And the Walls Come Tumbling Down
By: Dean Murakami
This is an updated version from my article published in FACCCTs.
There have been many concerns about the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) over the past several years. In 2009, Carl Friedlander from the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) presented a study showing that ACCJC in the Western Region had placed more community colleges on sanction than the other 5 regional accrediting agencies combined. In 2012 there were 28 community colleges on sanction, with 3 on show cause (Cuesta, Redwoods, & San Francisco). In addition, the scope of accreditation has expanded over the years to include collective bargaining issues such as performance review and financial issues. In the latest ACCJC College Survey, districts were required to report whether they negotiated salary increases above the statutory COLA. Faculty unions questioned whether it is appropriate for ACCJC to apparently micro-manage a community college district’s finances which are subject to collective bargaining. Since ACCJC is a private organization and seems to have little oversight or accountability for its decisions or actions there was never any discussion with collective bargaining agents or the State Chancellor’s Office as to whether this expansion of scope was appropriate. Complaints or inquiry to discuss those issues with ACCJC fell on deaf ears. In addition, a number of administrators expressed frustration as to the cost in time, effort, and budget to comply with the standards set forth by ACCJC, especially at a time of severe budget cuts. The amount of re-assigned time of administrators, faculty and staff, need to hire full time researchers, number & length of written reports, and the number of committees seemed such a burden compared to what little benefit could be achieved for students. Unfortunately, administrators and their districts would not voice their concerns due to the threat of retaliation by ACCJC by placing their college on sanction. This fear of ACCJC was due to the lack of accountability, lack of oversight, and the lack of transparency of the organization and it seemed to us that ACCJC felt as if it could act with impunity.
In 2009 Chancellor Jack Scott formed a task force to gather some of the accreditation issues and seek to get clarification, transparency, and potential changes from ACCJC. When Chancellor Scott had a letter from Consultation Council outlining these issues, he asked to have a meeting with the ACCJC Board of Governors, but was refused by Barbara Beno (ACCJC President). He asked if he could present these concerns to the next “public” ACCJC Board meeting, he was refused. After further conversation Chancellor Scott was allowed to read a short statement, but would get no questions or response from the board members. Barbara Beno’s interaction and later written response to Chancellor Scott was arrogant and devoid of any respect.
I think a lot of us were taken aback when the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) decided July 3, 2013 to revoke the accreditation of City College of San Francisco (CCSF) beginning July 2014, especially since it was such a short time following their show cause sanction (June 2012). I believe that what has happened at CCSF is the culmination of how ACCJC has lost its perspective in understanding the critical role community colleges play in the education of our students and the city’s cultural growth and economic development. In other words, ACCJC has found its own importance more essential than the educational needs of students. For example, the education that CCSF has provided to the students has always been of very high academic quality by almost any student success measure you might use. The ACCJC sanctions from Show Cause to a Loss of Accreditation were primarily due to critical fiscal and governance issues. It is hard to understand how revoking accreditation at CCSF better serves the students in the San Francisco area, but I think ACCJC has come to see its perfunctory process more important than the needs of the students and community. Why not keep CCSF under the Show Cause sanction, continue to serve the students and let the college work out its fiscal and governance issues? Wouldn’t that better serve the higher education needs of the community? CCSF is the largest community college in California that used to serve over 90,000 students in the San Francisco bay area. While under the Show Cause sanction CCSF has suffered a dramatic loss of enrollment. Now with the loss of accreditation, severe enrollment declines will most likely continue both this academic year and the next. The loss of enrollment at CCSF simply multiplies the already tremendous economic stress that may take decades to recover.
With this spirit of cooperation and communication in mind CFT decided to file a complaint to the ACCJC concerning many accreditation issues utilizing CCSF as the prime example of egregious procedural errors which led to an inappropriate loss of accreditation. When Fred Glass of CFT went to the ACCJC office to deliver the complaint, which is in accord with ACCJC protocol, he was told to leave the office, this was private property, and if he did not leave they would immediately call the police. Fred was again told to leave their private property, yet he tried to explain he was following exact ACCJC procedures for filing a complaint. Exasperated and under continual threat of arrest he asked if went to the public sidewalk, could one of them come out, time stamp the complaint, and take it. The ACCJC staff said that would be fine. Once Fred left the office, ACCJC locked the door and closed the blinds. On a later date the CFT complaint was finally delivered, but ACCJC refused to respond. As a result, CFT filed the complaint (third party comment) to the Department of Education (DOE) which asked ACCJC for a response. The response from ACCJC was short and cursory, but the DOE then demanded ACCJC provide a full and comprehensive response for each issue in the CFT complaint. ACCJC finally responded to the DOE and in the end the DOE found that 4 issues had merit in CFT’s complaint. You can view the DOE finding concerning ACCJC and CFT’s complaint at the FACCC website. The DOE had issues concerning the apparent conflict of interest with Barbara Beno’s husband serving on the accreditation committee for CCSF, the need to have more faculty represented on the accrediting committee for CCSF according to their own By-laws, the lack of clarification concerning the difference between the recommendation ‘to meet the standard” versus “to increase institutional effectiveness.” Also, it was not clear whether a recommendation means that an institution meets the standard, but could do better, or if the institution does not meet the standard and must take action outlined by the committee. The DOE also said ACCJC must make appropriate changes to those issues that they found merit in CFT’s complaint and that this complaint along with other comments would be considered as ACCJC’s contract is up for review this year. CFT deserves a lot of credit for filing the third party complaint.
Subsequently, third party comments were solicited by CFT to be sent to the Department of Education. These comments are taken while ACCJC is under review by the DOE to extend their contract. LRCFT filed a third party comment which can be read on our website. Others who filed third party comments include CFT, FACCC, AFT 2121 (City College of San Francisco), Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, CCCI, AAUP, Student Senate, Santa Monica Faculty Association, the union and academic senate from Southwestern Community College, and several others.
In addition, the California Community College Independents (CCCI) filed an ACCJC audit request with Senate authors Beall & Nielsen to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC). This audit requests the Bureau of State Audits to audit the accreditation process and three community college districts in order to determine the fiscal burden to comply with the ACCJC standards. On August 21, FACCC, CFT, CTA, and CCCI testified in strong support at the JLAC hearing. JLAC approved the request by Senators Beall & Nielsen with bipartisan support. Of particular interest was the statement by Senator Nielsen that in all his years of public service, he had never met with a more arrogant agency representative than ACCJC President Barbara Beno. See the JLAC hearing at: http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=1577
On August 22 San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has sued the ACCJC to rescind CCSF’s loss of accreditation. The suit focuses on issues concerning conflicts of interest (having Barbra Beno’s husband serve on the Accreditation Committee) and an “improper evaluation process” (unclear language & too few faculty on the committee). Subsequently, CFT has sued the ACCJC on similar grounds to keep CCSF open.
All of this is occurring while ACCJC is under review by the DOE that will determine whether ACCJC’s contract will be renewed. Therefore, this is a critical time for ACCJC and the CFT complaint, the audit, and other third party comments to the DOE has brought more pressure on ACCJC than ever before. The question becomes whether ACCJC can make the appropriate changes so that we can work cooperatively toward what is best for students or has the trust fallen so low that many faculty groups will only support to move accreditation to a different agency. How this will play out with the DOE is anyone’s guess, but the cracks in ACCJC have begun and it is possible that the whole thing comes tumbling down.