Just how innocent is Middle States? Judging colleges by standards of diversity

Alan Eade

December 20, 1991|By Alan Eade

ROBERT H. Chambers, president of Western Maryland College, would have us believe that Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander' criticism of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools is misguided (Other Voices, Nov. 26).

According to Chambers, the association's "diversity standard" is anything but "a call for quotas," while "political correctness" (whatever that means) is the farthest thing from the minds of the responsible men and women who take seriously their task of evaluating our colleges and universities.

So hands off, Uncle Lamar. Everything's just swell on the academic ranch. Indeed, as Western Mary

Alan Eade rTC land College prepares for its own reaccreditation review, Chambers can luxuriate in the prospect of "being measured by experts in the field -- educators who know what academic quality is."

But unless you've been living in the box that once enclosed your refrigerator, you might ask Chambers to account for all those writers of books and articles decrying the politicization of the academy and the encroachments of "politically correct" thought police. Just whiners, elitists, or reactionary white males daring the "experts in the field" to produce the Shakespeare of Swahili?

How explain, then, so many blasts from so many directions -- for example, from the likes of Eugene Genovese, a Marxist historian; Allan Bloom, a Straussian conservative, and Dinesh D'Souza, a young "person of color" educated at Dartmouth? And what of academic organizations -- the National Association of Scholars and the University Centers for Rational Alternatives -- that have relentlessly exposed the shenanigans of Chambers' confreres, shenanigans that lend credence to Abigail Thernstrom's characterization of our colleges and universities as "islands of repression in a sea of freedom"? Are all these naysayers no more credible than the Lamar Alexanders who portray the Middle States Association as "a Willie Horton . . . more refined, of course, but, nevertheless, an easy target to set up"?

Good idea: Let's back off the "easy target" of the larger educational issues once the proper domain of college presidents. Let's get very much more refined by asking Chambers why he neglects to discuss the interpretation put on these matters not by some meddling bureaucrat but by a most interested academic -- in this instance, by Joel Segall, who served as the president of Baruch College when Middle States deferred the reaccreditation of that school.

In the July issue of Measure, Segall tells a story wholly at odds with the impression given by Chambers of self-imposed standards, amicable resolutions and an exclusive concern with academic quality. Despite describing Baruch as an "excellent academic institution," the Middle States evaluators deferred reaccrediting the school because of its "paucity of minority representation on the faculty and in the administration" and its low rates of graduation among minorities.

The deferral resulted in much unhappy publicity, a sharp reduction in contributions by alumni and friends and substantial concerns among both current and prospective students about the value of a Baruch degree. To secure the essential reaccreditation, Baruch had to submit a "therapeutic" program acceptable to Middle States, a program that included promoting a minority administrator to vice president.

However one judges the arguments propounded by Segall and his many like-minded colleagues in the academy, one must repudiate Chambers' idyll of an innocent association going about its customary business free from principled, internal dissent and needing to justify itself only when pestered by muddle-headed officialdom.

Alan Eade writes from Baltimore.

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