Tuesday, June 28, 2011   3:21 PM

Atlantic University's Blog and the fate of our proposed MA in Parapsychology program ... sigh ...

The Atlantic University Blog and the upcoming Parapsychology and Consciousness Conference ...

So today the first thing I'm doing is letting everybody know that Atlantic University has set up a blog. My first really substantial blog entry is, of course, on our upcoming Parapsychology and Consciousness conference, to be held from October 14th through October 16th this coming fall here in Virginia Beach.

So just take the plunge and register for the conference! Oops, ah, sorry, got carried away!. So just click here for the link to our new blog site. :-)

The fate of AU's hoped for MA in Parapsychology  ...

As for the proposed Masters of Arts in Parapsychology program Carlos and I and the rest of our faculty and staff at Atlantic University (not to mention the CEO and Board of Trustees) had hoped to be able to launch in 2012: We have not been given the green light by our accrediting agency to offer the program. In fact, quite the opposite.

Our accrediting agency is staffed by a group of really good people who are very serious about their jobs. Our agency is a "national" accreditor as opposed to the "regional accreditors" who handle bricks and mortar universities. The staff are very professional and do a very good job of overseeing a variety of schools, all online, some professional, some academic, in a variety of disciplines, and from the undergraduate to the graduate level. The agency is, in turn, approved by the Council of Higher Education Accreditation here in the States, another very serious group of folk, and by the US Department of Education.

We submitted a Petition to Propose a Masters of Arts in Parapsychology last May 1st and the Accrediting Commission of our agency reviewed our petition in early June. They declined to give us permission to propose the program. We were caught on the edge of two crossed blades: "controversy" and "parapsychology." They just weren't willing to associate themselves in such a visible way with such a controversial field.

I wrote a 16-page proposal that gave a brief history of the field, acknowledged our controversial status, compared education in the field in the US in 1983 (using an old American Society for Psychical Research Course Listing compiled by the incomparable Marian Nester, then Director of Education for the ASPR) to education in the field in the US today (non-existent except for a few courses here and there, and opportunities to complete a degree under the tutelage of some top folk in the field, i.e., Stan Krippner at Saybrook, Charley Tart, Arthur Hastings, among others, at ITP and so on). I talked about the growth of opportunities primarily in the UK but also in other countries. I included 30 letters of support from senior scientists in the field and others, including members of our Board of Trustees and two of our current students. I also included the CVs of all the faculty I had hired and hoped to hire, and of course, the complete program curriculum with course descriptions and objectives. Carlos provided me with tables of recent scholarly articles in high impact journals, recent scholarly books and, of course, recent dissertations. I also included a table of all the existing programs I knew of and their accrediting agencies.

The text of the petition was 16 pages. The supporting documents including the letters of support topped out at 234 additional pages. A big job putting it together but I had the help not only of our faculty, staff and our prospective faculty, but also of one of my predecessors in my job, and various other folk interested in the future of education in the field.

It wasn't the quality of the petition or the program it described that sunk us but those two dirty words "parapsychology" and "controversy," the former monumentally distorted in our present climate, and the latter, evoking a sincere and often well-founded fear of consequences.

Our accrediting agency are themselves up for re-authorization soon and it is possible they had in their minds an example of a former accreditation agency that lost its authorization as an agency after accrediting another even more controversial field. I don't blame the folk at our agency or on their Accrediting Commission for shying away from approving our plans one bit. They have a responsibility to the other schools they accredit just like I have a responsibility to our students here at Atlantic University. We're all bound by our responsibilities to maintain our compliance with the best practices of higher education administration. And, having had the career I've had in the field, I understand full well the risks of sticking your neck out.

I had just hoped that the time was finally right to put together a graduate level program that focused entirely and specifically on parapsychology, on the wide and deep body of knowledge we have amassed, on the methodology, on the interconnections with other sciences, and so on. I have long resisted the notion of embedding a little bit of parapsychology in a program about something related, or something one step up theoretically like consciousness studies because in those programs, no matter how well they are constructed, the full range of content of our field are necessarily, pragmatically bracketed, stuck in a tiny pot on the hob at the back, not enough to feed everybody but at least not big enough to draw unwanted attention.

I am a firm believer that the title of the program has to have a significant and well-thought-through relationship to the curriculum that is on offer under that title. Our agency, bless their hearts, spent some time with me last week trying to give me options to put together something more palatable, less controversial, that would do at least some of what we wanted to do with the MA in Para program, albeit not all. I'm grateful for those ideas. Our Para Curriculum Subcommittee (AU Faculty Carlos and I, Loyd Auerbach, Christine Simmonds-Moore, and Jim Matlock) will be chewing on them in the near future. In the meantime we have a Masters of Arts in Transpersonal Studies with a single course that includes the word "parapsychology" in the title and a slew of great faculty to mentor folks who want to do their Culminating Project on the field with us. That's good, of course.

In any case what I've said here doesn't really express how disappointed I am that we can't do what's really needed for the field.

Here's hoping that sometime, somewhere we all find ourselves in a climate that's finally devoid of skeptical rant, in which academic freedom doesn't come with a cost that is just too high to pay.

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