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AALE update

Thanks to our friend the Friar, here’s the latest on the American Academy for Liberal Education. Since the article in The Chronicle is only available temporarily, I’m quoting the principal paragraphs directly:

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has agreed to revoke the key accreditation authority of the American Academy for Liberal Education, upholding the recommendation of a federal advisory body that criticized the academy’s enforcement of academic standards.

The decision bars the academy from accrediting any new institutions or programs, effective July 10. Colleges need accreditation from organizations like the academy for their students to remain eligible for federally guaranteed student loans.


Ms. Spellings, in a letter dated April 30 but released by the department only on Thursday, said she agreed with the department’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity that the American Academy for Liberal Education had repeatedly failed to meet federal operating guidelines established in 1965.

"The AALE has been cited consistently for either not having clear expectations or standards with respect to measuring student outcomes, or not collecting and reviewing data on how institutions it accredits measure student outcomes according to these policies," the secretary wrote in the letter.

The academy, however, has complained that it is being punished for failing to meet new standards for measuring student outcomes that the department has not yet enshrined in policy.


[An AALE representative said that] the penalty stems from the department’s efforts to begin imposing new requirements on the assessment of student outcomes without having finished the process of drafting them and establishing regulations for carrying them out.

The academy has an especially difficult challenge because the institutions it accredits require more-subjective measures of college success, [George Mason University Professor and AAALE Board member Lee] Fritschler said.

That factor, combined with the organization’s small size, made the academy an easy target for Ms. Spellings and the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, he said.

To cite an organization for not enforcing standards the Department itself hasn’t yet developed is, of course, absolutely ridiculous. If I had to speculate on what’s really behind it (and having read the tedious transcript of a contentious meeting of the NACIQI at which AAL’s case came up), I’d say that relations between the illiberal educators and educrats on NACIQI and the AALE have not been good for quite some time. This is a twofer, as far as the former are concerned: they send a message to the accreditors they can’t afford to get rid of, and get rid of one they don’t much like.

To be sure, AALE could be reinstated, and I think they are trying to figure out what what satisfy the DoE (as, of course, is the DoE). What is necessary, I think, is pressure on the Department and on the Bush Administration from folks who support the mission of the AALE, which is to uphold something like the traditional liberal arts curriculum, and to do so with a rigor that isn’t readily susceptible to quantification.

Discussions - 10 Comments

The fact that a person like Margaret Spellings was appointed secretary of education is just one more instance of President Bush's fecklessness in the culture war. He ain't even there.

What does traditional liberal arts mean?

Dale, good question. A first portion of a longer, more adequate response would be: it initially revolved around the so-called quadrivium & the trivium (four-paths, three-paths): four math/science disciplines and three "verbal" ones: grammar; logic; and rhetoric. The idea came from a certain reading of Plato's Republic. The general idea was to discipline the mind for truth seeking and finding and communicating. This was found in late-antiquity through the middle ages and the Renaissance.

With all due respect, Mr. Knippenberg's analysis is ridiculous.

The only reason why this story is even out, despite the AALE having been notified of the Secretary's decision two months ago, is because of an investigation released days before the Chronicle story appeared:

AALE has been in noncompliance with the DOE since 2001. AALE is intentionally using the Secretary's recent standards update to cover for 6 years of AALE not even being able to deliver on what AALE itself says that it will do.

I, for one, am sick of fellow conservatives playing victim, now to a Republican administration in its second term. How much easier it is for Knippenberg to cry "Let's pressure Bush" than to look the problem - AALE's lack of accountability to its own stated standards - in the eye. The liberal arts deserve better than the AALE; let's tell AALE to get its act together.

It is obvious that Mr. Knippenberg did not bother to read the Secretary's full letter to AALE when he says "To cite an organization for not enforcing standards the Department itself hasn’t yet developed is, of course, absolutely ridiculous." The letter cites the specific violations of EXISTING standards.

It is precisely BECAUSE of AALE's long history of non-compliance that the DoE finally had to tighten standards. It is time that we conservatives face-up to the fact that our own lack of accountability brings about that which decry - more intervention.

I hadn't seen the Spellings letter until it was posted on the AveWatch site, which is apparently driven by its agenda to take everything critical of Tom Monoghan without any grains of salt. It doesn't tell me anything I didn't already know and discount in my analysis.

The history of the relationship between AALE and DoE is tangled and fraught with tension. As I understand it (and I don't claim to have perfect understanding, just better informed than the pseudonymous commenter thinks), some years ago AALE attempted to develop an ambitious (but not mindless and mechanical) assessment regime at which candidate schools balked. Since other accreditors weren't demanding such a regime (and neither was the DoE, at that time), AALE's "market position" was weak, so they backed off. AALE held to a position that was a thoughtful and critical version of the traditional self-evaluation model of the profession, one that didn't find much sympathy on the NACIQI Board, which is dominated by vocational educators.

The commenter's position is pretty clear: anything that hurts AALE also hurts AMU, which he or she regards as a good thing. This leads the commenter to be rather incurious about the issues and to take everything DoE says at face value. A little more digging, reading, and reflection might offer some perspective, but it wouldn't serve the apparently overarching good of criticizing the leadership of Ave Maria University.

Mr. Knippenberg,

Again, with all due respect, you criticize me for not digging, but you are the one who had not read the Secretary's letter which cites existing standards to which AALE was in non-compliance. That answers the question of why, with the new standards, AALE is the only accreditation agency being dealt with sternly. AALE was not cited, as you contend, for non-existent standards. AALE was non-compliant long before the new standards; that is my point.

Also, I made no mention at all about Ave Maria University. You have no basis whatsoever for saying that "the commenter's position is clear: anything that hurts AALE also hurts AMU". I linked to the full-text of the Secretary's letter at; but that hardly makes me anti Tom Monaghan! Goodness. This kind of jumping-to-conclusions now makes me more suspect of someone else's agenda at play here. Dragging-in Monaghan and Ave Maria, one doth protest too much, me thinks.

There are several hundred pages of documents, which I've read, detailing the relationship between DoE and AALE. Almost all the issues had been resolved, and the DoE staff recommended renewing AALE's status. Then, the leader of the AALE critics at a NACIQI meeting proposed suspending AALE, and his colleagues, without any real deliberation on the record, agreed. That's the basis for my characterization of the DoE's move. If you haven't seen that evidence (which isn't on-line, but is available through a FOIA request), you're not in a position to judge.

As for my jumping to the conclusion that you're a critic of AMU, you're right. I jumped. I should have said simply that your source was suspect, not that your motives were. But, I submit, you've been misled by your source, which suffers from the agenda-blindness I, perhaps mistakenly, attributed to you. If you want to come to a "fair and balanced" conclusion about AALE, find some other sources.

Following my own exploration, thousands of persons in the world get the loans from various banks. So, there's good possibilities to find a secured loan in all countries.

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