The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

ACTA files complaint against University accreditation decision

Nonprofit group sends letter to Department of Education criticizing Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit organization that advocates for strict academic standards and strong trustee involvement in university affairs has filed a complaint with the Department of Education about the decision to place the University on warning.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the University’s accrediting agency, issued the University a warning because of the Board of Visitors’ failure to comply with requirements for faculty transparency and involvement of a majority of the Board during the ouster of President Teresa Sullivan this summer.

In the complaint, ACTA president Anne Neal said SAC’s decision falls “outside the accreditor’s legitimate authority” and constitutes “a blatant intrusion into governance powers.”

“It appears that SACS’ real issue is not the absence of board policy, but the substance of the board’s policy,” Neal said.

Neal was one of the most ardent supporters of the Board’s actions during the administrative scandal in June. In a June 16 email recently acquired by The Cavalier Daily and addressed to all of the Board’s members, Neal downplayed the importance of the University community in decision-making.

“At the end of the day, please take heart: a board doesn’t need to get community buy-in,” she said. “A college presidency is not a popularity contest – and shared governance does not mean shared fiduciary responsibility.”

Michael Poliakoff, ACTA’s Vice President of Policy, also lauded the Board’s decision during the summer.

It was “totally appropriate for the Board to raise these issues,” he said, and “a very good thing” for the Board to call attention “to the fact that resources are not limitless and [the University], like other institutions, will have to take a keen, hard look at priorities.”

In an op-ed published June 23 in the Washington Post, Neal addresses the University specifically: “Given the university’s failure to address urgent issues such as greater faculty teaching loads, new technologies, using buildings more effectively and eliminating unproductive or outdated courses, it’s no wonder that a board concerned with spiraling costs could not continue working with a president who approached business as usual, hoping for change later.”

Co-founded in 1995 by Lynne Cheney — former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities and wife of former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney — ACTA has long championed the role of university trustees, promoted stronger general education requirements and criticized the higher education accreditation process.

Neal’s email to the entire University Board sticks to the organization’s history of supporting boards’ decisions to act independently and, at times, drastically.

“Thank you for setting an example of courageous and engaged leadership,” Neal said in her email to the Board. “We hope that you are the first of many college and university boards willing to take the bold steps necessary to keep American higher education the finest in the world.”

Anne Neal (ACTA) emails to BOV & Dragas (PDF)
Anne Neal (ACTA) emails to BOV & Dragas (Text)