ACCJC reacts dismissively in meeting
Community college faculty, students and even the media had a rude awakening when they attempted to gain entrance to a public session of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) in June.
A subset of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the ACCJC is an independent organization that accredits public and private community colleges in California, Hawaii and the Pacific territories. Under the direction of its president, Barbara Beno, the commission has become increasingly heavy-handed over the past few years, sanctioning a disproportionate number of institutions compared to the rest of the country. Currently, for example, 25 percent of California’s colleges have received sanctions from the commission.
The commission earned even more notoriety in the past year when it threatened the accreditation of the 90,000-student City College of San Francisco for what it said was a failure to track student outcomes and for budget problems. On July 3, The commission announced its decision to revoke the college’s accreditation as of June 2014, in spite of the Herculean efforts made by City College and its faculty, (represented by the California Federation of Teachers), to keep its doors open.
CCA Board members along with other faculty were able to experience the ACCJC firsthand at the June 7 meeting. After surrendering bags, briefcases, backpacks and recording devices, only 20 of those in line at the Marriott Burlingame were allowed to cross barricades to enter the meeting room, which had a capacity for many more visitors.
“I was appalled by the meeting,” said Elizabeth Maloney, a CCA board member and president of the San Joaquin Delta College Teachers Association. “There was such an overstated security presence, and when I started to take a photo I was told I would be kicked out.”
Only one faculty speaker
Except for two speakers who had been previously scheduled, no one was permitted to make comments. The one instructor allowed to speak, Teeka James, president of the faculty union at the College of San Mateo, had some strong words for the commission. Her remarks were made just weeks after the California Federation of Teachers filed a 260-page complaint calling for the reversal of the action against City College by the Commission. That complaint fell on deaf ears from the commission.
James criticized the commission on a variety of points, from its practice of escalating sanctions without explanation to its low representation of faculty on its evaluation teams.
“ACCJC is the most controversial accrediting body in this country, and is unfortunately viewed with distrust, concern and fear within the community colleges,” she said. “There is good reason to doubt ACCJC’s reliability as an accreditor. This results not only from its actions, but also many of its overly prescriptive policies and its failure to be transparent.”
Commissioners appeared to be dismissive of her remarks, asked provocative questions, and questioned her authority on the subject of accreditation.
Theresa Montaño, CTA Board member for higher education, was disturbed by the lack of public comments at the meeting and the disrespect shown to James.
“They totally demeaned faculty input,” Montaño said.
Faculty and teachers organizations including the faculty of CCSF, the Community College Association, the California Teachers Association, the Academic Senate and the California Faculty Association have pressured the Commission to be more forthcoming, transparent and collaborative with its constituent groups before it takes more drastic steps.
Among those critical of the accrediting commission is CTA President Dean E. Vogel, who agreed with the CFT complaint and detailed several concerns in a June 5 letter to Beno.
Vogel wrote, “There is no evidence that the California Community Colleges do not provide higher education of a comparable quality to that provided by community colleges in other regions,” yet the commission has issued an extraordinarily high number of sanctions compared to other regional commissions.
He also urged the commission to change its policies to work more collaboratively with its constituencies rather than subjecting them to public humiliation and causing widespread panic among students.