In college administrations, it’s all about how you say things, or not say them – while saying them.

Hampden-Sydney College alumni have recently had to grapple with this scourge. Take the kerfuffle, or brouhaha, over accreditation standards directed to Hampden-Sydney College from SACS – the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission.

Today’s culture demands strident adherence to sly political correctness – or speak. Even an alert, expectant audience winds up almost comatose from intentionally massaged messaging; or, non-presented messaging – but in pretense presentation. There is no joy in Mudville over this business.

Concerning the warning to Hampden-Sydney College, by SACS – over accreditation standards, I border on infuriation that the college was clearly maligned December 11, 2013, by Times-Dispatch “news” reporting. With consternation, college leadership seemed to disentangle itself in Hamlet-esque fashion, playing the role of elite detached observer.

Energized with journalistic attack, a RTD headline drummed: Hampden-Sydney, Norfolk State University placed on warning. The story then proceeds to assure that THEY (as if there is ANY correlation between Hampden-Sydney College, and Norfolk State University) “remain accredited under the 12-month warning they received.” Karin Kapsidelis, professional RTD reporter, had to know better. As a sometime columnist, dabbling with Richmond area public education issues, I’ve followed Ms. Kapsidelis’ reporting closely – with strong admiration.

Why the misleading story, centering on the widely respected, 11th oldest college in the nation? Carrying nearly 240 years of liberal arts tradition, and annually producing first-rate male graduates, this institution deserved better. That Hampden-Sydney made such headlines in the Times-Dispatch on SACS agency findings is not a “Claude Raines” shock. The story actually included only one sentence about the college – alas, the line was simply inaccurate.

News reporting today has “grown” away from the objective…to subjective, opinion-producing “news”; it desecrates age-old reliance of journalistic responsibility. This college is the latest recipient.

It’s uncomplicated to conclude that last year’s University of Virginia highly publicized story, carried such enticing journalistic appetite. This smaller, news morsel, was just too rich to pass up. Additionally, maybe a troubled Norfolk State University, with the challenges faced, needed some journalistic companionship. It’s almost contrived, egalitarian journalism at work. Still.

The news story generated unfair characterization for Hampden-Sydney College – totally misleading both potential students, and a reading public. By December 20th, a less than inspiring “clarification” appeared on the College Web Page…the damage was done. Attempting to paper-over ten days of non-reaction, with knees and feet together, it simply produced derision for the holiday season.

Anita Garland, Dean of Admissions at Hampden-Sydney College, nailed the dynamic directly: “it is my sense….had UVA not been involved in this particular meeting of SACS – UVA’s warning last year was highly publicized, shook the state (Commonwealth) of Virginia to its core, with editorial after article being written about the situation; and at this meeting UVA was to hear whether they would be continued on warning, removed from warning, or , perhaps, given a harsher sanction – our warning would not have been given the public face that it has, and H-SC would have gone about working on the points noted by SACS, AS WE ALWAYS HAVE.”

Garland, with street smarts, added Hampden-Sydney College has received SACS warnings before – as most institutions across the nation have – all resolved within the time frame that SACS gives. She noted that “rules and regulations of SACS change yearly”….a constantly in-motion monitoring, so to speak, which enlarges the challenge.

Finally, about SACS: they assess every college and university every five years; there are approximately 90 issues examined regularly – most colleges have at least a few deficiencies that are addressed within one year. SACS findings are not generally made public, but privately handled with the examined institution.

This flawed RTD news report centered on the SACS’ meeting, held in Atlanta. After addressing the hot UVA issue – with their nationally publicized “governance” problem, there was only left these “drafts” involving one for H-SC, a separate one for NSU. As only a draft, H-SC didn’t even see this coming.

So here we are….loyal friends and alumni, steamed, feeling legitimately maligned. People who cherish this liberal-arts gem – the 11th oldest college in the nation – have learned something: this inaccurate grouping of these institutions, in the newspaper, was bunk – and H-SC leadership simply hoped it woulda, coulda, evaporate…on its own.

Tain’t funny McGee.