I had an interesting experience this week, one which might be of interest to those following Bob Jones University’s increasingly comical pursuit of SACS regional accreditation. The school’s long and crooked relationship with academic relevance in the form of real accreditation has been well-documented elsewhere, but suffice to say: it’s the usual story with things they can’t understand and perceive as a threat. Condemn until it’s long past believable or expedient, then embrace. Claim they never changed in the first place. Rinse and repeat.
But on to the story. So, BJU published a new version of their website on Monday. It’s friendlier, and for the first time ever it publishes the student handbook publicly. That’s a good move. But I noticed something else (and so did a lot of other people perusing the new site): BJU was explicitly using their intention to pursue SACS to advertise to potential students. This isn’t just jumping the gun, it’s patently dishonest — the application process for SACS is known to take several years (if not a decade), and it’s not retro-active. Point being: no one who’s considering attending BJU for the 2012-13 school year will see any of the affects of regional accreditation, even if the school manages to acquire it. Keep in mind, there are serious, factual reasons to doubt that they’ll ever be able to do so.
It really bothered me that BJU was using such an under-handed method to advertise itself, especially as stories of alumni who’ve been lied to about TRACS (their current accreditation) continue to pile up. I wasn’t sure what anyone could do about it, though. After all a lot of the deception takes place away from official channels like their website. But then someone clued me into this PDF containing SACS’ own regulations about advertising accreditation status. It couldn’t have been clearer — BJU was ignoring the rules of the very body by which they hope to be accredited. Here’s the money quote:
“No statement should be made about possible future accreditation status or qualification not yet conferred by the accrediting body. Statements like the following are not permissible: “(Name of institution) has applied for candidacy with the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association;”
You see, SACS isn’t keen on having its reputation leveraged to prop up failing institutions who haven’t even begun the rigorous process to secure its approval. You have to do this in the right order, but BJU can’t wait — need we revisit the enrollment statistics again?
I decided to contact the school on the matter. I sent an email to Dr. David Fisher, the school’s Provost, laying out my concerns and the discrepancy I saw. You can see a screenshot of my message here. The next day, Dr. Gary Weier, BJU’s Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, sent me a reply. I won’t print the email out of respect for private correspondence, but Dr. Weier informed me that in response to my email he’d “directed the web team to remove that information” from the site. I was genuinely impressed that Weier had answered me personally, and that the school acted so quickly to remove the illegitimate statements.
What was strange, though, was the way Weier tried to deflect the blame for their original publication. Weier told me that he took action “when I found out through your email that our website had information about pursuing the application process” [emphasis mine]. How am I to read this? This is BJU’s EVP, de facto chief executive, and “Chief Administrative Oversight Officer” (after this he may wish to remove the word “oversight” from any of his titles). Weier, we are told, is spearheading the school’s effort to attain accreditation. All in all, I had to wonder: how could he not be aware what BJU’s site said? Or about the SACS regulations it violated? Or both? It gives one pause.