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University of Virginia warned after failed ouster

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 11, 2012 at 6:24 pm •  Published: December 11, 2012

Universities must be accredited by independent but government-designated organizations in order to receive federal student aid such as student loans and Pell Grants. A highly-regarded institution like U.Va. almost certainly faced no serious threat of losing that accreditation, but the agencies do often respond to governance concerns with a warning, as happened at Penn State after the child sex abuse scandal there.

John D. Simon, executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia, issued a statement saying that while the decision is "disappointing," they'll "work diligently to address the concerns cited by the commission.

"For the past several months and in the spirit of continuous improvement, the Board of Visitors and University leadership have been proactively working together to review governance practices and policies to ensure the highest level of transparency, accountability and responsiveness to all those it serves," he said.

In a statement on Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell disagreed with the panel's decision, saying a warning is "overly harsh."

"The issues raised concerned board administrative procedures, not academic quality or faculty competence," McDonnell said. "Thomas Jefferson's university will continue to be a model of integrity and honor in the field of higher education for generations to come."

Molly Broad, president of the American Council on Education said it is "standard practice" for accrediting association to step in and review institutions that exhibit "any number of problem areas." In this case, Broad said the concern is over the university's governance and "really had nothing to do with the academic quality of the university."

"This warning is a reminder that the university is a public trust and that the governance responsibilities are shared among the rectors, and the president and the faculty," Broad said. "It should be taken seriously, but in my view it's a temporary setback for the university and with the solid support across the campus, I believe will quickly be in U.Va.'s rearview mirror."

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a higher education nonprofit, called the association's warning "nothing more than a bare-knuckled power play."

"Accreditors are supposed to protect students and taxpayers ensuring that federal aid flows only to schools with 'educational quality,'" said Anne Neal, president of the council. "How ironic that SACS, which is tasked with ensuring reasonable academic standards at the school it accredits, turns on the U.Va. board, which embraced such oversight as its fiduciary duty."

Neal added that the association has "seriously overstepped" its bounds at U.Va. "Trustees — and the taxpaying public — should protest this misguided intrusion."


Felberbaum contributed to this report from Richmond, Va.


AP Education Writer Justin Pope in Ann Arbor, Mich., also contributed to this report.