Faculty unions continue to have concerns
On the heels of a successful effort to prevent the 80,000-student City College of San Francisco from losing its accreditation, the much smaller College of the Sequoias in Visalia has been saved from a similar fate. Sanctions from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) have been lifted and the campus is open for business.
Still, faculty are questioning the methods of the commission under the direction of its president, Barbara Beno. The structure of its meetings – the public is only invited to be present for a few hours – and its strict rules about the freedom of its members to speak in public about the commission make it appear to be a secretive organization with little accountability.
“Many of the faculty here stepped up to help work through the problems and the administration has given the faculty credit for that, but we still have grave concerns about the ACCJC’s process. It still needs to be evaluated as to what they are doing, and we are still questioning its motives,” said Lisa Greer, president of the College of the Sequoias Teachers Association.
“When you look at the number of schools that the ACCJC has put on warning or probation, it’s just hard to believe that California would have so many more than the rest of the country,” she said.
The ACCJC is a private education association that accredits public and private community colleges in California, Hawaii and the Pacific Territories. In the fall, the commission had issued sanctions to 20 publicly funded community colleges in California, far more than any other commission in the United States.
College of the Sequoias had been put on “show cause” by the commission for a “poor campus environment.” While faculty protested the charge – especially since the college had just received a clean accreditation in 2006 – it worked together with students and administrators to do what it needed to do.
In the meantime, faculty hackles have been raised throughout California, and the workings of the commission has come under heavy scrutiny by federal, state, and local authorities.
To be sure, faculty and student organizing can be given a good deal of credit in preventing the College of the Sequoias, the City College of San Francisco and the CCA-affiliated Victor Valley College from losing their accreditation and shutting down.
At City College of San Francisco, the California Federation of Teachers-affiliated faculty union, (with the support of others, including CCA/CTA), kept the issue in the public eye, and worked on three fronts with the federal Department of Education, the state Legislature and local officials to slow the process down. In December, a court order was issued preventing the college’s accreditation from being revoked – at least for now. The state is also conducting an audit, and the federal Department of Education has reprimanded the commission.
The issue has also caught the attention of the media.
Most recently, The Los Angeles Times editorial board sounded off: “The commission that accredits California’s community colleges is under fire from above and below. The federal government has given it a year to improve its performance, noting, among other criticisms, that it has too few educators on its panels. That might help explain the groundswell of discontent among the colleges, which need the commission’s approval to keep their classroom doors open; many of them contend that it is harshly punitive and insufficiently focused on the quality of education.”
The infamous Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges has not been eliminated as some faculty might wish, but it has been significantly damaged by a barrage of criticism, rebukes and lawsuits. Hopefully, some sanity will return to the process.