Down in Real City, there’s a flap about the presidency of Flagship U. The Governor has apparently attempted to intervene in the process to select the new prez, and that’s a pretty serious party foul in this world. Although the Gov is an ex officio member of Flagship’s Board of Trustees, his lobbying for a particular candidate interferes with the Olympian detachment with which the Board is expected to operate.
Real City’s daily paper has interviewed the head of our regional accreditor, who warns that the consequence of this sort of meddling can be dire. The daily went with an alarmist headline: “McMaster’s involvement in USC presidential search could threaten accreditation.”
Technically, it’s true. However, if there is anyone — indeed, any multi-celled being, or even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — who believes that SACS would actually yank the accreditation of a state’s top institution for anything short of mass murder, then I would like to have a word with that entity about investing in my magic bean futures.
Accrediting agencies will drop the hammer on wayward institutions — or at least on small and/or financially strapped ones. Indeed, Mondoville itself was placed on probation at one point in my career when our bottom line didn’t look strong enough. (But like John Astin’s character on Night Court, we’re “feeling much better now.”)
To be fair, our regional accreditor, known as one of the tough ones, is willing to call out major institutions — in 2003, they placed Auburn on probation, and in 2016, they did the same for the U of Louisville. But there’s a significant distance between a school’s being on probation and getting what amounts to an accreditor’s death penalty. And that’s a distance I don’t believe SACS was prepared to cross in either case, nor is it one I think they would cross now.
As an example, consider the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the course of a recent investigation, the administration cheerfully acknowledged running sham classes and degree programs for athletes that amounted to wholesale academic fraud. (In fact, rather than acknowledge that “student”-athletes were receiving fraudulent degrees because they were athletes, UNC’s administration essentially chucked the academic side of the institution under the bus.) This was as flagrant a case of academic corruption as one could wish for. The result? One year’s probation, just as with Auburn and Louisville. (And please note — I attended Kentucky during the “Kentucky’s Shame” era. I know scandal.)
I don’t really blame the local paper for amplifying the saber-rattling. But realistically, I’m more likely to be struck by lightning while holding a winning Powerball ticket than I am to see Flagship get the big hammer. If this seems like I harbor a certain disdain for the accreditors and their capacity for bullying smaller colleges, it’s only because I do.
And that brings us to our other nightmare scenario. I talked about the shenanigans in Alaska not long ago. Well, the legislature went full Planet of the Apes, and now? The U of Alaska is in deep yogurt indeed.
Despite the radical rhetoric of a lot of folks in higher ed, it’s my experience that they tend to act and choose pretty conservatively. We trade a certain amount of financial compensation for the security of tenure, and in order to achieve that tenure, a lot of folks decide to avoid rocking the boat along the way. (I’ll admit that I hoped to fly under the radar as much as I could in my early years here. However, the combination of my lack of protective coloration and my inability to keep my mouth shut meant that wasn’t to be. And I’m here anyway. Go figure.) For the folks at Alaska, that security turned out to be an illusion. I feel badly for them, and I wish them well.