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.
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.
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.
Let’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.