About That Accreditation at UW-Whitewater…

Last week, UW-Whitewater’s administration announced, in oddly grand terms, the results of an accreditation review from the HLC.  (That would be the ‘Higher Learning Commission,’ one of dozens of self-designated accrediting organizations of the same ilk.)  One reads that the accreditation was ‘a weighty stamp of approval’ of our campus administration’s actions. The accreditation was nothing of the kind. Much of it relies on supposed ‘evidence’ of good conduct that is, in fact, evidence of nothing truly happening on campus. Nothing.

For sexual assault survivors, in particular, the HLC accreditation is a dishonest fig leaf.

Consider how the HLC report finds ‘evidence’ of ethical conduct:

2 – Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct

The institution acts with integrity; its conduct is ethical and responsible.

2.A – Core Component 2.A

The institution operates with integrity in its financial, academic, personnel, and auxiliary functions; it establishes and follows policies and processes for fair and ethical behavior on the part of its governing board, administration, faculty, and staff.

Rating

Met

Evidence

The University of Wisconsin – Whitewater maintains a deep commitment to integrity and ethical conduct as evidenced by a number of documents including those related to a long history of shared governance, inclusive decision making, equal opportunities, and personnel rules for UW-W faculty and staff. Meetings with deans, other academic leaders, faculty and staff confirm the commitment.

Board of Regents policies further support a high standard of integrity as outlined in Board of Regents Measures to Eliminate Racism, Consensual Relationships, Gender Discrimination, Harassment & Retaliation and a variety statutes listed in Chapter 19 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

Emphasis mine.

For the HLC, evidence of proper local conduct is a document or – honest to goodness, wait for it – a state statute.

No, and no again: only actual ethical conduct is evidence of actual ethical conduct.  Documents and statutes are no evidence whatever of how local administrators or others are behaving.  Only how they behave is evidence of how they’re behaving.

Imagine, for example, that Martians visited the United States in 1925, and wanted to learn about the behavior of Americans from that time.

Mars_23_aug_2003_hubbleLet’s suppose that the leader of the Martian expedition sent field workers across America to learn about how residents of the United States lived in 1925. Out the extraterrestrial field workers went, to explore this country.

Upon their return to the Martian spacecraft, an elderly Martian asks the field workers a few questions, among them a question about Americans’ drinking habits.

“Do Americans consume alcoholic beverages?’ the Martian leader asks.

“No,” replies one of the Red Planet’s investigators. “No one in America drinks any alcoholic beverages.”

“How do you know this?” asks the elderly Martian. “What evidence have you found?”

“Well,” say the younger ones, “we checked, and these Americans have a constitutional amendment1 that forbids consumption of alcohol, so we know that there is no drinking of alcohol among them.”

No one who values learning and reasoning would settle for the young Martians’ supposed evidence about alcohol; no one who values learning and reasoning should settle for this feeble claim of good-conduct-because-the-rules-say-so.   This administration’s proffer of evidence is an embarrassment to higher learning, and unworthy of so many deserving students and faculty.

Sadly, there’s even worse in the HLC report, on page 54 (page 7 of the ‘Compliance Team Template’):

As is the trend nationwide, there appears to be a concern about the number of unwanted sexual advances.

These bland words are simultaneously despicable and false.  They’re false because they describe concern about ‘unwanted sexual advances’ when the actual concern is about rape and about administrative handling of rape cases.  They’re despicable because the brief mention of the subject does all it can to minimize the seriousness of injury to people, and also the seriousness to those who are accused, too (‘appears to be a concern,’ ‘as is the trend nationwide’ and the euphemism ‘unwanted sexual advances’).

Hundreds of millions are spent at this public institution, including sums for poorly-written press releases.  A career in feeble, mendacious excuse-making is an unworthy one.

UW-Whitewater’s students, faculty, and Whitewater’s residents deserve a better administration than this.

1. In fact, the Martians would have been wrong even about what the Eighteenth Amendment, on its face, required.  That now-repealed provision actually restricted only the ‘manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors,’ rather than their consumption.  Not only would they have been wrong to rely on the Eighteen Amendment as evidence that Americans didn’t drink, but they also would have read the Amendment incorrectly.

4 thoughts on “About That Accreditation at UW-Whitewater…

  1. Go check it out – there is a logo from that HLC place on the uww website! 100% PR bullcrap. How about just doing a good job teaching?

  2. I see a bit of a double standard in your response here. In one case you suggest that a document is not enough and that it is really the action that matters; but then in the Fader case you suggest he should not have been suspended (and then not renewed) just because he failed to follow institutional policy that said he needed to report the sexual assault. Shouldn’t the fact that they did not renew the contract of an employee that violated that policy provide evidence that they did, at least in this case, act with integrity? If they had taken the other approach of not suspending then wouldn’t the policy would be meaningless?

    1. Thanks much for your comment. I’ll contend that the double standard you believe you see doesn’t exist.

      On the contrary, the actions of Telfer in the Fader matter and the current reliance on a state statute as proof of good conduct are similar, and easily reconciled: they’re examples of ignoring actual conditions in favor of intangibles.

      It was not an ‘act of integrity’ to suspend and later not renew Fader. It was an over-reaction. There was no requirement (of the System or of UW-Whitewater) that he not be renewed. Even an internal investigation that then-Chancellor Telfer commissioned ( Aschenbrener/Waston) made no such recommendation. There is no written or unwritten policy to which one can point that that required Fader’s non-renewal as a matter of integrity. The policy did not compel the meaning (and so did not require the consequence) you assert.

      It was Fader, by contrast, who acted with integrity, by seeking to report the matter to law enforcement, and Telfer who over-reacted, by misapplying a punishment that neither written nor unwritten policy required.

      As an aside, it’s unpersuasive to contend that the chancellor’s reaction was somehow of greater integrity than that of the man who effectively reported the matter to the one agency in town assured of keeping a permanent record of an alleged assault.

      In any event, Fader’s recent hiring as a head coach at a sister UW System school (UW-Eau Claire) shows how dubious is the claim that Telfer’s action was one of ‘integrity’. If System officials truly thought that Fader’s effectual termination (as a non-renewal) was justified, then he would never have been re-hired elsewhere in the System.

      On the contrary, Fader’s hiring elsewhere in the System is an obvious, implicit rejection of Telfer’s supposed justification for non-renewal. (Fader’s hiring looks like a quasi-settlement in lieu of further litigation following Telfer’s actions.)

      Telfer was free not to renew a coach’s contract, but the non-renewal was no matter of integrity.

      Lack of integrity, however, is what unifies the two examples (over-relying on a requirement and now over-relying on a state statute in the place of how people are properly treated). Fader was mistreated because Telfer couldn’t decide justly in practical terms, and now survivors on campus (and also those who are accused) are not being considered in practical terms because this administration touts an accreditor that thinks words on paper mean more than people in the flesh.

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