by Rick Sterling on July 8, 2013

On the second floor of a small office building in suburban Novato, California are the headquarters of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC). A “For Lease” sign is out front. ACCJC office neighbors on the second floor are “1st Global Capital” and “Big Cat Advertising”. The office is unassuming but ACCJC has managed to acquire the power to threaten the existence of community colleges throughout the state. The leadership of ACCJC has gone “all in” in a conflict with City College of San Francisco (CCSF). They have threatened to terminate the largest community college in the state, founded in 1935.

What are the real reasons for the conflict? Why is ACCJC so intent on shutting down CCSF as it has existed and served San Francisco?


First, let’s be clear: The threatened removal of accreditation from City College of San Francisco (CCSF) has NOTHING to do with the quality of education being provided at that college. Following are a few examples of the college’s quality:

* CCSF departments compete successfully against major universities across the nation.
This year the Journalism Department’s magazine earned 2nd place nation-wide in elite competition sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists. (That’s right, 2 year community college CCSF beats out Syracuse, Ohio State and many other major universities.)

* Student Satisfaction is high.
In 2010-11 poll 85.9% of students say they would recommend CCSF to a friend.

* Teacher quality is high.
In the above poll, students rate the Quality of Instruction at CCSF as 95% “Good” or “Excellent”.

* Completion rate is relatively high. As shown in data at the California Community College Chancellor’s office, completion for community college students throughout California is 49.2% vs 55.6% at CCSF.

* Community Satisfaction and support is high.
73% of San Francisco City residents voted to raise property taxes to support the CCSF in fiscal hard times.

* There is high competition to get into CCSF professional programs.
For example, the RN program has 585 applicants for 50 openings in Fall 2013.

* Even in the athletics arena also CCSF is a high performer.
This year their men’s basketball team was undefeated in the regular season with 28 wins and 0 losses.


Following are the “Recommendation Areas” which CCSF failed to “adequately address” and which are the purported cause for removing accreditation from CCSF:

Mission Statement, Effective Planning Processes, Student Learning Outcomes, Student Support Services, Human Resources, Physical Resources, Financial Planning and Stability, Financial Integrity and Reporting, Leadership and Decision Making, Governance Structures and Effective Board Organization.

Over the past year, since CCSF was on “Show Cause” sanction, there was intense work in all of the above areas.
CCSF faculty and administration put out enormous effort to respond to the “suggestions” of the ACCJC. The CCSF budget is balanced, the department chair structure at CCSF was streamlined and Student Learning Outcomes were widely implemented wherever they had been lacking.

The Board of Trustees followed the advice of the State Chancellor’s office and gave a free hand to the Interim Chancellor and appointed Special Trustee. Sweeping changes in structure were negotiated or imposed. Major cuts in salary were made. Plans were implemented to fully restore the financial reserve and the budget was balanced with extra reserve into the future.

Yet despite these changes, that was insufficient for ACCJC. What’s going on?

As elected CCSF Trustee Rafael Mandelman posted on Facebook:
“Now I’m sure the State Chancellor is a well-meaning man, but the fact is that his people have been in charge at the College for nearly a year, with the elected Board deferring to their direction on all matters. The problem is not the elected Board, or the State Chancellor, or an excess of democracy at the College. The problem is the ACCJC.”


ACCJC is a private not-for-profit organization associated with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). It is recognized by the US Department of Education for granting accreditation in California and Hawaii.

* ACCJC is led by two people with history of leadership conflict. ACCJC President since 2001 is Barbara Beno. She was previously head of Vista College until being fired from that position. In 2009 the teachers union in Contra Costa County voted “no confidence” in her leadership.
* ACCJC Commission Chairperson is Sherrill Amador. She wasd previously head of Palomar College where faculty voted overwhelmingly “no confidence” in her leadership.
* ACCJC is highly secretive, recently establishing policy to shred documents and meeting notes.
* ACCJC Commission is self selecting with control over who is nominated for election to the commission.
* ACCJC receives large grants from private foundations such as the Lumina Foundation, created in 2000 by the student loan industry.
* ACCJC policy and actions are strongly influenced by these grants.
* ACCJC’s parent WASC has encouraged the charter school movement in the K-12 area, offering accreditation advice and special services for a fee. The service is called “Accreditation Plus”.

ACCJC acts as though it (rather than the California Community College Chancellor) is running California community colleges. They determine when finances are bad, using their own standards rather than those established by the state Community College Chancellor’s office. They dictate that college mission statements need to change, even if the statement is in accord with the California Master Plan for Education.

In 2010 Chancellor Jack Scott presented the suggestions of a task force established to improve the accreditation process in California. Astoundingly, he was prevented from speaking directly to the Accreditation Commission. The written suggestions were rebuffed and discarded in a lengthy written response which brilliantly exemplifies the arrogance and dictatorial approach of ACCJC.

In 2012 ACCJC issued a sanction on nearly half the colleges they reviewed. According to the Spring 2013 “ACCJC News” the most common deficiency leading to sanctions is “Board Roles and Responsibilities”. The next most common is “Planning Using Assessment Results” followed by “Financial Management and Stability”.

What most of the public considers quality of education (teacher quality, course content and relevance, transfer success rates, counseling effectiveness) are not even on the chart.

Why? Perhaps it is because the ACCJC is led by administrators not teachers. For them college is an administrative and management issue. They take offense at the relative lack of administrators at CCSF. They evaluate a college by its management structure, by the obedience and discipline of the “work force” (ie teachers), by its fiscal discipline. CCSF has been responsive to community demands. Teaching has been prioritized. They have a higher percentage of full time teachers than most community colleges. At a time when many community colleges came to increasingly rely on part-time faculty paid by the hour, CCSF resisted the trend , maintained higher than average rate of full time teachers and maintained benefits for part-time faculty teaching at 50% or higher. Even though this results in better teaching, it is viewed negatively by fiscal management consultants and ACCJC.

“Internal governance” is another major cause of negative sanction by the ACCJC. There can be little doubt that ACCJC is hostile to the “shared governance” practice widely used in California. Along with Robert Shireman and other lobbyists funded by the Lumina Foundation, ACCJC advances the idea that college leader is CEO rather than chancellor or president. The difference in title is indicative of ACCJC strong preference for a corporate style of management. Hence the ACCJC emphasis on “Board Roles and Responsibilities” and “Internal Governance Issues”.

ACCJC criticisms of CCSF, and the supposed cause of the decision to terminate accreditation, are likewise clustered around management and financial issues. But are those the REAL reasons? It’s highly doubtful.

In April the teacher’s union filed a complaint against ACCJC with the Department of Education. Is ACCJC taking this drastic action to “make an example” of CCSF? The idea of killing a 78 year highly appreciated institution because they have not “fully addressed” some management structural issues or because you don’t like the mission statement is, frankly, preposterous.


According to the US Department of Education “the goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality”.

Education provided at CCSF has been not only acceptable but significantly better than average. Beginning with the outrageous “Show Cause” sanction, ACCJC has caused huge damage to this educational institution. By threatening to close it, they have created ever more turmoil for tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff.

Throughout the state ACCJC has abused their authority and turned what should be a system of improvement and quality control into a system of fear, punishment and education “reform” sponsored by private foundations.

It does not have to be this way. In other parts of the country, the regional accrediting agency works with institutions instead of against them. There is collaboration instead of forced compliance and fear.

ACCJC has gone “all in” by threatening to terminate CCSF, the biggest institution under its control and the one most able to question their dictates.

ACCJC’s abuse of authority needs to be exposed and stopped for the sake of CCSF and all community colleges in California.

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