I’ve said many times before that I’m sympathetic to families and applicants who find it difficult to get the information they really need to make a decision about where to go to college. At the same time, I’ve suggested that one of the limits on that information is that some of it is experiential: the comparison I once made was to buying a house. There’s only so much you can know before you live in a house or attend a college.
That said, there are some red flags which, if sighted, should end any doubt right there and then. Say, for example, this story about Edward Waters College in Florida, [via IHE] which has forced employees to sign a confidentiality policy which classifies all campus issues and materials as confidential. This blog, for example, would be impossible if I were a faculty member there. The way I read the policy, I’d be unable to talk about my institution at conferences or meetings without explicit clearance. I wouldn’t be able to talk about the content of my classes or how I thought about the pedagogical challenges of my work.
If you were looking at that college, I don’t think you could get a clearer warning that this was an institution with something to hide, something it doesn’t want a prospective student or student’s family to know. But perhaps even more importantly, you’d be looking at an institution that had essentially seceded from academia as a whole, that wasn’t really doing what it claimed to be doing. Sending a student there would be like placing an order with a factory that no longer actually made the product you were buying.
It also happens to be an HBCU with a recent history of financial mismanagement and plagiarism and a strong religious affiliation (the AME in this case), and a graduation rate under 20% from what I can tell. That’s important information, too, but you almost wouldn’t need to bother with that data once you found the confidentiality policy, because the existence of a strong confidentiality policy of this kind is a good predictor of other issues.
Higher ed administrators who want freedom from accountability sometimes run through a series of calculations: that they’re too small or marginal for anyone to care, that they labor under special constraints and deserve special consideration, or in this case, if you’re not black and an AME member, why do you have an opinion anyway, it’s none of your business.
As long as any college or university wants accreditation that verifies that its graduates have completed a program of study that meets some minimal standard, it is the business of every other academic. As long as any college or university wants to claim to be a part of a common cultural and social system of higher education, it’s everybody’s business. When you turn your back on the free flow of knowledge and information, you’re not an academic institution any longer. It doesn’t matter who your students are, or the constraints you’re operating under.