Patrick Henry College receives initial AALE accreditation

PURCELLVILLE, Va. (BP)--Patrick Henry College, founded in 2000 with a strong homeschool student base, has received initial accreditation from the American Academy for Liberal Education.

The AALE had denied the college accreditation last April because the academy determined that the school failed to meet the definition of liberal education, which includes standards on "liberty of thought and freedom of speech," because of its views on creationism. The academy wanted creation to be taught in religion classes instead of science classes at the school.

"They claim we violate their standards on freedom of thought, yet that is the essence of their own decision," Patrick Henry College President Michael Farris said in a May 13 CNSNews.com report in response to the denial. "They are denying PHC its freedom to think, believe and speak differently from the norm of academia."

The denial of accreditation led to an administrative appeal before an outside panel of college administrators selected by AALE, according to a Nov. 13 news release from Patrick Henry College.

The appellate panel reversed the initial denial and remanded the decision to the AALE for reconsideration. The panel rejected the view that a college that teaches creationism fails to adequately teach the sciences but left open the question of whether Patrick Henry allows full discussion of alternative views of origins.

Though the college has contended from its inception that it allows and welcomes full discussion of opposing views while ultimately teaching that six-day creationism is the truth, the college's board of trustees amended the school's Statement of Biblical Worldview concerning creation to clarify that the college intends for all viewpoints to be discussed adequately. The statement now reads:

"Any biology, Bible or other courses at PHC dealing with creation will teach creation from the understanding of Scripture that God's creative work, as described in Genesis 1:1-31, was completed in six 24-hour days. All faculty for such courses will be chosen on the basis of their personal adherence to this view. PHC expects its faculty in these courses, as in all courses, to expose students to alternate theories and the data, if any, which support those theories. In this context, PHC in particular expects its biology faculty to provide a full exposition of the claims of the theory of Darwinian evolution, intelligent design and other major theories while, in the end, teach creation as both biblically true and as the best fit to observed data."

Paul Bonicelli, dean of academic affairs, told Baptist Press the change was merely a clarification of a misunderstanding between the college's original intent and the AALE's interpretation of the wording. Bonicelli said the school is opposed to teaching creation only in religion classes but does not violate any AALE requirements because the school does teach all relevant theories of origin in science classes.

According to the PHC news release, the AALE cited the clarification in granting accreditation.

"We are thankful that we were able to work this out with AALE. We have always believed that it is possible to be strongly committed to the truth of God's Word and yet be open for discussion in the tradition of classical liberal education," Farris said. "We are very heartened by the action of AALE and look forward to working with them in the future."

Bonicelli explained that pre-accreditation, as the college received Nov. 2, means that the school will immediately enjoy the benefits of accreditation and will be reviewed again in five years for full accreditation.

The school's administrators are firm believers in accreditation, Bonicelli said, and consider it a form of quality control much like the Better Business Bureau. He said the school embraces accreditation because it's a biblical concept to tell the truth about the institution.

"It's a good way to be open and let people know that you mean what you say," he added.

Bonicelli also said donors especially corporations that require their funds be given to accredited institutions expect the college to be accredited. Another important reason for the status is the State Council of Higher Education of Virginia requires colleges issuing Bachelor of Arts degrees to become accredited.

Patrick Henry College was launched in 2000 by the home school community with 87 students. In its second year, the school had 150 students and now has 203, according to Bonicelli. With completion of a new dormitory drawing near, the college expects to have space for 300 students. Though the school has a strong homeschool base with 90 percent of its students having been homeschooled at some point in their education, the institution reaches beyond homeschoolers.

The college seeks to maintain a virtue-centered campus with a strong biblical worldview, according to Bonicelli, and each student must include in his or her education time spent in an apprenticeship before graduation. The school does not allow students to borrow government loans and believes heavily in financial independence.


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