Christian college discrimination feared over new federal rules

Georgene Rice of KPDQ-FM interviews Dr. Daniel Lockwood from Multnomah University discusses the new Department of Education’s proposed rules for education institutions, which include 14 directives, including the ability to control curriculum, admissions and hiring standards.

Georgene: As I mentioned , Christianity Today ran an article indicating that the Department of Education is finalizing a new set of rules and my concern was whether or not this would have a negative impact on Multnomah University and other Christian colleges and universities in our area.

Dr. Daniel Lockwood: Yes, and this is a good example of a bureaucracy gone amok. The Christianity Today article referenced 80 pages, but it’s actually 900 pages of regulations that have been produced and the concern have been mostly mitigated but they do suggest that there’s things in the wind that could be troublesome for us.

Georgene: My understanding is that the directive mandates that states would have greater latitude in determining whether or not colleges or universities under their purview would meet certain standards. Can you explain a little about what the states would be mandated to do and whether this would serve as an impediment to the kind of education that Multnomah University provides.

Dr. Daniel Lockwood: This is one of the big concerns, what they want to do is they want to create a whole third level of bureaucracy for accreditation. They want to enable all of the states to authorize every educational institution and report to the federal government. As a taxpayer, I’m concerned because it’s going to cost a huge amount of money to do that. Any educator should understand that it’s going to take an incredible amount of time just to do all of the reporting…it does have implications as a faith based institution.

Georgene: It could have implications for curriculum, for hiring, and those kinds of internal workings of a Christian institution.

Dr. Daniel Lockwood: You’re exactly right. Right now, the federal government is fairly respectful of the definition of an institution. Federal funds is given to institutions that fulfill their requirements according to their mission and the accrediting agency also take the mission of the institution very seriously. Our mission is decidedly Christian, it’s faith-based and we have values that are embedded into that mission statement which the federal government honors. Our concern is that with states and Oregon would be one of them, there’s no guarantee that they would respect those religious missions in the same way….Oregon has a much stricter separation of church and state approach than the federal government. So the State of Oregon has a fund of scholarship for Oregon institutions but no student at Multnomah can qualify for that Oregon grant because we require all of our students to major in Bible. Because of our Constitution they cannot qualify because they are pursuing religious education. If the State of Oregon for our institution, that attitude toward church and state relationships, I have a great deal of concern what they might do in our mission.

Georgene: This also has broader implications of the autonomy of these institutions.

Dr. Daniel Lockwood: Absolutely, what’s really happening is there is a suspicion in Congress and the Department of Education…and it’s driven by cost and excesses particularly in the part of proprietary institutions. But I happen to believe that the accrediting approach in America is a very sound system and in fact I think that’s what America’s education the best in the world. I think that they’re wanting to regulate because they’re suspicious toward it and it’s going to be a mess.

Georgene: There have been discussion about exemptions for religious institutions, but religious institutions are very narrowly defined so that institutions like Multnomah that doesn’t strictly provide degrees or certificate in religion alone, would not be eligible for the kind of exemptions that have been discussed. Is that a correct analysis?

Dr. Daniel Lockwood: Oregon has a two level approach, so if you want to offer a recognize degree like a Bachelor of Art or a Master’s of Arts, then you have to be state authorized, which we were, or be regionally accredited….There are institutions that have chosen to offer religious degree, like a Bachelor of Religion or a Bachelor of Theology. Those are not traditional degrees and the state gives those institutions the option to opt-out of state authorization on religious grounds. So Oregon has that double approach but what this regulation would do, it seems to me, is it would put every institution that is accredited under the state and how they would define what faith-based is and how they would respect our values in hiring and student life and so on. I think it’s very much up for grabs.

Georgene: What is the status at this point with the Department of Education? What might we do to influence the outcome?

Dr. Daniel Lockwood: Many of us educators heard about this almost as it was accomplished. In a sense, the 900 pages of regulations are quote unquote, “final.” But they’re not really final. The legislature can override those regulations and I have a letter that is signed by seven Senators saying they are going to put pressure on the U.S.D.E. to revise some of these things or bring legislative action. There’s things happening. There some lobbyists in Washington that are very concerned with independent colleges and faith-based colleges. There are Senators that will address that. What we can do as citizens is to write our Senators, write our Congressmen and say, we’re unhappy with the cost of this as well as the possible endangerment to the unique faith-based values that have a right to exist in our society.

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