Tarnishing the quality seal

Failure to follow NCAA rules cost the Ohio State football program dearly in 2012, leading to a postseason ban despite a 12-0 season. Following the rules is important not only in athletics, however, but also in academics.

The University of Iowa is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Accreditation signals quality and trustworthiness to current and prospective students, to personnel, and to the public. Accreditation is a primary gatekeeper for student access to federal and state loans, as well as university access to federal and state funding.

Accreditation decisions are based on compliance with certain standards, and a non-compliant institution may be placed on notice or put on probation. Most relevant given recent events is Criterion Two, which covers “Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct.” There are at least three ways in which the UI no longer meets this standard.

First, the UI fails to follow “policies and processes for fair and ethical behavior on the part of its governing board [and] administration …” (criterion 2A). Running a search with markedly preferential treatment of one candidate by the state Board of Regents and the interim president is antithetical to fair and ethical behavior. When the regents hired the one person judged overwhelmingly to be unqualified by students, staff, and faculty, they were condemned with no-confidence votes, censures, and statements of disappointment. The American Association of University Professors has expressed concerns and has the power to sanction not only universities but also governing boards. Both the regents and interim president refused to meet with association representatives who recently visited, and the incoming president did not respond to their invitation.

Second, the regents are not “sufficiently autonomous to make decisions in the best interest of the institution” (2C). Meeting this criterion requires that “the governing board reviews and considers the reasonable and relevant interests of the institution’s internal and external constituencies during its decision-making deliberations.” On what grounds could we argue that this criterion is upheld when the regents utterly ignored the overwhelmingly negative response to the hired candidate? Moreover, meeting this criterion requires that the “governing board preserves its independence from undue influence on the part of donors [and] elected officials …” How is this possible when the entire regents is appointed by a governor who is indebted to the regent president for his position and one of the Search Committee members is a major donor to the university and a prior business associate of the chosen candidate?

Third, our institution chooses to no longer “enforce policies on academic honesty and integrity” (2E3). Our incoming president made numerous errors and misrepresentations on his résumé, even though he signed a document attesting to its accuracy. These errors included misleading descriptions of his current employment and professional publications, the primary measure of a scholar’s contribution. Similar errors would land our students, staff, and faculty in very hot water; indeed, the Faculty Assembly censured the incoming president for violating university ethical standards. In a troubling testament to how little value the regents places on honesty and integrity, their spokesperson indicated that “we are not concerned about the résumé.”

The regents have commandeered extraordinary power to determine the fate of our university, shared governance is in tatters, and there appear to be no checks and balances in sight. Fortunately, continued accreditation demands a return to integrity, transparency, and collaboration with internal, as well as external, constituents. The regents and governor have repeatedly made it clear that they have little respect for the opinions of UI students, faculty, and staff. Perhaps it is time for the Higher Learning Commission to join the conversation.

Teresa Treat

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

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