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'Diversity' Standards Prompt Review of Accrediting Agency

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Washington--Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander has ordered a review of a regional accrediting agency that recently refused to renew the accreditation of two colleges because they fell short of "diversity'' standards.

In a four-page memo, the Secretary asked the National Advisory Committee on Accreditation and Institutional Eligibility to determine whether the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools acted improperly by deferring the accreditation of Baruch College of the City University of New York and the Westminster Theological Seminary.

Middle States said the two schools' governing boards, faculties, and administrations included too few women and members of racial and ethnic minority groups.

Accrediting agencies not only establish academic credibility for colleges and universities by their recognition, but also determine whether students attending those schools may receive federal financial aid, which is limited to students attending accredited schools.

"In light of the enormous variety among colleges and universities in this country, should a regional accrediting agency dictate to institu8tions whether or how they should balance their students, faculty, administration, and governing boards by race, ethnicity, gender, and age?" Mr. Alexander asked in his memo.

The Secretary also said that using diversity standards in the accreditation process "may interfere with a postsecondary institution's traditional academic freedom and may decrease real diversity among postsecondary educational institutions that define their educational missions differently."

Secretary Alexander noted that, in the case of Baruch College, Middle States found it to be "an excellent academic institution" that alel10llegedly failed "to hire an adequate proportion of minority faculty and administrators."

Mr. Alexander ordered the review after the advisory committee last fall voted to postpone consideration of Middle States' request for continued recognition as an accrediting agency.

Accrediting agencies must be acknowledged by the Secretary, who acts on a recommendation by the advisory committee. Recognition is granted for up to five years.

Middle States, which is one of six regional accrediting agencies, will not lose its recognition by the department during the review.--mp

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