April 25, 2014

A Triple Play Response to a Rogue Accrediting Agency

Bills will support City College of San Francisco, all community colleges in state

The CFT is in a pitched battle to repair our broken accrediting system for our public community colleges. The battle is being played out at City College of San Francisco, where 80,000 students and more than 2,000 faculty and classified members are at the mercy of a single agency that instead of ensuring quality education for all, has displayed manipulative practices, policy violations and illegal conduct.

This is why CFT supports a trio of bills making their way through the state legislature that will help erase the damage caused by this rogue accrediting agency and prevent it from inflicting any further damage. It’s time to help get City College of San Francisco back to offering quality education to the community.

If you haven’t been following this saga, here are the dispiriting details: The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which oversees accreditation of the state’s community colleges, has long been criticized for arbitrary and punitive measures against schools. This is serious because schools without accreditation are not eligible for state funding, will struggle to attract students, and will eventually have to close their doors. The folks at the ACCJC force administration and faculty of California’s community colleges to live in fear while diverting attention and resources from the classroom. 

In 2012, the ACCJC claimed that City College of San Francisco was not compliant on several technical matters. After a year of hard work by faculty and the college to address the issues raised by the Commission, the ACCJC’s site visit team returned and issued a positive report in Spring 2013 praising the college’s progress. Nonetheless, several months later the Commission said it would remove the school’s accreditation by July 2014.

Over the last two years, much has been revealed about the biased and manipulative practices of ACCJC. After exhaustive research, the California Federation of Teachers demonstrated that ACCJC failed to follow its own policies, is riddled with conflicts of interest, and has engaged in unfair and illegal conduct.

When the Commission announced it would take away CCSF’s accreditation, the California Federation of Teachers had had enough and filed a formal complaint with the US Department of Education, as well as a lawsuit, to stop this injustice. The City Attorney of San Francisco filed another one. In January of this year, the college was vindicated when a San Francisco Superior Court judge granted an injunction that will allow CCSF to remain open through the trial, which is scheduled for later this fall.

It’s not much of a stretch to explain why this whole process is wrong. The ACCJC’s actions have nothing to do with educating adults and serving the community. It has everything to do with a rogue, private agency gone off the rails. Sure, if an institution has shortcomings, they should be addressed. But to close the school? How does this help anyone?

Three Bills

That’s why CFT is pushing three key bills, which seek to protect CCSF and reform our state’s broken accrediting system.

• Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s AB 1942 secures transparent, fair accrediting practices for all community colleges. It provides fairness by allowing colleges to appeal penalties. The bill will also increase public accountability by requiring the accreditor to release its own financial data as well as disclose the costs of accreditation to its member institutions annually. It also allows community colleges to choose their own regional accrediting entity, provided they are authorized to operate in the state. Lastly, AB 1942 eliminates conflicts of interest concerning members of the accrediting board, lobbying activities, and accreditation actions, while demanding the inclusion of teachers, counselors, classified staff, and administrative employees on the evaluation teams that review accreditation decisions.

• In addition, Assembly Bill 2087, authored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, defends local democratic accountability. Last year the California Community College Board of Governors replaced the duly elected CCSF Trustees with an all-powerful “Special Trustee with Extraordinary Powers.” With the removal of the locally elected board, the public lost its voice. It shouldn’t come to this in San Francisco or anywhere else.

• Finally, Senate Bill 965, authored by State Senator Mark Leno, will stabilize funding for CCSF for the next two years. Because of the enrollment losses caused by the ACCJC, CCSF faces a loss of upwards $20 million in state funding next year. Less state funding would mean fewer classes offered, which would result in fewer students registering, which would lead to a decline in state funding, which would continue the downward spiral. We must not let that happen.

That’s why I, and the California Federation of Teachers, support the passage of all three of these bills. We need to ensure the future of City College of San Francisco, ensure its ability to serve its community, and protect all of our community colleges from unaccountable agencies like the ACCJC who believe they are above the law.

- Joshua Pechthalt