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Do Kansas Regents' New Social Media Restrictions Threaten Accreditation?

Professor Susan Twombly, chairwoman of the University of Kansas’ (KU’s) Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, believes that the Kansas Board of Regents’ new social media restrictions on faculty threatened the accreditation of KU. Why? The Lawrence Journal-World (Kan.) reports:

Her concerns largely center on one of the criteria for accreditation through the HLC, which requires that the university be “committed to freedom of expression and the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning,” as stated in an HLC accreditation guide. Another component requires the university to establish and follow “fair and ethical policies for its governing board, administration, faculty and staff.”

For those not up on the lingo of higher ed accreditation, the HLC refers to the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. In the United States, universities (and even K–12 schools) are accredited by regional bodies that each cover several states, and the North Central Association is the one that covers Kansas. Virtually every college is accredited by a regional body (with some for-profit schools being exceptions). If your college is not accredited, the odds are very low that any other accredited college will accept a diploma or credits from your college.

Huge state universities like KU are always accredited by regional bodies, without exception, and were one to lose accreditation, that would generally be a death blow. Students would not be able to receive federal financial aid—instantly sapping a college’s main revenue stream. Faculty would leave. Students would stop enrolling. Research money would dry up. Legislators would probably decline to fund the college, as its credits and degrees would now be worth far less. To avoid this catastrophic sequence of events, colleges have committees of faculty members who lead self-studies to make sure the university is meeting the criteria—and Professor Twombly is chairing the commission doing the self-study.

Professor Twombly is 100% right to be concerned about the accreditation requirement that colleges be “committed to freedom of expression and the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning.” While FIRE’s research shows that this is hardly universally true among accredited colleges, the Kansas Board of Regents’ policy represents an extreme and very public example of disregard for academic freedom and free expression—one that the accreditors are going to find hard to ignore. And KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little seems to understand the potential disaster in the offing, telling the Journal-World that “accreditation issues related to the social media policy ‘certainly would be a problem if that is the case,’ and it would be ‘an important topic to discuss’” when the Regents revisit the policy in the spring.

We’re glad to see that Professor Twombly is doing her job to protect KU’s accreditation, and we hope the Kansas Board of Regents will quickly act to do the same by revoking—not simply tweaking—this destructive and unwise policy.

Image: Chi Omega Fountain, the University of Kansas - Wikipedia

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