College accreditors are quasi-private organizations that have been given enormous power over higher education. Without an accreditor’s approval, a college’s students cannot receive federal financial aid like Pell grants and federal student loans. Since few colleges can survive without access to these programs, accreditors essentially hold the fate of their colleges in their hands.
One of the biggest accreditors, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) has been busy trying to prove correct Lord Acton’s warning that “power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Consider recent developments in North Carolina.
The University of North Carolina board of trustees voted to establish a School of Civic Life and Leadership. Normally, establishing a new school is a routine occurrence that wouldn’t merit anything other than local news coverage. But this particular school “plans to hire professors from across the ideological spectrum… [to] build a syllabus free from ideological enforcers.” In other words, the woke won’t be in control of the new school. Tolerance for the non-woke is apparently unacceptable to SACSCOC, which decided to invoke the old Soviet judicial method of determining guilt first, and then proceeding with a sham trial to plausibly justify the predetermined outcome. SACSCOC’s president first declared that “We’re gonna . . . either get them to change it, or the institution will be on warning.” (Putting a college on warning is often a step toward revoking accreditation.) She probably realized that declaring the new school verboten before even going through the motions of an investigation was a bad look, and then claimed “we assume institutions are innocent until proven guilty.” Yet SACSCOC has clearly already decided the UNC trustees are guilty. Any subsequent investigation will just provide cover for the conclusion it has already reached.
After years of watching SACSCOC, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that SACSCOC has one standard for those cases that are politically aligned with its politics and a different standard for the cases that are politically unaligned. When the outcome aligns with its political views, it asks “can we act” and seek out any and all justifications to intervene. When the outcome would not align with their political views, it asks “must we act?” and avoids getting involved unless its hand is forced.
Until recently, virtually all Texas colleges were forced to use SACSCOC. Fortunately, in 2019, the DeVos Department of Education reformed federal regulations to allow colleges to use any accreditor. Unfortunately, the current Texas code often still requires Texas colleges to use SACSCOC. This should be remedied in the upcoming legislative session.
But Texas should go further. Florida recently mandated that its public colleges switch from SACSCOC to another accreditor. Texas should do something similar by creating a system to ensure that accreditors are not abusing Texas colleges. A recent report of ours lays out a good way of achieving this goal, essentially creating a list of good, acceptable, and bad accreditors and requiring colleges using bad accreditors to switch to a better accreditor the next time their accreditation is up for renewal.
It is time for Texas to put an end to its relationship with its abusive and politicized accreditor.