At U of L, Losing Accreditation Would Mean Major Peril

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University of Louisville's Grawemeyer Hall

J. Tyler Franklin / KyCIR

University of Louisville’s Grawemeyer Hall

If the University of Louisville lost its accreditation, it would likely shut down — or at least cease to exist as you know it.

Only the wealthiest students would remain because unaccredited institutions don’t get Pell grants and federal student loans. An exodus of talented faculty would likely follow as enrollment dropped. Card Nation might become just a memory, too, since the NCAA’s rules allow only accredited schools to compete.

Since the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges put U of L on probation last week, university and government leaders downplayed the risk.

Though unlikely, it’s still a dire possibility. Because the consequences are so severe, accreditation agencies rarely pull their credentials unless a college is already nearing closure. But experts say it would be a mistake to assume the measure is a hollow threat.

“Probation means you are at risk of losing your accreditation,” said Antoinette Flores, a policy analyst at Center for American Progress who researches higher education. “But it’s really to get the college and the state to fall in line and follow the rules.”

In this case, the accrediting agency is seeking to wrangle Gov. Matt Bevin. The association notified U of L Tuesday of a one-year probation that could extend to two years while the school addresses governance problems, which center on Bevin’s use of “undue political influence” when he sought to restructure U of L’s leadership.

Bevin disbanded and reconstituted the school’s board of trustees in June and at the same time announced President James Ramsey would resign. The accrediting agency took issue with those moves, saying they violated agency standards meant to ensure schools are free from outside political pressure or “undue influence.”

Following the announcement, Bevin’s office said that U of L’s accreditation was not at risk, “nor will it ever be at risk because of any action taken by Gov. Bevin.”

(Read KyCIR’s coverage of the University of Louisville)

Flores’ research shows that the regional accrediting agency that sanctioned U of L put just 4 percent of its schools on probation in a five-year period. In that same time frame, the agency revoked accreditation for three colleges, Flores said, but all were already nearing closure.

Since shuttering a college is rarely in anyone’s best interest, Flores added, public pressure can be more powerful than a scolding.

“I think it really comes down to students themselves … whose voices need to be heard in this conversation,” she said.

Students throughout Kentucky are pushing back against Bevin on social media to support U of L’s students, said Aaron Vance, a U of L senior and president of the student government association.

But Vance said the students are worried about their own institutions too, fearing Bevin or legislators could similarly put their colleges in jeopardy.

“Changing a board like this really does set a very negative precedent as far as insulating the institution from political interference,” he said.

A judge rejected Bevin’s attempt to reconstruct the U of L board in September, but the governor’s office appealed the ruling. The state legislature, now a Republican majority, could also ratify Bevin’s attempted board reconstruction in the upcoming legislative session.

Such a move is unlikely to improve the accreditation issue, according to Patty Cormier, president emerita of Longwood University in Virginia and a higher education consultant. Cormier testified for attorney general Andy Beshear’s office when it alleged that Bevin’s actions could harm U of L’s accreditation.

“What (the accrediting agency) expects is that there’s not excess pressure placed on that institution in any way, shape or form from someone who is not sitting on the board,” Cormier said.

Even if it’s unlikely, Vance said students are now beginning to worry seriously about the value of their degrees — and U of L’s future.

“This is a really high-stakes game of chicken,” Vance said.

Kate Howard can be reached at khoward@kycir.org and (502) 814.6546. 

Disclosures: In 2015, the University of Louisville, which for years has donated to Louisville Public Media, earmarked $3,000 to KyCIR as part of a larger LPM donation. University board member Stephen Campbell and former member Sandra Frazier have donated.

  • TincanJoey

    It is hard for me to believe that an accreditation review would be looking solely at Bevin’s attempt to re-align a board (that is running contrary to state law BTW) and ignoring all of U of Ls other major problems.
    No…if U of L loses its accreditation, the board alignment will have very little to do wit it. Getting the opinion of the Center for American Progress is kind of a new low for KYCIR, unfortunately, as KYCIR has been one of the few places one could go to get some independent and even minded reporting.

  • Thee Won

    Oh darn! If Uofl loses accreditation, then they won’t be able to afford all the sportsball n stuff! How in the heck are all those good boys supposed to get their hookers???/s

    Seriously though, UofL has this coming. Like the poster above says, they have other issues. I bet they’d find more support if they didn’t slavishly toe the left-wing line. I got a worthless English degree from UofL, and am going into the trades; time spent getting my degree there was a waste of my finite life. All I heard from the teachers there were: White=bad, Non-White=good, Republicans=evil, democrat party=grrrrrrrrrrrreeeeat!!!

    I was pretty left leaning in my 20’s. Thanks, UofL, for changing that!

  • Stephen Manek

    Part of the official statement from the SACSCOC:

    “Why was the University of Louisville continued in accreditation and placed on Probation?

    The University of Louisville was continued in accreditation and placed on Probation because SACSCOC’s Board of Trustees determined that it had failed to demonstrate compliance with Core Requirement 2.2 (Governing board), Comprehensive Standard 3.2.1 (CEO evaluation/selection), Comprehensive Standard 3.2.4 (External influence), and Comprehensive Standard 3.2.5 (Board dismissal) of the Principles of Accreditation. The cited standards expect an accredited institution to provide evidence that it has a governing board that (1) is the legal body with specific authority over the institution, (2) is responsible for selection and evaluation of the chief executive officer, (3) is free from undue influence, and (4) has a policy whereby members can be dismissed only for appropriate reasons and by a fair process.”

    I don’t know what the above commenters based their opinions off of, but clearly this is largely due to issues with the university’s leadership (President and Board of Trustees) stemming from Bevin’s actions. But apparently we now live in a post-truth era so, please, continue perpetuating falsehoods in your respective echo chambers and disregard the actual issues at hand. It’s those damn liberals at it again. /s

    • Guyver

      The only falsehood I see is where you act like UofL doesn’t have other problems that may have led to a leadership shakeup.

      Thee Won, above, seems to have issues with the school, but they aren’t denying anything in the article. Simply an opinion, and anecdotal at best. But what they describe doesn’t sound impossible. In fact, from what I’ve seen, many of the students there feel alienated by the overall political climate that resides in the faculty and administration.

      Comments like yours may be seen as snarky, manipulative(by quoting something nobody denies you appear to be saying, “You interpret this data wrong, only I can translate this holy text for you.”), and condescending. And you aren’t a rarity; you actually sound like you’re one of the faculty. So when you get lots of lecturing from people like you, you inevitably get people like Thee Won.

      So yeah, keep doing that./s

      As for TinCanJoey, just another opinion.

    • DoooDaaaa

      Stephen Manek,

      Didn’t UofL go through a big hoopla of Ramsey’s salary? And of course there are allegations of hookers and all that stuff sorry I really dont know mucvh about it. But I did hear about it from someone who would know. wouldnt stuff like that cause problems for leadership?

    • Thee Won

      Is it annoying hearing about someone’s political opinion on a comment board?

      Try being held in a captive audience at UofL’s classes. The proof is in the pudding, go and audit a class. I suggest Critical Theory. That’s one that isn’t an elective; it’s required for English majors.

      Or keep being dismissive of legitimate complaints. That seems to be working out great for UofL’s “leadership.” /s