Letters to the Editor

Has Accreditation Produced an Ethical Business Climate?

November 08, 2009

To the Editor:

In the Hobbesian world of university budgets, which forces every program and department to struggle in an unending war of all-against-all for positions and funding, the person who first imagined accreditation for specialized programs ("Struggling Colleges Question the Cost—" The Chronicle, October 9) deserves a special niche in the Hall of Academic Hustle. Institutions that choose to seek program accreditation must, in the finite world of budgets, shift funds away from many struggling departments and toward the chosen few to ensure that all criteria, from faculty credentials and salaries to high-tech classrooms and generous support staff, are not only met but exceeded.

Since any university's budget reflects its true values, it is clear that institutions opting into specialized accreditation like that offered by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business have chosen to privilege some undergrad majors and grad students (e.g., business majors) over others (e.g., philosophers and historians). If English or math faculty members had had the wits to create accrediting systems, what university would dare staff most intro writing and math classes with adjuncts and grad students?

But hasn't the accrediting process in M.B.A. programs at least created a more effective, more ethical business climate? Last year's economic crisis, fueled largely by the graduates of elite, accredited M.B.A. programs who flocked into banking and Wall Street, suggests a startling ethical blindness, social irresponsibility, and historical ignorance. Perhaps the most disturbing issue about this whole business of specialized accreditation—larger even than the hijacking of academic budgets or creation of institutional elites—is the arrogance and irresponsibility of the accrediting agencies themselves. At least the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association, which accredit medical and law schools, have some mechanisms for disciplining physicians who amputate the wrong limbs or lawyers who raid their clients' escrow accounts. What good are accrediting agencies that take no responsibility for the behavior of those they accredit?

Maurice O'Sullivan
Professor of Literature
Rollins College
Winter Park, Fla.