The Question Has Been Answered: A Follow up to the Blog- Unanswered Question About Penn State

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My blog of July 29, 2012 was entitled, “The Unanswered Question About Penn State.” I wrote about my questions related to the involvement of the regional accrediting body called Middle States (Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools).  This blog generated a tremendous response from my readers. I even heard from a few Penn State alumni.

In that blog I wrote, “Middle States may already be deeply involved in a review or an investigation of Penn State. If this is the case, it should be reported by the media, if only the higher education media. This past week’s activities by the NCAA continues to make this issue primarily a football story … an issue of the problems with a dominant athletic culture … and this is troublesome. For me, the questions are deeper and more pervasive and make me wonder about the fundamental integrity of a great academic institution.”  Last week, the question was answered.

Reports in higher education publications (not to my knowledge in the broader media) stated that Middle States has been involved in the Penn State issue for some time. According to representatives from Middle States, the first communication with the university occurred soon after the details of the scandal were made public last Fall. At that time, Middle States “asked the university for a report ensuring that it was upholding the accreditor's standards of integrity.” This is exactly what I questioned in my earlier blog.

Subsequent to both the Freeh Report and the NCAA sanctions, Middle States took further action. In a letter dated August 8, 2012, Middle States has placed Penn State “on warning status and is requiring its officials to document that its finances, governance, and integrity meet the accreditor's standards.” Penn State is required to respond to the accrediting body by September 30, 2012.

In one sense, the action by Middle States is far less draconian than the NCAA in many ways. As was reported last week by Middle States, being placed on “warning” does not mean that the university is close to losing its accreditation. "Warning indicates that the commission believes that, although the institution is out of compliance, the institution has the capacity to make appropriate improvements within a reasonable period of time and the institution has the capacity to sustain itself in the long term." It is likely that the issue with Middle States will be resolved through the report generated by Penn State in the coming weeks.

But I do applaud Middle States for taking action. While it may be less important to the national media and the football-centric public, the accrediting body’s actions reflect a concern for the integrity of the entire university. Further, it acknowledges the responsibilities of the administration of Penn State to act in ways that engender public confidence. As stated by Middle States, “"if an institution conducts its affairs in ways which generate serious public concern, the commission reserves the right to request further information from the institution."

Clearly, there is public concern about Penn State in ways more pervasive than the football team.

One could argue that a “request for information” is hardly reflective of a full investigation or corrective action. But it’s a good place to begin and if nothing else, it is forcing Penn State to consider the impact of this scandal on the entire institution. As I stated in my January 29 blog,

 For me, the heart of the question is the fundamental integrity of the University. I hope that this is being investigated by the accrediting body. Because it is this core value that links all colleges and universities together. And it is central to our commitment to all who study, work and visit our campuses.

For me, football does not define Penn State University. Academic integrity and excellence define Penn State and all colleges and universities. And the potential failure to uphold these values throughout the institution is the real issue. And the question needs to be answered!”

Last week, it was.

(Your comments and ideas are always welcome.)

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  • Guest
    John Q Public Wednesday, 22 August 2012

    As long as accreditation is basically a process of peer review, will there ever be truly severe sanctions, much less "Draconian" ones, levied by an accreditation board, even in a situation like this?

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