By Chris Acree —
There are many issues tied within the judicial battles between Governor Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear: the proper role and function of the executive branch, the appropriate relationship between the different branches of government, who can urinate the farthest, longest and with the most powerful stream. The list goes on and on. And of course, like most struggles of this nature, there’s a lot of splash damage that trickles down onto other entities.
A perfect example of this is the legal fight surrounding U of L’s two Boards of Trustees. One of the main issues surrounding this ongoing suit — is the university’s accreditation.
Not everyone is aware of what accreditation is and what it means to the everyday student. Accreditation is a set of standards by which colleges, universities, and other centers of postsecondary education are judged to basically make sure they’re legit. It separates the so-called fine, upstanding, and distinguished institutions of higher learning such as U of L from the fly-by-night degree programs run out of some guy’s double-wide trailer.
While the U.S. Government cannot accredit colleges and universities, general accreditation is given on a regional level by seven different agencies throughout the country. The organization that oversees U of L’s accreditation is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which also covers states such as Tennessee, Louisiana, and various other southern states.
There are also nationally-based accreditation agencies that cover standards in fields such as nursing, law, and even auto-repair.
Professor Avery Kolers is the president of U of L’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors: an organization dedicated to academic standards, accreditation, faculty concerns and other issues. He says there are a lot of criteria that might affect a school’s accreditation. Most agencies, including the SACS, have certain standards that have to be met. These almost always include things such as a comprehensive general educational program and the school’s structure of governance.
And that’s where the lawsuit over the BOT comes in. A school without a functioning board or similar structure could face a loss or accreditation. In fact, the SACS has informed U of L that Bevin’s dissolution of the previous board may have violated agency guidelines.
According to a former SACS official who testified at the latest court hearing about the suit, the original board was dissolved directly after a meeting between Bevin and former university president James Ramsey.
Bevin’s attorneys argue that the case has nothing to do with accreditation and instead relates to the governor’s authority to disband a BOT and installing a new one, which they insist he has. They tried to block the aforementioned expert testimony, but the judge in the case allowed it.
The problem with a loss of accreditation can be pretty detrimental to a university. One of the associated problems with such a loss is that prospective professors usually don’t apply to teach at unaccredited schools, as it isn’t exactly a resume booster. A university that loses accreditation would also most likely lose out on a lot of grant money and other benefits, and probably see a lot of faculty and staff leave, not wanting to be associated with such an institution. As if that wasn’t enough, students that go to schools without accreditation are not eligible for federal financial aid and could have difficulties in their academic career.
“I handle transfer credits for the Philosophy department,” Kolers said. “When I get a request from the admissions office to determine whether to award transfer credit for a course, I look at the topic of the course, the number of hours, etc. All good if someone is coming from, say, UK. But suppose they’re coming from a school I’ve never heard of or don’t know much about. The way I determine whether that university’s course is equivalent to our course of the same name is by checking accreditation. If accredited, then I can be confident that 3 credit hours there are on a par with 3 credit hours here.”
So this has ceased to just be about Bevin and Beshear playing a high-stakes game of “I’m rubber, you’re glue.” This whole lawsuit business goes beyond political posturing and rhetoric. If the issue with the BOT is not resolved, it could make that degree of yours worth about as much as that greasy placemat from the fast food restaurant you’ll be working at after your college career.
Overall, the thousands of students at U of L cannot afford to be and do not deserve to be a political football between two branches of state government. The two offices need to work together to achieve some kind of compromise before real damage is done to a lot of people. Because in U of L’s BOT battle between Bevin and Beshear, everybody’s getting sprayed.