Professors Group Will Rate Colleges

Judgment Day is not far off--at least for U.S. colleges and universities.

Or so hopes a group of intellectuals, former politicians, and scholars who are attempting to set a list of standards for liberal arts education.

Officials at the American Academy for Liberal Education, based in Washington D.C., said yesterday that they are working on an application to be sent to universities and colleges that have expressed interest in receiving the group's approval. The academy numbers among its members Edward O. Wilson, Baird professor of science at Harvard.

Jeffrey D. Wallin, president of the academy, said the group first began to take shape more than two years ago when several people involved in matters of higher education began discussing the decline in undergraduate education.

"There are a lot of causes...especially the trend towards early specialization," said Wallin, a former director of general programs at the National Endowment of the Humanities. "I think it's very odd to [see] this at a time when we are competing around the world."


According to an academy statement, institutions accredited by the group will have to "include within the general education requirement mandatory courses which provide basic knowledge of mathematics and the physical and biological sciences, including laboratory experience; intermediate knowledge of at least one foreign language; the study of literature and literary classics...the study of the political, philosophical and cultural history of Western Civilization; and the study of the political and economic functions of American society."

Other standards outlined by the group include support for freedom of expression, clear distinctions between fundamental and more specialized courses, adequate library resources and appropriate class size.

A strong conservative presence in the movement has led some to charge the group with attempting to squash multicultural curriculum reform, according to an article in last Sunday's Boston Globe.

The group has already accepted a start-up grant of $100,000 from the conservative Olin Foundation, and well-known conservatives as Shelby Steele of San Jose State and Abigail Thernstrom of Boston University are part of the reform effort.

Wallin acknowledged that the group was formed to react to a new emphasis on diversity among traditional accreditors, but said that the members span the ideological spectrum.

"I hope it's not true that the only people concerned with a solid education in this country are conservatives," he said.

He also said, however, that he was hoping to raise money from other organizations in the future.

Wallin said that the organization has received hundreds of calls from colleges, universities, parents, professors and others interested in higher education.

Harvard has not contacted the academy, Wallin said, but he added that a few Harvard professors had called asking about the process