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Restraining order reinstates college’s accreditation

 


Restraining order reinstates college’s accreditation

March 22, 2005

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)—The accreditation of a United Methodist college has been restored as a result of the college being awarded a temporary restraining order against its accrediting body.

Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tenn., was first awarded a restraining order on March 17 against the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for its recent decision to remove the college from membership and revoke Hiwassee’s accreditation. The order came from Judge Thomas Varlan of the U.S. District Court in Knoxville and was then extended at a March 21 court hearing.

The restraining order temporarily restores Hiwassee’s membership and accreditation with SACS until further rulings are made on a motion by SACS to change the venue to the Atlanta Federal Court, based on a "forum selection clause" in the association’s bylaws, according to Hiwassee college officials. The date of the ruling on the change of venue issue has not yet been determined.

"This is good news," said the Rev. James Noseworthy, Hiwassee college president. "Until the hearing, the TRO restores Hiwassee College to status as a member of SACS, restoring our accreditation and our students’ eligibility for financial aid."

Hiwassee College initiated the legal process March 10 by filing a request with the Knoxville Division of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief against SACS after the association denied Hiwassee’s appeal in February.

The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is the accrediting body for institutions of higher education that award associate, baccalaureate, master’s or doctoral degrees in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The association had stripped Hiwassee of its accreditation in December, but that action had been suspended pending the outcome of the appeals process. The regional accrediting body rejected the two-year college’s appeal to keep its accreditation in February.

According to SACS, their decision was based on their perception that the college does not have adequate financial resources to sustain its mission. The college disagrees and contends that its financial resources are sound and capable of sustaining its mission. The college is challenging the basis of SAC’s decision.

In a memo on its Web site at www.sacs.org, the accrediting body said: "On Friday, March 18, 2005, the Federal Court in Knoxville issued a Temporary Restraining

Order whereby the Commission on Colleges was ordered to reinstate the accreditation status of Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tennessee. Effective March 18, 2005, Hiwassee College remains an accredited institution on Probation pending the results of litigation."

"We are satisfied with this step," Noseworthy said. "Ultimately, the college is seeking permanent injunctive relief against SACS. I believe we will be successful." The college can now move forward in its efforts to reverse SACS’ decision, he said.

In addition, Noseworthy said restored accreditation ensures the transferability of academic credits. The institution is currently working with major colleges and universities to ensure that student credits will transfer "no matter what," Noseworthy said in a March 18 college press release. Several public and private colleges and universities have pledged to accept Hiwassee College coursework without question, and the list is continuing to grow, he stated.

"Hiwassee College has always had a strong academic program that is well-respected in the world of higher education," said Noseworthy. "The support we have received from these fine institutions demonstrates a vote of confidence in our ability to serve and sustain our mission of providing a quality, values-centered education to students."

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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