Posted on Sat, Sep. 07, 2002

Reasons for Life University's doldrums

Special to the Telegraph

University denied reaccreditation

The recent turmoil at Life University has caused a lot of confusion, now that the largest chiropractic college in the world has lost its accreditation from the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE), the only chiropractic-accrediting agency formally recognized by the United States Department of Education.

First of all, this was not an indictment on the entire chiropractic profession, but it was a denunciation on bad chiropractic education. Chiropractic was simply the discipline being taught in this case, and the inadequacy of the educational training was solely the issue.

On June 10, Dr. Sid Williams, the president/founder of Life, was notified by the CCE's Committee on Accreditation that Life's application for reaffirmation of accreditation was denied.

In fact, both the CCE and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the regional accreditation agency for all schools and colleges in the Southeast, had placed Life on public sanction last year for numerous violations - clear warnings that Life was in deep trouble.

A college on steroids

This Enron-type scandal began years ago at Life in the early 1980s when the federal government initially included chiropractic students in its graduate student loan program for health professionals.

Dr. Williams found this to be a huge source of income. The total costs for a four-year chiropractic degree exceed $100,000 . With minimal entrance requirements compared to other chiropractic colleges and a massive TV recruiting budget, Life quickly grew to 3,600 chiropractic students, more than any other chiropractic college in history.

In effect, Life has been a chiropractic college on steroids with a bludgeoning student body that flooded the state with grads - the latest 2000 census showed Georgia had the fifth most Doctors of Chiropractic in the entire nation along with the sixth lowest gross income.

In its short 28-year existence, Life graduated over 12,000 students, nearly one-fifth of all chiropractors worldwide. As well, Life graduates not long ago defaulted on student loans at an astounding 25 percent rate. Life grads have also led many state licensure exams in failure rates.

Dumbing-down Life

The main problem CCE found in Life's core curriculum was that it simply failed to produce competent primary care physicians (PCPs) as required by CCE standards and state laws for doctors of chiropractic (DCs). Aside from rendering treatment, PCPs are held to a higher measure than therapists because PCPs must be able to render a diagnosis and manage the patient's health care as well as provide treatment or to refer when necessary. Dr. Williams contends that chiropractors should not be held responsible for any medical diagnosis and should only have to "detect and correct vertebral subluxations," which is chiropractic parlance for spinal misalignments that may cause pain and neuro-muscular-spinal disorders that DCs treat so successfully. In effect, by ignoring differential diagnostics, Life was producing "chiropractic therapists" instead of "doctors of chiropractic," an outdated version of "straight" chiropractic education from the 1950s when Dr. Williams was educated, but considered inadequate by today's CCE standards.

Blind leading the blind

Aside from the failure of Life to produce competent PCPs, it also had many problems in its student clinics with clinical doctors inexperienced in actual practice and too few qualified instructors (Ph.D.) on staff in the classrooms. CCE and SACS discovered that many on staff had no professional experience in the field. In effect, Life's classrooms and clinics often had the blind leading the blind.

Who wants to be a millionaire?

Most astonishing was the revelation in The Chronicle of Higher Education that Dr. Williams was the highest paid college president in the entire nation with a total compensation package over $900,000 annually, which in comparison to other college presidents, was more than the combined salaries of the presidents of Harvard and Yale. Charges of nepotism also arose when it was found that he employed his family members and his best friend as executives, and together their combined salaries were over $2.7 million

"I'm the daddy"

Both the CCE and SACS reports noted complaints by the faculty about the repressive academic environment at Life.

Williams banned books, censored instructors, purged dissidents and prohibited lecturers whom he disliked, including the president of the American Chiropractic Association.

Apparently, the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s had bypassed Life; the only one free to speak at Life was Williams himself. He treated his students and staff as children, and often told them, "I'm the daddy."

Both the CCE and SACS reports also noted the lack of budgeting for genuine research at Life. According to the Journal of Manipulative and Physiologic Therapeutics, in its first 25 years, Life published a grand total of seven peer-reviewed papers while National College of Chiropractic published over 220.

The after-life for chiropractic

It's obvious that Williams had out-lived his usefulness to the chiropractic profession. Life had earned its reputation as a diploma mill that flooded the Southeast.

As of this moment, the Board has appealed CCE's decision, Dr. Williams and his family were forced to resign and a new interim president was appointed. Many superfluous programs have been cut to lower the overhead.

Hopefully this account clarifies the turmoil surrounding Life University and its loss of accreditation. However, stay tuned, there's more to come later.

J.C. Smith, MA, DC, is a resident of Warner Robins.

© 2001 telegraph and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.