Regional accreditation is one of the most important statuses a college or university can obtain. Being regionally accredited lets employers, licensing agencies, graduate schools and others know that a school is has high academic standards and is committed to excellence. Many people think of accreditation as a form of quality control for academic standards in institutions for higher education. However, a small private school in Massachusetts is in risk of losing its accreditation, not because of its academics, but because of its religious philosophy.
Gordon College is a nondenominational Christian college that was established in 1889 and is located just north of Boston in Wenham, Mass. Gordon has a student code of conduct much like Baylor’s in that they are both centered on Christian beliefs. According to Gordon’s behavioral standards, “Those words and actions which are expressly forbidden in Scripture, including but not limited to blasphemy, profanity, dishonesty, theft, drunkenness, sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexual practice, will not be tolerated in the lives of Gordon community members, either on or off campus.” From that small selection of Gordon’s Behavioral Standards, it is the prohibition of homosexual practices that is putting its accreditation in jeopardy.
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education is the regional body that accredits Gordon and 242 other colleges and universities. This September, the NEASC questioned whether Gordon’s ban on homosexual practices was contrary to the commission’s standards for accreditation. The NEASC gave Gordon a year to review its policy on homosexuality and will hear the school’s findings in September 2015. In other words, the NEASC is threatening to revoke Gordon’s accreditation unless it ends its prohibition of homosexual practices.
The NEASC is attempting a disturbing overreach and abuse of power. Like it or not, when it comes to mixing religion and education in the U.S., the legal trend over the past century has been to keep public schools secular and religious schools private. Private colleges and universities could operate according to their religious beliefs and reasonably expect accreditation as long as they maintained federal and regional academic standards and didn’t break any laws.
So what is it about Gordon’s behavioral policy that the NEASC thinks is contrary to the commission’s standards? According to the NEASC’s Standards for Accreditation, standard 11.5 says an institution must adhere to “non-discriminatory policies and practices in recruitment, admissions, employment, evaluation, disciplinary action, and advancement” and foster “an atmosphere within the institutional community that respects and supports people of diverse characteristics and backgrounds.” So the NEASC feels Gordon’s prohibition of homosexual practices violates that standard.
However, the NEASC’s Standards for Accreditation preamble says, “The Commission deals with institutional differences in ways designed to protect both educational quality and individual philosophy and practice. The Standards are aspirational expectations that must be met at least minimally. They are essentially qualitative criteria that measure the institution’s current state of educational effectiveness.”
It seems the NEASC is more concerned with a political agenda than it is Gordon’s educational quality and individual philosophy and practice. In fact, it seems the NEASC is directly trying to alter Gordon’s individual philosophy and practice. Gordon’s behavioral standards do not affect their educational effectiveness and possibly missing one standard based off religious exemption should surley at least minimally meet the NEASC’s standards for accreditation.
Private schools with religious affiliation exist partially because it would be illegal for them to exist as public institutions. Some Americans want to attend a Christian school founded on the principals of the Bible and the NEASC has no right to take that away from them. If Gordon’s academic standards were falling short, then the NEASC should threaten their accreditation, but attacking the religious philosophy of the school is way out of the boundaries of an accrediting body. Unfortunately, the NEASC is not a government organization, because if they were, this would be a clear case of government infringement on Gordon’s religious freedoms. However, this is still an abuse of power that all Americans should care about. As Americans we need to decide how much influence we want outside forces to have over our private enterprises. Where do we draw the line?
It doesn’t matter if an organization is Christian, atheist, Muslim, Buddhists, Hindu or anything else. If they are private, they should be allowed control over the way they operate. Because no one is forcing anybody to apply to Gordon and it is not a government ran school. People who disagree with Gordon’s prohibition of homosexual practices have many other options to choose from. But where will students who desire to attend a school with policies based on their religious principles go if private schools are forced to change their religious policies in favor for secular policies?
This isn’t just about Christianity or freedom of religion in America. It is also about the reasonable expectation of a private enterprise to operate in a way it sees fit without interference from outside organizations. If a private institution were endangering employees or discriminating because of race or gender, it would be breaking the law, and should be held responsible for that.
Some may feel that Gordon is breaking the law by banning homosexual practices on campus or that it is discriminating because of sexual orientation. However, Gordon is simply trying to create a campus atmosphere based around its religious beliefs. If the First Amendment didn’t exist, then maybe the Gordon would be culpable for its code of conduct. However, all Americans are still guaranteed freedom of religion, and the NEASC has no right to try and take that away from Gordon.