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The nation’s largest chiropractic college is seeking a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court in Georgia that would immediately restore the college’s accreditation. In addition, the suit, filed by Life University in Marietta, Ga., is seeking damages totaling more than $100 million from the Council on Chiropractic Education Inc. (CCE), two of its officers and the council’s accreditation arm. The suit claims that Life University was stripped of its chiropractic accreditation as retaliation against Life’s founder and former president Sid E. Williams in a process that has “run amok.” According to the complaint, CCE Executive Vice-President Dr. Paul D. Walker informed Life’s current president that “Life never should have lost accreditation and that such action was due to ‘that demagogue,’ Dr. Williams.” The suit also claims that CCE’s Commission on Accreditation conducted “a flawed and biased process” that favored a “liberal” chiropractic philosophy at odds with a more conservative philosophy taught at Life University. As a result, the accreditation commission stripped Life University of its accreditation last year and barred it from reapplying for two years. Indeed, according to the suit and several attached affidavits, after Life University lost its accreditation appeal last October, Walker “stepped out of the hearing room, sat down at a piano steps outside the door of the hearing room and played a celebratory tune.” Walker could not be reached for comment by phone or e-mail at his council office in Scottsdale, Ariz. But in an open letter to the chiropractic profession that was posted on the CCE Web site last November, CCE President Reed B. Phillips and Joseph Brimhall, chairman of the group’s accreditation commission, wrote that “purposeful misinformation from some sources” regarding the CCE’s recent accreditation actions had “created false perceptions that CCE is a small group of controlling individuals with a political agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth, for CCE is just the opposite.” GROUP REORGANIZED IN ’99 According to the letter, CCE reorganized in 1999 to remove all special interest representation that might influence the accreditation commission, including college presidents who could control the same CCE requirements by which their own institutions were evaluated. The reason for the change, according to the letter: In 1995, some of the accreditation decisions were “seriously questioned by important entities in the profession.” Though the letter doesn’t identify Life University by name, the letter noted that the accreditation commission “had been addressing concerns with that program for over seven years,” and that the school ultimately did not comply with CCE’s standards. As a result of losing its accreditation, Life University also is facing a potential class action by current and former chiropractic students in Georgia’s Cobb Superior Court. The students claim that Life’s failure to maintain its accreditation has cost them tuition and valuable academic credits toward a degree. The students are represented by W. Pitts Carr and Render C. Freeman of Carr, Tabb, Pope & Freeman. Staiano v. Life University, No. 02-1-0925305 (Cobb Super., Dec. 9, 2002). ENROLLMENT PLUMMETS According to Life University’s suit, the loss of accreditation has caused its chiropractic student enrollment to plummet from 2,100 to 300. The school has eliminated 100 faculty and 100 staff jobs. And chiropractic licensing boards in a number of states are acting to remove Life University from their lists of approved schools — actions that, according to the suit, “will make it impossible for Life graduates to become licensed in those states.” On Thursday, the Georgia Board of Chiropractic Examiners was to consider a proposed rule change that would remove Life University from its list of approved schools, meaning that students who subsequently graduate from Life University will not be eligible for chiropractic licensure in this state. A hearing regarding the temporary restraining order request also was scheduled Thursday before U.S. Senior District Judge Charles M. Moye Jr. of the Northern District of Georgia. The suit was filed Jan. 2; Life University v. Council on Chiropractic Education, Inc., No. 1:03-cv-0004 (N.D. Ga., Jan. 2, 2003). Life University was founded in 1974 and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and certified by the U.S. Department of Education to participate in federal student aid programs, according to the complaint. Its College of Chiropractic, until last year, had been accredited by the CCE for 17 years. The CCE’s accrediting arm is the only accreditor of chiropractic education programs that is recognized by the Department of Education. EDUCATIONAL SHIFT The suit claims that, beginning in 1997, the CCE began shifting from a conservative to a more liberal educational philosophy and began to restructure its accreditation process accordingly. The conservative philosophy, which Williams promoted, teaches that the scope of chiropractic care should be limited to diagnosis and adjustment of the spine or other parts of the body’s musculo-skeletal structure. Prescribing homeopathic pharmaceuticals was considered “outside the scope” of chiropractic, according to the suit. The competing liberal philosophy allegedly embraced by the CCE encourages a chiropractic doctor to go beyond the diagnosis and treatment of the muscular and skeletal systems and serve as a primary care physician, “but without any medical school training or residency,” the suit claims. “In this capacity, the doctor of chiropractic makes the preliminary diagnosis for all patient complaints and either treats the patient directly, or refers the patient to the proper branch of medicine for treatment,” according to the suit. Stripping Life University of its accreditation, the suit claims, was “calculated to ensure the incapacitation of the largest economic competitor and educator of conservative chiropractors … .” The CCE’s 2002 standards, published on its Web site, claim that the CCE does not seek to define or support any particular chiropractic philosophy. In 1997, Williams publicly opposed the liberal chiropractic philosophy in testimony before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, according to the complaint. Williams opposed a proposed CCE policy that would have required chiropractic colleges to adopt a higher grade-point-average admissions standard. During one “heated exchange” in a memo between Williams and Walker on the same topic in 2001, Walker “was both threatening and prescient, writing, ‘Attention to your personal comments about me will await a more propitious moment, and possibly a more effective avenue,’” according to the suit. ACCREDITATION PROBLEMS In 1999, after the CCE conducted what the suit described as a “massive reorganization,” Life University began having accreditation troubles. That year, the college was privately sanctioned by the accreditation commission, which expressed “concerns” about its program. Two years later, the commission deferred reaffirmation of Life’s accreditation and placed Life on probation. In the suit, Life University claims the probation was triggered by “a disgruntled former Life faculty member” who formally complained to the CCE. Last January, a team of officials from other chiropractic schools was sent by the CCE to assess whether Life University’s accreditation should be affirmed. According to the suit, that team was biased, including at least three members from schools Life University considers as competitors. When Life University lost its accreditation last year, several of its competitors, including schools whose officials had been members of the on-site accreditation team, offered financial incentives and sent representatives to Marietta to solicit transfer students, according to the suit and several affidavits. In an affidavit, Life University’s chiropractic dean, Deborah Pogrelis, wrote that when Life University was stripped of its accreditation, administrators were told the university was not in compliance with four CCE standards. But the letter “stated no facts upon which this conclusion was based.” When Life University lost its appeal of that decision last October, the school of a member of the appeals panel (at whose home the confidential hearing was held) offered to buy Life University, according to the suit. Atlanta attorneys Frank B. Strickland, Mary M. “Peggy” Brockington and Anne Ware Lewis of Strickland Brockington Lewis are representing Life University, along with Stanley A. Freeman and Sherry Mastrostefano Gray of Powers, Pyles, Sutter & Verville in Washington, D.C.

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