Volume 45 Number 2
More cooperation is needed
By Ron Norton Reel
For the past two years, CCA has made a concerted effort to work with the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), but it hasn’t been easy.
The commission is, of course, the two-year college subset of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges authorized by the Department of Education to oversee accreditation in the western United States. It has been the cause of much disquiet among community college faculty.
Let me say that although CCA has always been a staunch supporter of the accreditation process, we have become increasingly concerned that the commission is encroaching on areas that we believe should be determined by the collective bargaining process under California law.
Student Learning Outcomes
For example, one of these issues that has been a hot topic on our campuses recently is that the Accrediting Commission has suggested that Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) be required as part of instructor evaluation. Again, we are not opposed to our colleges assembling SLOs, should union and faculty decide to do so, but we, the union, must be part of the process in determining how they are to be used. We do not believe they should be used as part of faculty evaluation.
CCA is not alone in its concern that the commission has been overreaching its jurisdiction. Administrators and boards of trustees are also expressing concerns regarding the policies that were being followed. The situation has so roiled some, that several individuals who were serving on accreditation visitation teams no longer wish to serve. Concerns are also being raised by the California Community College Board of Governors and the Consultation Council, an alliance of statewide faculty associations and the academic senate. In reaction to this concern, the chancellor this summer assembled a task force to examine the situation.
The task force, which includes representatives from eight constituencies, created a survey that was sent to every local college president and faculty liaison to the accreditation process for each college. From the information collected in the survey, the task force developed seven recommendations.
Once the recommendations were completed, the task force requested a meeting with Barbara Beno, president of the commission, and other commissioners to provide a “low-key” and less formal approach to address our concerns and to reach some sort of consensus.
Task force representatives initially met with five of the commissioners who then made it very clear they could not respond on behalf of the entire commission. Later, the task force decided on a letter to the Accrediting Commission requesting permission to appear at its January 6, 2010 Public Agenda meeting.
A letter from Beno on December 11 rejected the task force’s request. The task force then sent another letter pointing out that the commission’s own bylaws allowed the allowed the task force to address the commission.
Commission Chairperson Lurelan Gaines, however, informed Chancellor Jack Scott in a letter, that — in consultation with Beno — she decided against granting the task force permission to address the commission. Instead, she indicated that the commission would respond in writing to each of the suggested recommendations in due course.
Becoming annoyed by the lack of respect shown by the commission, the task force decided to attend the commission meeting on January 6 to demonstrate its solidarity. We truly wanted the commissioners to see a consolidated effort to ensure the success of the accreditation process we all support.
When we showed up at the designated time and place, a note was posted outside of the meeting room that the commission was in closed session and no public entry could take place until both of the doors were opened. Once the doors were opened and we entered the room, Beno read a communication that stated the chancellor’s task force would not be able to make a presentation at this public session. The task force members stayed until afternoon and finally left without having any commissioner ask for any of us to speak.
The next day, Chancellor Jack Scott received an email granting him permission to speak for five minutes on Friday, Jan. 9 at 2:00 p.m. Dr. Scott, accompanied by Nicki Harrington, representing college chief executive officers, and Academic Senate President Jane Patton, arrived at the appointed time and was given his allotted five minutes, exactly. Neither Harrington nor Patton were allowed to speak.
Response not acceptable
A 10-page letter was sent to Chancellor Scott on Jan. 20 responding to the seven recommendations. The ACCJC responses varied. Their stances included the fact they felt ample feedback from member institutions had been provided, suggested they provide sufficient workshops, continued to insist colleges need to be in compliance with standards as stated, suggested that compliance leads to institutional improvement, and finally regarding the recommendation regarding encroachment on negotiable issues suggested that this was not in the best interests of institutional quality or students to be discussed. The commission’s response may be a starting point for discussions, however, the commissioners should spend some quality time in their March meeting and actually respond with conviction and cooperation as a guiding light a response that is not just defensive and accusatory.
When 110 of your 135 colleges begin to question the leadership and direction of an organization, perhaps it is time to address those recommendations and concerns before those clients go elsewhere.