Top officials from Florida’s main college accrediting association and state university system escalated their war of words Wednesday night over what the association thinks of how Florida runs its universities and whether it should have of importance.
Beautiful Wheelanchairman of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and Alan Levin, a key member of the state university system’s board of governors, kicked off another round of memos back and forth Wednesday night. These messages became harsher after Wheelan criticized comments to POLITICO tuesday and Levine followed with his terse first response on Wednesday.
The last letters were written in courteous jokes, but only on the surface, and only at the beginning.
At one point, Wheelan said he told Levine his role was to “trust but verify.” At another point, Levine called a Wheelan sighting a “joke.” She cited the presidents of three Florida universities to defend SACSCOC’s credibility, then Levine dismissed them as insufficient representatives of Florida’s higher education institutions.
Without making a specific allegation, Levine argued against “Mickey Mouse letters which contain unsubstantiated claims, no evidence, and accusations of undue influence.“
“If the facts confirm that there is a breach of accreditation, then come to us with everything you have. Otherwise, you should be invisible,” Levine challenged.
The fight, although sometimes personal, is about serious official issues.
Accreditation both reflects and influences the presumed integrity of teaching and research offered by universities; the potential of universities to attract and retain the best and brightest faculty and students; the perceived value of graduates’ credentials in labor markets; and awarding billions of dollars in research and education grants and contracts.
SACSCOC, the primary accrediting body for colleges and universities from Texas to Virginia, grants accreditation based on institutions’ ability and willingness to meet its standards and follow its protocols for higher education. Universities and colleges, in turn, lend credibility to the SACSCOC accreditation program, based on their recognition of accreditation as valid and their voluntary acceptance of SACSCOC oversight as important.
The feud between Wheelan and Levine started last year when Wheelan weighed in on the search for a new president at Florida State University.
In their final correspondence, the two revisited Wheelan’s concerns about how the state selects college presidents and Levine’s thoughts on whether she has sufficient working knowledge of Florida universities or whether the SACSCOC possesses the seriousness to try to tell Florida how they should be run to begin with. with.
In his most recent response, Wheelan noted that the SACSCOC board includes presidents from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, and the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.
“They are fully capable of representing their colleagues on our board,” Wheelan wrote.
Levine dismissed St. Thomas and FIT and ignored UCF.
“With all due respect, I disagree. Saint Thomas University and the Florida Institute of Technology can’t begin to cash in on the more than $1 billion worth of research conducted at the University of Florida and the nearly $600 million of research being done at the University of South Florida. And I’m not even going to have a discussion that suggests that,” Levine replied.
“The University of Florida, University of South Florida, and Florida State University set standards for search and access. (Seventy-five) percent of students in our state university system don’t even need to take out student loans. Show me another university system that does this, and we can talk about it. In the meantime, please do not suggest that Saint Thomas University can pass judgment on our major state universities,” he continued. “It’s just a joke.”
Levine hinted that SACSCOC shouldn’t face Florida in a dispute over credibility.
“Florida isn’t afraid of high standards. In fact, we set them. Maybe you could learn from what we do and maybe apply them to your standards,” he wrote.
Wheelan concluded by saying she was willing to discuss matters at any time.
Levine replied, “Maybe you can put aside the way you’ve done things in the past and have a serious conversation with us about how to move forward. If you can, we’re ready to have a conversation. Otherwise, we are wasting our time with this conversation. Let me know where you are.