The Forum | Trusteeship

Accreditation Controversy at Northern Kentucky University

September 20, 2011 by Max Brindle

Last fall, professors of philosophy Dr. Terry Pence and Dr. Robert Trundle of Northern Kentucky University filed a formal complaint against NKU and the university’s regional accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and Commission of Colleges (COC). Drs Pence and Trundle allege NKU violated SACS’ standards regarding Core Requirement 2.7.3. (on gen-ed curricula) and Comprehensive Standards 2.7.3 (on faculty qualifications) in the process of overhauling its general-education program. After some back and forth between Pence and Trundle, NKU, and SACS, the professors filed an additional complaint against SACS for failing to seriously and thoroughly examine the complaint against NKU. Interestingly, both NKU and SACS concluded that the newly conceived gen-ed program satisfied all SACS standards.

However, in June the Education Department sent a warning to SACS for not fully evaluating NKU’s program or responding fully to the complaints lodged by Pence and Trundle. SACS responded in July saying that all problems had been addressed, but the Education Department is not buying it.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported yesterday that the USDOE has sent another warning to SACS, determining “that the commission is still not in compliance” with federal regulations when reviewing the NKU program and that USDOE “was not convinced that Northern Kentucky’s new general-education requirements met” SACS standards.

Furthermore, the Education Department rebuffed SACS’ claim that the NKU program was not a “significant departure from existing offerings of educational programs,” instead finding in favor of Pence and Trundle that the new curriculum amounted to a “concerted and systematic effort to implement a wholly new general-education program.” SACS has until January to respond.

ACTA applauds professors Pence and Trundle for holding their institution and accrediting body to account. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. The opaque and arcane nature of accreditation provides cover to many schools offering courses with questionable academic merit, and simultaneously fails to hold accrediting bodies responsible for the academic deterioration occurring under their aegis. Because of these structural shortcomings ACTA has consistently advocated for comprehensive reform in the accreditation process. 


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

Discover More