CCSF Faces Critical Accreditation Visit; ACCJC’s Future in Doubt


On Monday, October 10, the ongoing — indeed, seemingly interminable — battle to save the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) from losing its accreditation at the hands of the rogue Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) will reach yet another critical turning point.  On that day an ACCJC visiting team will come to CCSF.  Its findings and recommendations will be critical in determining ACCJC’s final decision on the two-year college’s status, to be decided in January 2017.

Previously, under pressure from a court ruling, political leaders, and especially college faculty and students, ACCJC had placed the school in an unprecedented “Restoration Status.”  Under Restoration Status, which was created only for CCSF, the college must demonstrate “full compliance” with all accreditation standards, even as other colleges must demonstrate only “substantial compliance”.  There is also no appeal process available to CCSF under this new status.  If the ACCJC decides to disaccredit CCSF, the only option open to the school will be to go to federal court and get an injunction to remain open. CCSF’s Board of Trustees thus made a prudent decision to approve $250,000 to hire a law firm to prepare the college for this possibility.

The ACCJC has also changed its policy on visiting team accreditation status recommendations. The new policy is that the team will NOT make accreditation status recommendations, unlike under previous policies. The timing of this change, on the eve of the CCSF visit, is, according to AFT Local 2121, the CCSF faculty union, “both curious and frightening.  As you may know the 2012 visiting team wanted to give City College of San Francisco Probation, not Show Cause, by a 14-0 vote. The ACCJC then decided to give CCSF Show Cause and the crisis began. The reason for this new policy according to ACCJC is to avoid any ‘perceived inconsistencies.’ There will be no inconsistencies because the team will not even be asked.”

In a more positive development, on September 8 the CCSF Board of Trustees ratified a new contract agreement with AFT 2121 reached in July.  The agreement was the result of a protracted battle waged by the CCSF faculty, including a one-day strike in April.  Its ratification set in motion a series of salary improvements including:

  • Retro pay of 9.6% of all 2015/16 earnings.
  • Retro pay of 10.7% of all earnings between 7/1/2016 through 8/31/16
  • Pay for September 2016 and thereafter will reflect 10.7% over old rates (9.6% increase in 2014/15 plus 1% for 2016/17)
  • Faculty eligible for an additional step increase (Step 17 for full-timers and Step 13 part-timers) or because of credit for the 2009/10 step freeze will also see additional back pay for 7/1/16 thru 8/31/16 and, of course, and increase going forward.
  • Retro payments will appear as separate earnings line items on the Sept. 30 check

Meanwhile efforts to revoke ACCJC’s authority to serve as a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency continue, as do efforts by the California Community College system to seek an alternative to the ACCJC.  As I reported previously, the California Federation of Teachers in August filed a substantive new complaint against the ACCJC, arguing that the accreditor of California’s community colleges has failed so completely to fulfill its duties that the U.S. Department of Education should immediately “delist” it—that is, deny its renewal as an accreditor. The CFT was joined in the complaint by AFT 2121 and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers.

On September 9, San Francisco area members of Congress Nancy Pelosi, Jackie Speier, and Anna Eshoo wrote Secretary of Education John King “to urge the Department of Education to deny the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) as a recognized accreditor, and to provide assistance to the California Community College (CCC) system -the largest higher education system in our country – as they transition to a new accreditor.”

“City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is a cornerstone of the Bay Area’s educational system,” the congresswomen wrote.

Since ACCJC issued the Show Cause measure  in 2012, the entire CCSF community, including the administration, trustees, faculty, students and community leaders, have rallied together to make the necessary and tough decisions to ensure the College remains open and accredited.

Unfortunately, ACCJC’s unfair and opaque actions continue to plague CCSF and the CCC system. ACCJC has inconsistently applied accrediting standards and ignored federal regulations; has lost the support of California’s chancellors, state officials and unions; and has been the subject of multiple lawsuits. Simply put: neither the Department nor NACIQI can justify the continued recognition of ACCJC as a quality, fair or reliable accreditor. . . .

We applaud the California Comnunity College System, its Chancellors and Board of Governors for their bold decision to explore transitioning to a new accreditor.  It is incumbent upon your Department to provide resources and support throughout this process, including providing direct and technical  assistance to CCC and the 2.1 million community college students it serves.

We are proud to stand by the continued and remarkable progress CCSF has made, and are confident they will surpass accreditation standards.

Although the Education Department normally certifies accrediting agencies for five years, the ACCJC has been under review since December 2013 when National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) hearings led to a January 2014 department decision to temporarily continue ACCJC’s certification pending a compliance report due in one year on fifteen qualifying criteria.  The ACCJC appealed two of these, which postponed application of the January 2014 decision for an additional year.  Following additional NACIQI hearings in December 2015, attended by a powerful delegation of CCSF and other community college representatives (I reported on this meeting, which I attended, here), in March of this year the department gave ACCJC a six-month extension of its certification provided it comes into full compliance by October 10, ironically the same day as the commission team’s visit to CCSF.  A compliance report on seven criteria, excluding the two the ACCJC appealed, is due within thirty days of this date.

Barbara Beno

Barbara Beno

On September 22, Barbara Beno, the controversial president of ACCJC, announced that she would retire as of June 30, 2017.  Although not a voting member of the commission, Beno has been a lightning rod for faculty and student anger over its handling of CCSF’s accreditation troubles. As the San Francisco Chronicle put it, “she is widely regarded as a high inquisitor for California’s 113 community colleges who wields strong influence over the 19 voting commissioners.” But Beno will still be at the helm when CCSF’s fate is decided.

In the Fall 2016 issue of FACCts, quarterly magazine of the Faculty Association for the California Community Colleges (FACCC), Richard Hansen, the association’s treasurer who teaches mathematics at DeAnza College in the Bay Area, reported on the status of the community college system’s efforts to develop “a new structure or agency for accreditation” of the state’s community colleges.  He began with a brief summary of the system’s complaints about ACCJC:

Lack of collaborative interaction with the colleges and a shroud of secrecy surrounding all ACCJC activities have created what some critics call a “gotcha” approach to the accreditation process.  Colleges under review are kept in the dark about expectations, and those on campus preparing for an accreditation review suffer extreme anxiety for fear that something might go wrong and result in a sanction.  College representatives believe their jobs are on the line.

Self-studies are written without ACCJC guidelines and authors often resort to checking with recently accredited colleges to ask what is expected in each successive accreditation cycle.  Once submitted, the ACCJC offers no feedback, preferring to use what is revealed in the self-study as hints at failings to be explored during the site visit and then exploited in the visiting team report.  Ironically, the ultimate “gotcha” is often reserved for the Commission itself as there have been instances in which the Commission’s decision on a college results in a sanction more severe than the visiting team recommendation, and Commission findings sometime raise issues not found in either the self-study or the report of the visiting team.

Hansen then reports in detail on the work of two workgroups formed by the state’s community college board of governors and involving many of the colleges’ chief executive officers (CEOs).  Workgroup 1 was instructed to “[r]ecommend immediate changes to improve the existing processes and culture of ACCJC.”  Workgroup 2 would “[l]ead a change in accreditation structure that aligns all segments of higher education in California.”  Hansen opines that “the report from Workgroup 1 might be less important in reforming a reluctant ACCJC than in reassuring the USDOE that the ACCJC can be sufficiently responsible, under college CEO monitoring, to serve a transitional role to a new accreditor.”  And, argues Hansen, a detailed Workgroup 1 report delivered in July “suggests this group has already pointed the way for Workgroup 2.”  He concludes:

In sum, the Workgroup 1 report, while seeking to shore up an increasingly ineffective Commission, also points to other options. In addition to challenging the destructive culture of the ACCJC, Workgroup 1 also exhibits a promising development in the culture of the college CEOs.  There is clear evidence in this report that the CEOs may be shaking off their heretofore subservient attitude toward the ACCJC — they may be taking a bold step toward controlling their own accreditation future. . . .

Anecdotally, advocates for change in the accreditation process have heard college representatives from other regional accreditors ask, “Why have the colleges under the ACCJC allowed this to happen to them?”

Recent progress on the accreditation front . . . has shown that maybe the community college CEOs are about to assert their authority over the ACCJC.  If so, a look toward the long term future of the California Community Colleges and the other Pacific area colleges under the ACCJC suggests it is time to move on to a new accreditor uniting the two- and four-year institutions under a single higher education accreditation community.

This is the model in every other region in the country, and the CEOs should use this opening through Workgroup 2 to make the move and take their rightful place alongside their four-year colleagues.  Such an opportunity will not come again soon.

CCSF faculty members have not been sitting quietly awaiting determinations of both CCSF’s and ACCJC’s fates.  Having successfully won a favorable new contract, they have moved on to support an important initiative that would return CCSF to its former tuition-free policy, abandoned in 1984, as originally mandated by California’s landmark 1960s Master Plan for Higher Education.  In an article published online yesterday, AFT 2121 leaders Alisa Messer and Tim Kilikelly write:

This fall, AFT 2121 and our Central Labor Council, working with local supervisor Jane Kim and a large coalition of community, student and labor groups, are spearheading an inspiring campaign to make our college free again — like it was until 1984.

Anti-education forces may have been trying to close us down — but part of our response is to make CCSF even more accessible instead. Making the college free for all San Franciscans, as one community member recently quipped, “is like the opposite of closed.”

The Free City College initiative will be funded by a tax on San Francisco’s wealthiest real estate owners through Proposition W on the November ballot. Prop W would increase the transfer tax on properties selling for over $5 million. A portion of that revenue would be used to make CCSF free for all San Francisco residents and provide funding for educational expenses for low income students as well. This initiative reflects the best of our union’s — and our city’s — most progressive values.

Our college has lost nearly 40 percent of its enrollment since the accreditation crisis began. Our Free City College campaign can restore educational opportunities to thousands of San Franciscans and help CCSF rebuild from the devastating effects of the rogue, discredited accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. And with free college, we can help reclaim the promise of the groundbreaking — and seemingly abandoned — promise in the California Master Plan for Higher Education, when the state promised community colleges would be free for “all who can benefit.”

In this effort, as in their stubborn and courageous battle against the ACCJC’s overreach, CCSF faculty members are leading the way forward for us all.  Hopefully, the demand to reclaim the Master Plan will spread and be embraced by others in the state and, ultimately, the nation.

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