ACCJC On the Ropes

Recent developments in the continuing controversy surrounding the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) and the California community college system suggest that the commission may be heading out of business, at least in California if not nationally.

Tomorrow, March 21, the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges will consider a resolution to direct the Community College Chancellor to

  • Notify ACCJC that the Board of Governors will seek a new accreditor within the next two years;
  • Enter into formal negotiations with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) and/or the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) with the objective of achieving a mutually beneficial, two-year process of developing a plan to identify a new accreditor and to transition California’s community colleges to that new accreditor;
  • Work with member institution representatives (college presidents and chancellors) to facilitate a process to appoint a special administrator (or special administration team) to work with the Chancellor’s Office during the two-year planning process to ensure that the colleges are accredited in order to continue receiving state funding

[CORRECTION: I’ve been informed that the resolution has been modified.  According to Karen Saginor from CCSF it now includes a goal of “structuring regional accreditation that more closely aligns all segments of higher education” and directs the Chancellor to “support the Chief Executive Officers and their colleges in coordination of planning groups to:

a. Recommend immediate changes to improve the existing processes and culture of ACCJC including, but not limited to, enhanced financial transparency, reformed governance and leadership, better communication with member institutions, and more effective training during the next two years to ensure continuity of accreditation for the system’s colleges, and

b. Lead a change in accreditation structure that aligns all segments of higher education in California, including coordinating planning discussions with the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) as well as the other community colleges in California that are not in our system and the community colleges of Hawaii and the Pacific islands currently accredited by ACCJC;

The last clause of the new resolution states:

“Upon the U.S. Department of Education’s approval of any new structure or agency for accreditation of the California Community Colleges, [the Chancellor shall] review the formal plan for college transition and bring to the Board of Governors the necessary information to designate a new accreditor for the California Community Colleges.” ]

This comes just days after the presidents and chancellors of all of California’s community colleges voted by more than 90 percent to seek an alternative to the ACCJC, while also working to reform the agency.

“While a number of individual college presidents had already gone on record regarding the need to move to a new accreditor, this vote shows that a remarkable, unprecedented consensus has now emerged,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of California Federation of Teachers, in a written statement. “The presidents’ vote confirms what the Chancellor’s Accreditation Task Force revealed last year: the ACCJC is no longer widely accepted in its community and does not meet the needs of California public higher education.”

“It is a great day for community colleges in California,” Tim Killikelly, head of the local college teachers’ union, said. “The heads of the state’s colleges have said to the ACCJC, ‘you’re done.’”

A week earlier the U.S. Department of Education notified the ACCJC that its status as a federally recognized accrediting agency would be extended for six months. Thirty days thereafter, ACCJC would need to demonstrate compliance with federal law to the Department.

The six month time frame was recommended by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) to the Department following two days of hearings in December on ACCJC’s compliance with federal law. Although the Department had initially recommended a full year extension for ACCJC, it ultimately adopted the shorter time frame suggested by NACIQI.

Opposition to ACCJC’s punitive approach to accreditation has been building for years, but accelerated after the agency sought to revoke the accreditation of the City College of San Francisco (CCSF), the largest single community college in the country, for violations that many felt were relatively minor and irrelevant to the school’s academic standing.  Karen Saginor, a CCSF librarian and former chair of the school’s Academic Senate, submitted the following written comment to the Board of Governors regarding the resolution they will consider tomorrow:

On March 21st you will be considering a resolution on accreditation and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. I hope the actions you take with that resolution will be sufficient to protect our colleges from an agency that is detrimental to quality education.

ACCJC’s failings are well documented.

The report produced by your Task Force on Accreditation last summer documented many of the Commission’s failings, and it also documented many attempts that have been made to provide the Commission with actionable feedback, including the report from the 2009 Task Force, findings by the RP Group, ASCCC resolutions, recommendations from the CEOCC and the extensive report of the California State Auditor. Since you received the Task Force Report, other authorities have taken steps to curtail ACCJC:

In September 2015 the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) deferred recognition of ACCJC pending additional review.

In December 2015, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) voted to make two recommendations to the US Department of Education (USDE):

1)    Deny ACCJC’s request for a broadening of scope to include the accreditation of new baccalaureate level programs;

2)    Grant ACCJC only six months to come into compliance with regulations governing the Commission’s current accreditation work, (a reduction from the 12 months recommended in the USDE staff report).

In January 2016, Acting Secretary of Education John King denied ACCJC’s appeal of two aspects of USDE’s findings of noncompliance from February 2014, upholding the earlier determination that ACCJC fails to meet federal requirements in regards to wide acceptance by educators, and inclusion of academic personnel on evaluation teams.

In March 2016, the USDE decided to extend recognition of ACCJC for only six months as recommended by NACIQI.

ACCJC is unwilling to admit its failings or to reform.

ACCJC has heard from those involved in accreditation at every level — individuals, constituent groups, state institutions, and the highest authority of the US Department of Education, yet the Commission has been unwilling to recognize its deficiencies or to reform itself.

Last December in third party comment, three members of the Commission told NACIQI that ACCJC is doing a fine job, and has made any changes needed. Dr. Ian Walton identified himself to NACIQI as a member of the Commission. However, Dr. Mary Okada and Dr. Raul Rodriguez identified themselves only as connected to colleges, so perhaps they did not intend to speak for the Commission. Their comments may be found in the NACIQI transcripts posted online. (NACIQI December 16th transcript, pp 369-380)

At that same meeting, Dr. Steven Kinsella, Chair of the Commission, told NACIQI to disregard the report of your Accreditation Task Force:

“The task force report may represent the views of the Chancellor’s Office and some constituency groups that he works with, but it does not represent the views of each California public college member that are members of ACCJC. It is rather an attempt by the Chancellor’s Office to usurp the normal communications between this commission and its member institutions and to set demands for the ACCJC without discussion that is central to the creation and promulgation of peer review.” (NACIQI December 17th transcript, p. 27)

NACIQI was not impressed by those remarks, nor by ACCJC’s insistence that it was already in compliance with federal regulations, nor by accusations that USDE staff were “overreaching” their authority. (NACIQI December 16th transcript, pp. 135, 163) Several members of NACIQI spoke of the unwillingness of the Commission to acknowledge shortcomings and make significant change:

“I do have a concern… that it’s been two years, and there was a fairly conscious decision not to comply with the issues that have been pointed out in the staff report. … I see a resistance to making these changes and a failure to acknowledge their significance.” (Cameron Staples, NACIQI member and President and CEO of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). December 17th transcript, p. 83-85)

“I agree with much of what Cam said … that these are important issues in the compliance report.  I also agree that the agency has had two years to fix them.  They haven’t.  It appears to me they don’t even agree that they’re out of compliance, … they say they may fix them, but they don’t even agree that they’re really a problem from a regulatory compliance legal point of view.”  (Richard O’Donnell, NACIQI member and CEO of College Portfolio. December 17th transcript, p. 89)

“I continue to believe that they cannot come into compliance in a way that will assure that they are reliable guarantors of educational quality.”  (Anne D. Neal, NACIQI member and President of American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). December 17th transcript, p. 94)

ACCJC is liable for failing to adhere to federal regulation.

ACCJC should be held accountable for the damage resulting from the Commission’s failure to comply with federal regulation.

Dr. Barbara Beno, ACCJC President told NACIQI that,

“… in the State of California under the court system and under Judge Karnow, Mr. Karnow has declared any violation of Federal regulations to be grounds for finding an unlawful act under the Business Code of the State of California. So any violations that this Committee and the Department find, create grounds for third parties to bring lawsuit against us for unlawful acts.” (Dr. Barbara Beno in testimony to NACIQI December 17th transcript, p. 28.)

NACIQI and USDE have found ACCJC continuously out of compliance with federal regulation since at least the summer of 2013 when the Department of Education reviewed information provided by ACCJC in response to complaints and determined that ACCJC was out of compliance with numerous regulations. The Commission’s failure to adhere to these federal regulations governing due process, clear identification of deficiencies and other matters have been the cause of serious damage to community colleges since that time.

ACCJC’s mistreatment of my institution, City College of San Francisco, has included:

  • A finding of “show cause” based on a nonsensical claim that the 2006 reaffirmation of accreditation for CCSF was actually a notification of deficiencies. More than six years after the fact, ACCJC made that bizarre reinterpretation to deny that ACCJC’s 2006 finding that “The visiting team validated that the college meets the eligibility requirements for accreditation and complies with the standards of accreditation, as required by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.” (ACCJC Evaluation Report on CCSF. 2006)
  • Numerous irregularities in ACCJC’s decision to terminate CCSF’s accreditation – (documented in court filings and elsewhere.)
  • Denial of appeal in a process that defied the concept of due process ACCJC appointed Frank McGinnis to be chair of the appeal panel despite an acknowledged conflict of interest with ACCJC, for whom he does consulting work, and despite his participation with Dr. Beno at a meeting to reprimand the CCSF Board of Trustees.  ACCJC also gave CCSF the list of appeal panel members with an opportunity to request removal of any that CCSF deemed inappropriate and then refused to remove either of the two that CSSF so identified.
  • When it became clear that the educational community and the public would not accept the termination of a college known for its high academic quality and the success of its students as measured by the State Chancellor’s office, ACCJC railroaded CCSF into applying for “restoration status,” a limbo that Dr. Beno described to NACIQI as “a real quirky customized design to create a status for San Francisco City College.” (NACIQI December 17th transcript, p. 46)
  • In November 2015, ACCJC sent to CCSF a visiting team of 26 persons co-chaired by a former CCSF employee two weeks after declaring under oath in Judge Karnow’s court that ACCJC “avoids” placing former employees on visiting teams.

CCSF is now completing a Self-Evaluation and preparing for a visit in October. I am not optimistic.

As you know well, San Francisco is not the only district suffering from ACCJC’s willful misunderstanding of the purposes of accreditation.

ACCJC’s new changes are not improvements.

The Commission’s most recent set of decisions in January gave only one college a sanction, of warning, but you may want to read the letters for the ten colleges that were “reaffirmed.” Every one of those “reaffirmed” colleges was been given barely 13 months (to March 1, 2017) to submit a report demonstrating that it has fully repaired multiple deficiencies or face possible termination of accreditation. Please do not discount as just ‘boilerplate,’ the following language included in each of the letters:

“Under U.S. Department of Education enforcement regulations, the Commission is required to take immediate action to terminate the accreditation of an institution which is out of compliance with any standards, or alternatively, may provide an institution with additional notice and a deadline for coming into compliance that is no later than two years from when the institution was first informed of the non-compliance. With this letter, [Name of College] is being provided with notice of the standards for which it is out of compliance and is being provided time to meet the standards.”

ACCJC’s published Q & A about accreditation answers “YES” to the question, “Are the institutions expected to meet all accreditation standards at all times?” The most recent Commission decision shows that they think none of the community colleges fully merit their accreditation. All are being placed into the position of having to satisfy the Commission in the repair of deficiencies within a short period of time or face termination. In ACCJC’s region, “reaffirmation of accreditation” has become functionally equivalent to “show cause.”

If the Commission is allowed to continue down this path of “reaffirmation” accompanied by threat of termination, our colleges will continue to operate with demoralizing fear, and we will divert time, money and the focus of institutional attention away from student success and educational quality to the appeasement of a Commission that cannot follow federal regulation, cannot admit to needing improvement, and cannot change its ways.

Please take all necessary steps to remove the California Community Colleges from the power of this destructive group.



2 thoughts on “ACCJC On the Ropes

  1. Pingback: Support CCSF Faculty Strike | ACADEME BLOG

  2. Pingback: CFT Files Amended Lawsuit Against ACCJC | ACADEME BLOG

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