ACCJC Again Denies CCSF Accreditation

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) has upheld its 2013 decision to terminate the accreditation of City College of San Francisco (CCSF), but the move will not affect the current status of the college, which remains open and fully accredited.  ACCJC announced its affirmation of the decision it made in June 2013 in a letter dated August 5 from Barbara Beno, the commission’s president, to CCSF leaders, including Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb and Special Trustee Guy Lease.  The commission had been ordered to reconsider that decision as part of an injunction and judgment handed down in San Francisco Superior Court earlier this year in response to a lawsuit that claimed the commission unfairly voted to strip CCSF of its accreditation two years ago.

“While we were hopeful for a different outcome, we’re not surprised and we were prepared for this result,” CCSF spokesman Jeff Hamilton said.  He added that the school remains focused on preparing its self-evaluation that is due next summer as part of the restoration process — a policy created last year that gives the school until January 2017 to meet all accreditation requirements.  Hamilton added that efforts to improve enrollment, which declined precipitously after the ACCJC decision raised concerns about the school’s future status, appear to have worked as the school is projecting a 3 percent enrollment increase for the fall semester.

In a press release issued August 6, the American Federation of Teachers, which represents faculty at the college, was less sanguine:

Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) again failed to provide due process when it announced yesterday, Aug. 5, that it had summarily rejected City College of San Francisco’s request for reconsideration of ACCJC’s flawed 2013 sanction disacrrediting the college.

“This latest action by the ACCJC clearly demonstrates it is unqualified to serve as an  accreditor of California’s public community colleges,” said California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt.

California Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow ruled earlier this year that the ACCJC had violated both state law and federal regulations and needed to provide CCSF with the due process it was denied. The judge ordered the commission to reconsider its earlier misguided decision.  ACCJC’s action comes despite the evidence compiled by hundreds of City College employees and students responding to the trial judge’s finding that ACCJC had failed to give City College notice of 11 new “deficiencies” not found by the ACCJC-appointed team, which visited City College in Spring 2013.  The team had recommended a lesser sanction.

“City College did its part and answered ACCJC’s notice with extensive evidence and arguments.  Yet, in its reply, the ACCJC does not make any effort to reconcile the response of the College to the initial explanation by the Commission,” said President Pechthalt. In spite of this action by the ACCJC, City College remains open and accredited pending a decision in January of 2017 after further evaluation.

City College of San Francisco faculty union AFT 2121 President Tim Killikelly also criticized the ACCJC’s decision saying: “Yesterday’s predictably unfair decision again violates the college’s due process and highlights the need for serious accreditation reform in California. Something needs to be done about the ACCJC.”

A bill from Assembly member Phil Ting (AB 1397) will impose new standards for accountability and transparency in accreditation. The bill passed the Assembly and is advancing in the State Senate with bipartisan support.

In a related recent development, four community colleges in Alameda County, across the bay from San Francisco, were placed on a watch list for accreditation problems by the ACCJC.  The four colleges — Berkeley City College, College of Alameda, Merritt College and Laney College — belong to the Peralta Community College District and have been put on notice that they must fix a multitude of problems to avoid the most severe sanction that nearly shut down CCSF.

The Peralta district itself, which serves 34,000 students, manages a $128 million budget and does long-term planning for the schools, was told by the commission to improve its financial planning, including its ability to pay retiree pension and health care obligations, know what its facilities cost to operate and comply with audits.  The requirement comes as the district reports it is hiring, giving raises, and socking away money in its reserves. It also comes two years after all four district colleges had been removed from the sanctions list after fixing earlier problems.

Two schools, the College of Alameda and Merritt College in Oakland, were placed on “probation” — the middle of three sanction levels before accreditation is revoked. The accrediting commission said Alameda falls short of 20 standards, while Merritt falls short of nine. Both were told to get a better understanding of how well their instructional methods work for students and to improve employee evaluations.  Peralta’s other two schools — Berkeley City College and Laney College in Oakland — were returned to the “warning” status that all four colleges escaped in 2013.  ACCJC claims that their assessment policies do not adequately document how well their instructional methods work for students.

One particular problem at Laney and at the College of Alameda is that more than half of courses at each school are now online, which the accreditors called a “substantive change” that must go through an approval process.

I don’t know much about these schools or whether the commission’s concerns are merited.  But ACCJC’s aggressive efforts to impose what some have called the “assessment agenda” and its insistence on quantifiable “metrics” for measuring “accountability” are well known and, perhaps, illustrate well the problems highlighted in a recent article on “The Costs of Accountability,” by Jerry Z. Muller, Professor of History at Catholic University, which I highly recommend.  Muller’s article is a nuanced and persuasive study of the history and philosophy of “accountability” and “metrics” in both business and the public sector.

“The characteristic feature of the culture of accountability,” he writes, “is the aspiration to replace judgment with standardized measurement.  Judgment is understood as personal, subjective, and self-interested; metrics are supposed to provide information that is hard and objective.”  However, he adds, “the virtues of accountability metrics have been oversold and their costs are underappreciated.  It is high time to call accountability and metrics to account.”

The article is long and should be read in its entirety, but this paragraph on higher education might well have been written with ACCJC in mind:

Despite its lack of demonstrable positive effects on public K-12 education, the cult of accountability is increasingly worshipped in higher education as well. Until recently, the main conduit for this mania has been the regional bodies that accredit American universities, which are in turn legitimated by the U.S. Department of Education. These bodies send commissions, whose members include experts in assessment, to every college and university and demand a swelling stream of assessment reports on every aspect of the academic institution. The effect has been to divert the time of department chairs, deans, and provosts to the compiling of reports.

To which I can only say, Amen!

[For my previous posts on the CCSF accreditation fight go to https://academeblog.org/tag/ccsf/]

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