definition of state authorization.  Each state will have to redesign its authorization process to include “adverse action.”  This presumably means individual states will have to establish guidelines, standards and requirements against which institutions will be judged, approved or denied.  Such changes would be at best duplicative of the accreditation process and at worst a pretext for government interference.  Under these regulations, some states agencies or legislatures may continue to show restraint in respecting the independence of higher education.  Others, however, could become deeply involved in setting course requirements, quality measures, faculty qualifications and various mandates about how and what to teach.

Congressman Lamborn’s letter cites two private institutions in his district, Colorado Christian University and Yorktown University, which see the proposed federal rulemaking as a threat to their independence.

This whole idea of political supervision of higher education is ominous,” said William L. Armstrong, president of Colorado Christian University“The nation’s colleges and universities should not be subjugated by federal and state government. The Department of Education intends to implement these radical proposals in November. But officials will back away if congressmen and senators start demanding justification, as Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman have done.”

“This is an attempt to politicize higher education by attacking the independent accreditation associations. I am concerned that politicians could use the accreditation process to force a political agenda onto our universities and colleges.” Richard Bishirjian, President, Yorktown University

“The historic strength of the American higher-education system can be directly attributed to its independence from government agents and political authorities.  Seizing authority from the academic private sector and moving it wholly to the government-bureaucracy sector is the quickest way to terminate the intellectual freedom that has set America apart from every other nation and has made our society the most prosperous in the history of human civilization.” – Bob Schaffer, Chairman, Colorado State Board of Education

Note:In the United States, colleges and universities voluntarily seek accreditation from nongovernmental bodies. There are two types of educational accreditation: institutional and specialized. Institutional accreditation is provided by regional and national associations of schools and colleges. There are six regional associations, each named after the region in which it operates (Middle States, New England, North Central, Northwest, Southern, Western). The regional associations are independent of one another, but they cooperate extensively and acknowledge one another’s accreditation. Several national associations focus on particular kinds of institutions (for example, trade and technical colleges and religious colleges and universities). An institutional accrediting agency evaluates an entire educational organization in terms of its mission and the agency’s standards or criteria.

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