BY HANK REICHMAN
San Francisco City College’s (CCSF) five-year battle against a rogue accrediting agency is over and the college has won. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) informed school administrators yesterday that CCSF’s latest application for accreditation had been approved for a standard seven-year period.
“All of us at the college are so excited and relieved that the accreditation crisis is over,” Tim Killikelly, president of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, which represents faculty at CCSF, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
As I have reported over the years on this blog, ACCJC in 2012 placed the school under “show cause,” requiring it to demonstrate why it should remain accredited and not be shut down. Subsequently the commission found that CCSF’s governance and fiscal management problems were so severe that it had no choice but to vote to revoke accreditation. Faculty, students, and community members fought back. Even those who thought CCSF’s problems were genuine and serious concluded that rather than helping the institution improve, ACCJC seemed hell-bent on simply shutting down what was, in 2012, the nation’s largest community college by enrollment, with over 90,000 students.
From the moment that ACCJC announced that it would terminate CCSF’s accreditation AAUP has expressed its concerns. A statement approved by the AAUP Executive Committee on July 8, 2013, declared: “we cannot ignore the growing chorus of complaints from faculty organizations, individual faculty members, students and community groups that ACCJC’s actions are excessive and unfair, and not only at CCSF.” In September, 2013, Kimberly Reiser, Chair of AAUP’s Committee on Community Colleges, and Jack Rossman, then-Chair of AAUP’s Committee on Accreditation, submitted written comment to the National Advisory Commission on Insitutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) opposing ACCJC’s request for expanded scope. NACIQI advises the U.S. Department of Education with regard to federal recognition of accrediting agencies and renders advice as well on the compliance of those agencies with federal regulations. In December 2015, addressing recommendations to deny ACCJC’s accrediting authority under federal law, I told NACIQI that “AAUP members do not believe that ACCJC’s “standards, policies, procedures, and decisions to grant or deny accreditation are widely accepted,”adding,
The AAUP’s chief concern with accreditation has long been the extent to which the faculty meaningfully participates. Not only are ACCJC’s visiting teams dominated by administrators, with few faculty members. Not only is there scant evidence to suggest that faculty members are selected through a process by which the faculty may gain genuine representation. But this absence of faculty may help explain why ACCJC’s standards do not effectively address the quality of an institution’s faculty.
A legal challenge from San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera bought CCSF more time in 2014. Then, a 2015 deal with the college gave it two more years to fully comply with all accrediting standards. The catch, however, was that to gain accreditation CCSF would have to far exceed what had been previously required of any other institution. No further appeal would be permitted.
Yesterday, the 19-member commission acknowledged that the college had met this overly high bar. Relying on an extensive self-evaluation report, CCSF officials demonstrated that the college has satisfied all 14 accrediting standards and numerous substandards in full — concerning fiscal management, campus decision-making, technology, library services and more.
Today, only five of the original commissioners who sought to revoke the college’s accreditation remain on the commission. Also gone is ACCJC’s powerful and controversial president, Barbara Beno, who strongly supported revoking the school’s accreditation. She was placed on administrative leave in December for undisclosed reasons.
Now attention will shift to ACCJ’s fate. While initially many in the California community college community were reluctant to criticize the group, as the crisis unfolded it became increasingly clear that the CCSF controversy was only the tip of a larger iceberg of problems with the commission. It became the subject of two lawsuits, a state audit, and an ongoing probe by the U.S. Department of Education. More than thirty California community college faculty, students, staff, trustees and community allies attended the December 2015 NACIQI meeting. On April 5, 2016, the Secretary of Education wrote to ACCJC to inform them that the commission remained out of compliance with federal guidelines.
On February 22-24, NACIQI will again consider ACCJC’s appeals and a delegation of California community college faculty, students, and supporters will once more attend. In the meantime, the California community college system has been steadily moving forward in a search for a new accrediting body. What effect ACCJC’s latest decision on CCSF (and its removal of the polarizing Beno) will have on this effort remains unclear.
In the meantime, CCSF’s supporters and community college faculty throughout California have good reason to celebrate. And the rest of us owe them a debt of gratitude. The victory has not come without cost, however. Since ACCJC began its assault on CCSF the college has lost a third of its enrollment, much of that attributable to fears that the school would lose its accreditation and students would no longer be eligible for federal-backed aid. Now, with the accreditation battle won, it’s time to join AFT’s Tim Kilkelly in calling on students and potential students to “Sign up and take a class!”