Friday, October 06, 2006

BYU Backs Accreditation Law

BYU Backs Accreditation Law

By Emily Werrett
8 Apr 2006

BYU and other religious colleges are seeking to ensure that
accreditation agencies consider and respect their religious missions
in upcoming reviews of the universities.

The church-affiliated universities are calling for an exemption from
certain accreditation standards, such as diversity and course
requirements that are contradictory to the religious institution's
mission. The exemption would include protection from employing gays
and lesbians on the schools' faculty, requiring curriculum that
contradicts religious beliefs and embracing standards that are not in
line with the basic values of the institutions.

Other schools joining the effort include Notre Dame, Baylor,
Pepperdine, Catholic and Samford universities.

"This is a pre-emptive move by a number of schools," said BYU
spokeswoman Carri Jenkins. "Among many people there is recognized and
appreciated the diversity that exists in higher education. Religious
universities are part of that diversity. We want to make sure that we
can stay true to our missions."

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., a BYU graduate, added the
religious universities language to the higher education bill. The bill
is being discussed in the Senate after being passed in the House last

"What the bill would do is make a slight modification to what is known
as the Higher Education Pact, which governs funding for higher
education in the country," said Gene Schaerr, the lead attorney in
Washington who represents BYU, Notre Dame, Baylor, Samford and other
religious institutions on this issue. "The change that would be made
is that it would say that accrediting agencies have to respect the
missions of the institutions that they accredit, including religious

Lawmakers say there has not been a specific case where accreditation
has been revoked by an accrediting agency on religious grounds, but
they think preventative measures need to be taken to ensure that it
does not happen.

"Once in a while there is friction here and there that suggests that
some accrediting agencies don't always fully respect some of the
religious university's missions," Schaerr said. "This law is really
just an attempt to foreclose any potential problems."

Bob Andringa, President of the Council for Christian Colleges and
Universities, headquartered in Washington, said, "The legislation
reflects the understanding that most accrediting bodies already have,
but there are a few programmatic accreditors who lean on some
religious colleges unfairly when they may not understand the role of
faith and scholarship integration."

Psychology is one such program that has experienced some resistance.
The American Psychology Association is an independent organization
that accredits psychology programs. The association has discussed
repealing terms that exempt religious institutions from standards that
require a diverse faculty. The exemption has not been repealed, but
the risk has raised concerns.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, supports the legislation and said the move
is aimed to put a protective layer on religious institutions.

"BYU and other religious institutions want the APA and other
accrediting agencies like them to not have the ability to revoke
accreditation based upon issues that are morally and religiously
important, and to which we cannot comply to without changing our moral
values," Cannon said.

Lawmakers who oppose the legislation say the accrediting agencies
already make exceptions for religious universities. They say the
accrediting agencies are already a self-regulating body and government
intervention is unnecessary.

"We believe that the amendment is not warranted in light of current
practices by accrediting agencies," wrote Democrats on the Senate
committee in opposition to the bill.

They also expressed concern for the independence of accrediting
agencies if the government stepped in. Schaerr, however, said there
are already laws governing what accrediting bodies can and cannot do,
calling the proposal a modest additional requirement for dealing with
religious colleges.

"Most of the accrediting agencies are private institutions, but they
wield enormous governmental power because they effectively determine
whether the department of education can provide various kinds of
financial assistance both directly and indirectly," Schaerr said. "We
believe that because accrediting bodies effectively control where
government money goes, they are exercising a form of governmental
power when they do their jobs; therefore, in the exercise of that
power, they ought to be accountable to the government."

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