August 16, 2002

Board Directed to Reconsider Denial of Accreditation for Patrick Henry College

Patrick Henry College was given a second chance to win accreditation from the American Academy for Liberal Education as a result of an appellate decision received August 16, 2002.

Under the AALE appellate process an appeals panel has only two options: Affirm the decision of the AALE board or remand the decision to the AALE board for reconsideration. In a decision issued August 16, the appeals panel remanded the decision of the AALE board, which had previously denied accreditation to Patrick Henry College.

The decision was complicated and does not grant a complete victory for either side in the dispute. A final decision will be made by the AALE board after the mandated reconsideration.

The April 30, 2002 decision of the AALE trustees found that PHC's policy on creationism violated two of its standards:

1. Standard Five relating to Freedom of Inquiry

2. Standard Eight relating to Acquisition of Basic Knowledge

The appeals panel reversed the decision relative to Standard Eight. They held that there was no evidence in the record that PHC students would fail to acquire basic knowledge of biology or other sciences merely because the College teaches that creationism is true. "In the experience of the members of the Appeals Committee, it is possible for students to gain basic knowledge of a discipline or subject area even when an institution has adopted policies like the Statement of Biblical Worldview," the decision said.

PHC President Michael Farris said, "Patrick Henry College was vindicated concerning our substantive position that exposing our students to all theories while teaching that creationism is truth is a valid way to teach basic scientific knowledge."

The appeals panel noted that PHC had not yet begun to teach biology and any assumption that this approach would not teach basic science was not supported by evidence in the record.

However, on Standard Five the appeals panel affirmed the decision of the AALE concerning freedom of inquiry. The panel found that PHC's official statements could be interpreted in a way that would lead AALE to believe that it was PHC's intent to limit discussion of alternate theories.

The panel found some fault with both PHC and AALE relative to their written documents that led to this conflict. PHC was admonished to make it clear that students would be exposed to the basic facts concerning all theories of the origin of life even in the context of teaching that creationism is true. AALE was admonished to provide better guidance to religious institutions on the ability to place religious limitations on freedom of inquiry.

Despite finding that the AALE board had some grounds for finding a violation of Standard Five, the ultimate decision of the appellate panel was to remand the decision back to the AALE board for reconsideration. The panel held that the decisions concerning Standards Five and Eight appeared to be intertwined and since PHC had prevailed on Standard Eight, the matter should be sent back to the AALE board for reconsideration. On a technical level, this is a victory for Patrick Henry College.

Farris said, "This does not mean that PHC will automatically be granted accreditation. But it does mean that the AALE board is required to take another look at us."

"While we are not willing to compromise our position that creationism is true, we are quite willing to assure the AALE board that our professors expose our students to the facts concerning alternate theories. We have never seen a conflict between our position and freedom of inquiry. Perhaps there is a way for a clarification to resolve these matters," Farris concluded.