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September 27, 2023 | In The News

STEUBE AND BANKS: Congress must depoliticize college accreditation standards

Washington Examiner – Woke ideology in higher education must die if American freedom is to live.

Wokeness is destroying American universities. Our colleges have become incapable of producing civic virtue and intellectual curiosity in their graduates. And over time, that will make those virtues increasingly rare in America.

That frightening prospect is part of what led to the launch of the Anti-Woke Caucus at the start of the 118th Congress. And this June, we introduced the Fairness In Higher Ed Accreditation Act with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to strip woke ideologues of one of their most effective tools for influencing college campuses: the accreditation process.

According to the Education Department’s own website , the point of college accreditation is “to ensure that institutions of higher education meet acceptable levels of quality.” But based on accreditors’ own standards, that is no longer the case.

Last year, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, one of two bodies in the United States that recognize accrediting organizations, issued new rules requiring colleges and universities to affirm their commitment to “diversity, equity and inclusion” to get accredited. That is a momentous decision, as CHEA represents more than 6,000 U.S. colleges and universities and recognizes six major U.S. regional accreditors. CHEA President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond boasted of the move, saying, “Now, when you are recognized by CHEA, the expectation is that you manifest aspects of DEI and that you have evidence to that effect.”

The values of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” are incompatible with educational excellence. If colleges were truly committed to diversity, they would judge students and applicants only on their individual achievements, not their race, sex, or other immutable characteristics.

Equity in education, which is really a euphemism for equal educational outcomes, is a contradiction in terms. And inclusion has, for too many universities, come to mean the opposite of inquiry. Inclusion now means safe spaces and the suppression of speech and questions that challenge the dominant, left-wing worldview on campuses.

Wokeness is bad for education in practice as well as principle. Indeed, we know that DEI on campuses makes tuition more costly, hurts scholastic standards, and, most importantly, teaches students untruths about America’s historical accomplishments and its contributions to the rest of the world.

The Fairness In Higher Ed Accreditation Act would bar accrediting agencies from considering DEI and the racial composition of student and faculty bodies as part of the accreditation process. Instead, it would require agencies to consider schools’ adherence to First Amendment principles. It would refocus accreditation agencies on their historical mission: ensuring colleges produce clear goals for academic programs, maintain sound finances, avoid inappropriate, unethical, or untruthful dealings with students, and maintain similar basic standards to which all schools should adhere.

Critics will claim that our bill is an attempt to “ban books” or stick the federal government’s nose in private education. The truth is that accrediting agencies already are largely a creation of the federal government. Congress requires colleges to pass muster with accreditors, and accreditors must be recognized by the Department of Education or by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Congress is not obligated to let accreditors or the CHEA promote far-left ideologies. In fact, our obligation is to protect American taxpayers from partisan abuses.

Fixing our broken higher education system is a daunting task that will require changing federal agencies, the law, and campus culture. But that doesn’t mean lawmakers should neglect simple improvements. Depoliticizing college accreditation standards is a great place to start and would meaningfully improve American education overnight.

Jim Banks is a U.S. representative for Indiana and serves as the Anti-Woke Caucus Chairman. Greg Steube is a U.S. representative for Florida and an Anti-Woke Caucus member. Banks is the sponsor and Steube is a co-sponsor of the Fairness In Higher Ed Accreditation Act.