Accreditation for Me But Not for Thee

Posted on July 17, 2014 by


A recent article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which the author, Peter Conn, a professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, took issue with the accreditation of certain kinds of Christian universities. The article, entitled “The Great Accreditation Farce,” begins on what I would consider to be a positive note, by accurately exposing the significant problem that the accreditation process is: too many man-hours wasted to produce too many reports and numbers that are, in the end, responses to requirements of accrediting agencies establishing only input measures to be fulfilled for approval. All these often silly requirements are eagerly met by universities in order to get federal funds-indirectly from their students who can only get loans for (you guessed it) accredited universities, It doesn’t matter how good your programs really are, what value you actually add to a student’s intellectual, and employment, life, or how virtuous he or she might be, partly as a result (hopefully) of university matriculation, or any outcome at all really. No, you just have to have “enough” physical holdings in the library, “enough” money in the bank, arbitrarily defined, enough this and enough that, all defined by the agency in often perplexing ways. And the racket is cozy because of its connection to federal loan funds. All this is interesting in itself, and the author has some good things to say.
Bu the article then takes an odd, and sinister, turn. Dr. Conn says “By awarding accreditation to religious colleges, the process [accreditation] confers legitimacy on institutions that systematically undermine the most fundamental purposes of higher education.” Yes, he said he does not like the approval of religious colleges. What he wants is “skeptical and unfettered inquiry.” Conn then quotes a Kevin Clauson (full disclosure, this is my twin brother) to support his contention. Clauson, the other one, commits the apparently mortal sin of arguing that a college has the right (I would add the duty) to require faculty members “to sign a faith statement.” Horror of horrors—a doctrinal statement. Conn believes this is a “scandal.” He does go so far as to condescend to tell the reader, “I have no particular objection to like-minded adherents of one or another religion banding together, calling their association a college, and charging students for the privilege of having their religious beliefs affirmed.” How nice of you, Dr. Conn, how generous. Then he goes on to say, “However, I have a profound objection to legitimizing such an association through accreditation, and thereby conceding that the integrity of scholarship and teaching is merely negotiable.” He further objects to taxpayer funding of what he calls “ideology,” which he asserts is taught at Christian colleges.
Dr, Conn’s “hit piece” exemplifies all that is wrong with the intellectuals populating our colleges and universities today. They lambast Christian colleges who wish, legitimately, to place limits on what they would negotiate away for the sake of academic favor at large. Then they establish their own intolerant limits on what they will agree can be accepted into the academy as truth. Heaven forbid that religion might actually be true, more, that Christianity might actually be the truth. This simply cannot be accepted or acceptable to those who, as Dr. Conn does, have embraced “science” in one form or another, or rather, some ideology of their own in the guise of science. Philosophers of science have not even been able to agree on what science is and how it ought to be done, or whether it can even produce anything like truth. And they more or less gave up on that decades ago. Yet, religion has no place? Methinks Dr. Conn needs to get out a little more.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t like accreditation. I agree with the first part of Conn’s piece, that it is basically wasteful and in some senses makes higher education worse by producing the wrong incentives. Nor do I favor government loan programs, which have largely fueled the tuition explosion. But it is no solution to hammer religion when the secular academy does not have its own house in order. In fact I will go one further. The secular academy will never get its own house in order until or unless it embraces true religion itself and the worldview that accompanies it. One cannot build a house on quicksand of relativism, nihilism and skepticism. But then, didn’t someone really famous already say that?