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Why a Bishops’ Accreditation Process Could Be the Best Thing for Catholic Higher Education


Randall B. Smith - published on 11/12/14

Let Georgetown be Georgetown—and the rest of the universities be truly Catholic.

When I was a graduate student, I had a professor who for a time sent his daughter to a venerable, old Catholic girl’s school run by an order of sisters. It boasted a tradition of Catholic education that went back over a hundred years.

One day, this professor announced to us in frustration: “I’m taking my daughter out of that school and putting her in the public high school. “Why?” we asked. “I’ll tell you why: they’re constantly bad-mouthing the Pope. They wouldn’t dare bad-mouth the Pope and the Church over at the public school the way they do constantly at that Catholic school.”

I was still a fairly new Catholic then, so the notion that “Catholic” schools could be hot-beds of anti-Catholicism came as something of a shock. At the very secular humanist undergraduate college I had attended, Catholic principles and values were always quietly under attack, but then again, all objective moral principles were. There was almost no outright criticism of the Pope or the Catholic Church. Administrators tended to be very friendly to Catholics, even when they clearly disagreed with them.  

This sort of friendly acceptance of Catholics was not the case, as I was soon to find out, at many Catholic institutions. The degree of open hostility to the Catholic Church and openly “faithful” Catholic faculty at many ostensibly “Catholic” institutions is really quite shocking. You can be assured that as soon as the Catholic hierarchy is critical of the work of some writer, that person will almost immediately be invited to speak at some Catholic college or university, even if that person was entirely unknown to the faculty up to that point. Many “Catholic” colleges and universities now seem to take it as a badge of honor to be openly and stridently anti-Catholic.

What to do?  A brief aside, if I may. Every ten years, my university, like every other college and university in the country, must undergo a major “accreditation review” to renew our accreditation with the regional accrediting agency.  And every ten years, roughly eighteen months before the accreditation review team is scheduled to show up, the faculty are forced to write (and then re-write according to some bureaucrat’s specification) endless reports documenting what we do, why we do it, the outcomes we hope to achieve by what we do, how we measure those outcomes, and the ways we have developed the program over the years in order to achieve better outcomes — presuming, of course, that we knew what outcomes we wanted in the first place. It’s all very annoying. But we put up with this nonsense because we know we must. We take time away from our actual teaching and grading and helping students in order to jump through these hoops so that we don’t get put on some sort of “warning list” by our accreditation agency.  

And even though this process is very intrusive — we are required to keep on file for review by the accreditation review board all of our class syllabi and tests and be able to account for how they were structured so as to meet our stated departmental and university “outcomes” — nonetheless, the faculty tolerates all of it. No one considers any of this intrusive probing into what we do and how we do it and why we do it to be a violation of our “academic freedom,” even though if we don’t account for ourselves adequately, we would lose our ability to operate as a viable educational institution. Every Catholic college and university in the country must undergo this sort of probing investigation into its activities and show that it has “measured up” every ten years, and they do so largely without complaint.

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