"The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices-submit or fight"
In the spirit of the Academic Senate's 2007 Spring Plenary theme of "Consult, Confront, Collaborate," I wish to discuss our relationship with the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) and Washington's present effort to federalize accreditation. Now, before you think, "Here he goes again," I ask that you indulge me by considering where the 2002 standards got it right: local dialogue and an emphasis on student learning. While there are areas of legitimate concern with the 2002 standards and the ACCJC's lack of active interaction with the Academic Senate and local senates, it is important to acknowledge opportunities that result from local dialogue.
At present, we are about five years into a ten-year accreditation cycle wherein community colleges are expected to demonstrate that they are applying collected evidence about student learning toward continual improvement. Fortunately, we are not being required to accede to Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' determination to standardize education, but, rather, to demonstrate that institutions are making independent decisions which promote student success.
One simply cannot overstate the importance of independent decision making at the local level, for without such rights, not only do we risk falling into the same Soviet style bureaucracy as K-12 with No Child Left Behind but our profession risks exchanging proactive support for students and missions for compliance with authority.
Where the ACCJC's new standards promote Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs), what is really being promoted is dialogue that results in SLOs, measurable and observable results, information-based planning cycles, and a self study that is reflective of the entire process. In contrast, Spellings wishes to centralize Washington's authority over America's higher education in the guise of quality control. A federal takeover would not only herald a political seizure of the curriculum, it would narrow the mission of higher education to that of job placement and the red herring of "customer satisfaction."
When we couple Spellings' designs on education with the national decline in the presence of tenure in higher education, we see a dangerous erosion in the ability of the professoriate to oversee curriculum and programs and to speak truth to authority, both at state and federal levels. Make no mistake, Spellings and the present administration have about a year-and-a-half to accomplish their goals, and to the extent that they succeed, American democracy suffers.
If you believe as I do that decisions concerning our students and missions are rightfully academic and professional matters, if you agree that federal standardization would negatively impact the way faculty manage curricula, programs, and support services, and if you believe as I do that the onesize view of education would result in lowering standards overall, please speak up! Write to leaders of the United States Senate and House education committees: Edward M. Kennedy, George Miller, Howard P. McKeon, and Michael B. Enzi and tell them not to politicize higher education but to support the principle of local control that has made American higher education the envy of the world.
I began this article with a quotation from Nelson Mandela's 1964 trial for treason and conspiracy to overthrow the government not because I desire a fight but because we may yet avoid a more profound conflict in the defense of American liberty-by speaking out.
With freedom comes responsibility, even limitations that aid in its preservation.
In a world that is increasingly corporate, we must be vigilant to ascertain if and when limitations that arrive under the guise of "self interest" (the prominent example of our time being Homeland Security) are genuine. If we relax and leave the vigilance to others, we may yet see fundamental pillars of freedom pulled down, one-by-one, by the implied consent of our silence.
Though we certainly have differences with the ACCJC, make no mistake: such regional accrediting bodies as ACCJC/WASC are vital partners to our effort to retain the right to "dialogue" in support of our students and local missions-both locally and within these United States.