CCSF Update: Dept of Education Says Accrediting Commission is “Out of Compliance”

by Rick Sterling on August 14, 2013

On August 13, the Accreditation Group of the U.S. Department of Education issued a decision regarding complaints filed by California Federation of Teachers and others against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).

They have determined that ACCJC is “out of compliance” with required criteria for recognition including:
* composition of review teams
* conflict of interest
* due process

Critics of the Accrediting Commission have been vindicated but the battle continues.

The outside administrators running CCSF are fond of saying “Don’t argue with the umpire.” They have complained frequently about faculty, students and the community who say that the Accrediting Commission is biased and its decisions regarding CCSF are unfair.

However the Accreditation Group of the US Department of Education has just issued its ruling that there is substantial merit to the case of the critics. Now it’s really simple: If the outside appointed administrators are on the side of CCSF they will be cheering. If they are actually on the side of the private agency known as ACCJC, they will be mourning or “disappointed”.

Let’s follow the “umpire” analogy a little further. A baseball manager knows that it is counterproductive to complain too much to the umpire. However any good manager also knows there comes a time when you have to yell at the umpire when there is evident bias or blatantly bad decisions. Sometimes SF Giants’ Manager Bruce Bochy has to get out of the dugout and defend his players. The manager knows the umpire will not reverse past decisions but it’s necessary for future decisions.

The July 2012 decision to put CCSF on “Show Cause” after never having been on sanction was clearly excessive. The Chancellor of California Community Colleges at the time, Jack Scott, said so. The latest decision, threatening to remove accreditation in July 2014, is an insult to anyone who cares about education and the San Francisco community.

All credible data shows that CCSF is a superior community college. In fact, CCSF out-performed nearly every community college in its cohort group in essential “student success”. It also out-performed the college that “Super Trustee” Agrella recently retired from.

How did we end up in this situation where a college which is popular enough to win 73% public support for a parcel tax, and which performs well academically, is being threatened with closure?

The answer is that the “Umpire” in this case makes up his/her own rules. Unlike the national pastime where the rules are clear and universal, in this case the Accrediting Commission has created its own unique set of “standards” which it alone, in total secrecy, then judges colleges by.

According to the US Dept of Education, the ACCJC review team is excessively composed of retired or active administrators with almost no participation of teaching faculty or members of the public. The same is true for the official Accrediting Commission.

The Chairperson of the Commission, supposedly representing the “public,” is actually a retired administrator. Another member of the commission, supposedly representing “faculty,” is not a teacher but an “Institutional Effectiveness Coordinator” and “Articulation Officer”.

In addition to the bias resulting from lack of teachers and public in the Evaluation Teams and Commission, the Dept of Education Accreditation Group (which oversees all accreditation organizations in the country) expressed the view that ACCJC does not meet criteria regarding conflict of interest and providing “due process” to institutions. ACCJC has created a fuzzy notion of “recommendation” which can either imply a serious deficiency requiring immediate correction or simply an area where improvement is suggested. The difference, of course, is huge but the interpretation has been at the subjective discretion of ACCJC leadership. In all these respects, ACCJC has not been meeting the criteria for continued recognition as an authorized Accrediting agency.

California Community College Chancellor Harris says that he does not want CCSF to be the battlefield for a dispute with the Accrediting Commission. In a way, that’s true because the accrediting commission decision regarding CCSF is only the latest and most outrageous of a long series of policies and actions which hurt our community colleges. But while CCSF faculty, staff and administration continue to make changes to meet the Accrediting Commission demands, a serious critique of those policies and actions needs to continue in parallel.

It is essential not just for CCSF but for all California community colleges.

CCSF and other college leaders should stop complaining about the critics of the Accrediting regime and start defending CCSF much more pro-actively. They should also make clear they do not agree with the outrageous ACCJC sanctions against CCSF.

Whatever course the appointed CCSF leadership takes, criticism of ACCJC is not going to stop. In fact, as the ACCJC comes up for review by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity which makes a recommendation to the Dept of Education, , it is likely going to increase. This Accrediting agency, a private organization heavily funded by a foundation directly connected to the student loan industry, operating under its own rules in secrecy which has been compared to the CIA, needs to be much more accountable.

While it is understandable that Community College leaders are fearful of the ACCJC, they need to act on principle. Some have done that. For example the Chancellor of College of San Mateo openly expressed the view that ACCJC actions are excessively harsh.

Other education leaders have spoken about the contrast between good accreditation review and the way that ACCJC is operating. For example a former Academic Dean from Cal Poly contrasted the way accreditation has worked at the CSU level with the way it is being done by ACCJC at the Community College level. Dean Emeritus Jon M. Ericson wrote the following:

“As one who served as an Academic Dean in the CSU for nearly twenty years, I know that most Accreditation teams work cooperatively with institutions, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and then working constructively to assist the institution to achieve its mission. In contrast, B. Beno’s team appears to work more like a wrecking ball, determined to tear down so what is rebuilt is in the Beno/Administration image. The motivation of the ACCJC should be examined. “

The evidence is clear that the ACCJC is not operating as it is supposed to. The question is which side the outside people supposedly running CCSF are on.

Any good baseball manager knows that you don’t succeed with a bad umpire by cowering in the dugout and criticizing your own team.

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