The Latest on the CCSF Accreditation Controversy

It’s been a bit more than two months since I’ve posted on the continuing conflict between faculty, staff, and students at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which has threatened to revoke CCSF’s accreditation on what many — including San Francisco’s City Attorney and other prominent political leaders — consider dubious grounds.  (For the most recent post go here; see also my original post of July 8 and subsequent posts on July 13, August 13, and November 8.)  As the clock continues to tick down to the ACCJC-imposed deadline of July 31 for the revocation of CCSF’s accreditation and the upcoming October trial date for the SF City Attorney’s lawsuit against the closure, several recent developments are worth reporting, including the first prominent defense of CCSF by other California community college administrators.

On April 12, ACCJC chair Sherill Amador and vice-chair Steven Kinsella published an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, which repeated many of ACCJC’s oft-refuted charges about alleged “deficiencies” at CCSF but proposed  that the college “seek reaccreditation by applying for ‘candidacy’ status.”  According to Amador and Kinsella, a “candidate college is eligible for federal financial aid and state funding; its students’ course credits are generally transferrable, and their degrees or certificates are recognized, as long as the college eventually obtains accreditation after a period of candidacy.”  The op-ed concluded that “Candidacy would allow City College a fresh start. It would have two to four years to complete its recovery and to ensure that it meets all accreditation standards.”

Soon, however, the Chronicle itself was reporting that the Amador/Kinsella piece was rife with factual errors:

Amador and Kinsella said in the piece that “a candidate college is eligible for federal financial aid and state funding.”

State law prohibits unaccredited colleges from receiving state funding, said Paul Feist, a spokesman for Brice Harris, chancellor of the California Community Colleges.

The accreditors’ claim is extraordinary because without state funding, public colleges must close.

“A college under ‘candidacy’ cannot receive state funding,” Feist said, citing California’s Code of Regulations. . . .

Another claim by the accreditors – that an unaccredited college can offer federal financial aid to its students – is also wrong, U.S. Department of Education officials said, speaking on background. They cited federal regulations saying it takes two years for a college that has lost accreditation to become eligible to offer such aid.

The piece by Amador and Kinsella did not mention the two-year gap.

Amador and Kinsella’s flawed op-ed piece was among the concerns that led Dr. Helen Benjamin on April 25 to write to the ACCJC on behalf of the Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges, of which she is the president and which is part of the Community College League of California.  Benjamin is Chancellor of the Contra Costa Community College District.  Her letter is worth reading in its entirety:

Dear Commission Members:

In our April 18, 2014, board meeting (Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges), we spent considerable time discussing the precarious status of City College of San Francisco (CCSF) in light of four recent events: (1) the April 13th Op-Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle by Commission members suggesting that CCSF “seek accreditation anew by applying for “candidacy” status”; (2) the recognition that CCSF would lose its apportionment if it moved into candidacy status; (3) the receipt of invoices by ACCJC member institutions in the last week indicating a 5% special assessment for legal fees; and, (4) two pending pieces of legislation proposing to allow California’s community colleges to seek accreditation from alternative national accrediting bodies.

We concluded that we share grave concern for the educational future of the more than 70,000 students and community members affected by the status of CCSF, as well as for our existing system of regional peer-reviewed accreditation. In the past, as members, we have deferred to the relationship between individual colleges and the Commission for remediation of identified deficiencies and, in all but one case, California’s public institutions have rebounded from sanction. However, the lesson from Compton Community College teaches us that we must raise our voice when a college’s accreditation is in imminent jeopardy and an alternative path is available.

Therefore, on behalf of the Chief Executive Officers of California Community Colleges, I request that you use your discretion to extend the accreditation termination date for City College of San Francisco by two years, and continue the college on Show Cause during that time.

The Commission’s July 3, 2013, action letter identifying the July 31, 2014, termination date states, “The Commission may extend this date at its sole discretion if it determines conditions warrant such action.” This statement is supported by federal regulations, which provide the following authority for such an extension: “If the institution or program does not bring itself into compliance within the specified period, the agency must take immediate adverse action unless the agency, for good cause, extends the period for achieving compliance.” (34 CFR 602.20)

As representatives of a majority of ACCJC’s member institutions, we believe there is more than ample cause for ACCJC to extend the period for achieving compliance for the benefit of both the students and community served by CCSF, as well as for all ACCJC member institutions. We note two significant institutional reasons to grant CCSF additional time – progress and impact of closure.

We write this letter knowing we are not privileged to all the information available to ACCJC. While the college may still have much to do in response to the findings of the Commission, we are very aware of significant progress made at CCSF addressing academic, financial and governance concerns. For any college to tackle this array of concerns in a short period of time is significant; for a college as complex as CCSF, this progress is considerable. It took many years for CCSF to accrue the Standards deficits identified by ACCJC in 2012, but the college’s progression undergirded by new leadership, assures us that the deficiencies will be corrected in far less time. We believe this is sufficient reason for ACCJC to find “good cause” pursuant to the federal regulations.

Further, the impact of closure must be weighed. Simply put, there is no manner by which CCSF can redirect the more than 70,000 remaining students to other higher education options in the Bay Area. California’s community colleges continue to be deeply impacted by the recession that led to $1.2 billion in cuts over four years. It is unreasonable that any college or consortium of colleges could immediately absorb even a portion of CCSF’s students and that the majority of CCSF students would have the resources to enable their attendance at colleges outside of San Francisco. We believe this reason alone is sufficient for ACCJC to find “good cause” pursuant to the federal regulations.

There is an additional significant reason to grant CCSF additional time for the benefit of every other ACCJC member institution. On or around April 14, ACCJC member colleges received a dues invoice from ACCJC that included a 5% surcharge, which appears to have averaged around $1,000 per college. This surcharge is to pay the legal costs incurred by ACCJC to date relating to CCSF. From the information provided, it appears this is to pay for costs already accrued and not for the significant future costs if one or more legal cases go to trial.

As the “funders” of ACCJC’s legal defense bills, we believe it is critical to exhaust every non-courtroom remedy to minimize our financial exposure as well as any negative impact on students throughout the state. Allowing CCSF to complete its significant turnaround benefits the students and community served by the college, the ACCJC, and every institutional member of ACCJC. This is sufficient for ACCJC to find “good cause” pursuant to the federal regulations.

There are many reasons to recognize “good cause” and provide CCSF additional time to meet full compliance with ACCJC’s standards. We urge your attention to this avenue and the benefit it brings not only to City College of San Francisco, but also to every other member institution that has been involuntarily brought into this matter.

We look forward to a favorable response to this letter.

Helen Benjamin, Ph.D. President, Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges

Benjamin’s letter soon circulated broadly and is available online at the CCSF Academic Senate site.   Also on that site is a response to Benjamin’s letter by CCSF Senate first vice-president Karen Saginor, which is also worth quoting in full:

Dear Dr. Benjamin,

I am writing to thank you and the CEOCCC for your April 25th letter to the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Whether the ACCJC responds positively or not, you have taken significant steps in a new direction. I deeply appreciate that you have been willing to depart from your past practice to requests a specific action on behalf of an individual college.

Just as significant is that you correct misinformation promulgated by ACCJC. It has been intensely demoralizing for the CCSF community to see public statements from ACCJC leaders that are misleading or flat-out untrue.

  •  “The Way Forward” by ACCJC leaders published April 13th in the San Francisco Chronicle claimed that if CCSF declared candidacy, the college would be eligible for federal financial aid and state funding. You say, “CCSF would lose its apportionment [funding] if it moved into candidacy status.” (Although not mentioned in your letter, federal financial aid also would be lost under federal regulations that render a disaccredited college ineligible for two years.)
  •  ACCJC leaders have repeatedly asserted that the July 2014 termination decision cannot be extended. You cite the specific federal regulation that allows an extension “for good cause.”
  • When a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner (April 16, 2014) asked Dr. Barbara Beno about the federal regulation, she “countered that the commission would have had to declare that option in advance of voting to remove CCSF’s accreditation.” You point out that Dr. Beno’s letter announcing the termination decision stated, “The Commission may extend this date at its sole discretion if it determines conditions warrant such action.”
  • The central assertion of ACCJC’s “The Way Forward,” is that candidacy “is a path forward that will protect students, taxpayers, and the San Francisco community servedby the college.” Your letter makes it quite clear that candidacy would do none of these things. Indeed, ACCJC’s proposal is a plan to destroy CCSF.

As of this writing, “The Way Forward” is still being published on the ACCJC website without correction of its false statements. I am very grateful that the CEOCCC does not support falsehoods promulgated by ACCJC leaders.

Sadly, false statements are not new to ACCJC’s leadership. For example, ACCJC has been asserting for some time that CCSF received more than two years in which to address deficiencies, including making a claim that CCSF failed to meet standards in 2006. But the fact is that ACCJC first notified City College of deficiencies in July, 2012, not previous to that date. Nine months later on April 3-5, 2013 the Show Cause Team visited CCSF and reviewed the report submitted in March. Those nine months were the basis on which ACCJC issued the decision to terminate accreditation for lack of timely progress in meeting standards. Since that visit over one year ago, ACCJC has offered no opportunity for CCSF to provide the commission with a report, no opportunity to demonstrate to a Visiting Team our ongoing intensive work in compliance with standards. Thus, the assertion that CCSF had two years in which to address deficiencies is untrue.

The power of ACCJC over CCSF and other community colleges has created a topsy turvy world in which assent to untruthful statements is regarded as virtuous – when those untrue statements are made by ACCJC. Unwillingness or inability to believe ACCJC pronouncements is dangerous, widely regarded as jeopardizing the future of one’s college. So when “The Way Forward” appeared in our local newspaper, I was not surprised that some members of our community initially urged cooperation with a candidacy plan, notwithstanding the preponderance in the article of assertions contrary to fact. Within a few days, Chancellor Tyler announced decisively to the CCSF community that CCSF would not give up its accreditation and seek candidacy, but his letter was of necessity circumspect and did not directly correct the untruthful assertions of “The Way Forward.”

Your letter does not accept ACCJC pronouncements as unquestionable. You provide specific information countering some of the false statements made by ACCJC leaders to members of the press and published in “The Way Forward.” I am greatly encouraged by your having taken this new and significant step. I hope that your willingness to affirm facts correcting misinformation promulgated by ACCJC leaders will serve as a model going forward. Evidence based decision making, candid acknowledgment of shortcomings, willingness to change – these excellent principles of accreditation are essential for identifying problems and developing effective improvements within colleges, within the accrediting agency, and throughout higher education.

Thank you for your groundbreaking letter.
Karen Saginor
First Vice President, City College of San Francisco Academic Senate

To be continued!

7 thoughts on “The Latest on the CCSF Accreditation Controversy

  1. ACCJC is controlled by a Power Elite of Beno, Gornick, Amador, and Kinsella that is more interested in power projection than the welfare of students and the community.

    ACCJC promotes the myth of being a peer membership organization. However, functionally, member institutions have little say in its internal processes.

    Accreditation Standards are written by Beno & Staff. They are then agreed upon by 19 Commissioners, many, if not most, of whom are self-selected insiders. Many are retired administrators (Sherrill Amador, nominally a “public member” is actually a retired administrator of Palomar College).

    The illusion of peer membership is proffered by the fact that institutions (represented by CEO’s/Chancellors) are allowed to vote for the Commissioners. However, how are the 19 candidates for the Commission selected? The mechanism per Bylaws is as follows:
    The ACCJC Executive Committee, consisting of Chair, Vice Chair, and Chair of the Budget & Personnel Committee (Amador, Kinsella, Gornick respectively), chooses eight (8) people to populate a Nominating Committee. This Nominating Committee, whose members have been selected by Amador, Kinsella & Gornick, then chooses the candidates available for election/voting by the member institutions.

    It is in this manner that the nominating and election mechanism is skewed so that most Commissioners are insiders.

    ROLE OF ACCCJC: ASSURING EDUCATIONAL QUALITY, OR POWER PROJECTION?
    Code of Federal Regulations promulgates the purpose of accreditation:
    § 602.1 Why does the Secretary recognize accrediting agencies?
    (a) The Secretary recognizes accrediting agencies to ensure that these agencies are, for the purposes of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), or for other Federal purposes, reliable authorities regarding the quality of education or training…

    However, the policies, procedures and decisions to achieve this overarching purpose is left almost entirely to the accrediting agency. Federal Regulations give accrediting agencies free reign to enact standards and policies as they wish (Furthermore, US Department of Education has no enforcement power over accrediting agencies.):
    § 602.16 (e) An agency that has established and applies the standards in paragraph (a) of this section may establish any additional accreditation standards it deems appropriate.
    § 602.23 (f) The agency may establish any additional operating procedures it deems appropriate.
    The leadership of ACCJC has taken full advantage of the freedom provided by these Regulations to do as they “deem appropriate”—even when contrary to the purpose of assuring “quality of education and training” as enunciated in CFR 602.1.

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