Union complaint in California has accreditors in the hot seat

AFT 2121 president Alisa Messer at a San Francisco Civic Center rally. (AFT 2121 photo)

The U.S. Department of Education has told the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) that it has until July 8th to provide a documented response to a complaint the accrediting agency received from the California Federation of Teachers and its City College of San Francisco affiliate.

On April 30, CFT and AFT Local 2121, representing 1,650 full-time and part-time faculty, counselors, librarians and researchers at CCSF, filed a 298-page complaint and third party comment with the ACCJC, raising serious concerns about the commission.

The City College of San Francisco, which, with 85,000 student is one of the largest community colleges in the nation, has been in a year-long fight for its survival in the face of the most drastic “show-cause” accreditation sanction leveled by the AACJC last summer. (See background coverage here and here.) That fight has included mounting a community campaign and passing an eight-year parcel tax that has raised $15 million for next year’s budget while the faculty and staff spent hundreds of hours responding in good faith to the recommendations of the accrediting agency’s 2012 sanction report.

The April complaint raises questions about ACCJC’s compliance with its own policies and state and federal law, its impartiality and integrity and its reliability for federal accreditation purposes. It alleges that, in the matter of CCSF’s accreditation, ACCJC violated 10 federal regulations, a federal statute and committed procedural errors and due process violations, as well as violating or inconsistently applying its own standards. It argues that the accrediting agency lacks transparency in how it applies its standards, its selective use of evaluation team recommendations and who it allows into meetings that are supposed to be public. More broadly, the complaint questions the ACCJC’s treatment of all California community colleges.

CFT also filed a copy of the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), which is authorized, through the office of the U.S. Secretary of Education, to recognize the regional accrediting agencies.

On May 30, ACCJC offered a seven-page response to CFT’s complaint. It said at the outset that the commission would not address any of the allegations in the complaint since “the ACCJC has no reason to believe that its policies are not fully in accordance with all applicable legal requirements.” A good portion of the report defended against one charge of the CFT, that the appointment of ACCJC president Barbara Beno’s husband to the evaluation team that visited CCSF represented a conflict of interest.

Within a few days, the CFT wrote to the U.S. Department of Education to complain that ACCJC failed to investigate and respond to CFT’s complaint in a manner required by law. (See the June 4 letter.)

Kay Gilcher, director of the DOE Accreditation Group, wrote to Beno that, as ACCJC “is recognized by the Secretary of Education, the concerns of the CFT about the Commission are taken seriously. “ It cites the federal regulations, known as Criteria for Recognition (CFR), that require accrediting agencies to have “clear and effective controls against conflicts of interest, or the appearance of conflicts of interest by the agency’s commissioners, evaluation team members, administrative staff and other agency representatives.”

In asking for a full and documented response to the CFT complaint, Gilcher also asks for related documentation regarding the June 5-7 ACCJC meeting during which the commission was to decide whether the City College has responded adequately to the “show cause” sanction. The commission meeting was held at a remote location behind metal barricades and many CCSF supporters and a San Francisco Chronicle reporter were barred from entering the room. CFT’s representative, Teeka James, president of AFT Local 1493 at the San Mateo Community College Federation of Teachers, was allowed to address commission members. She expressed the CFT’s concern that ACCJC’s decision-making process is unfair because it lacks transparency and accountability—“a point they beautifully demonstrated,” she says, in excluding the 30 or more people who came to observe the meeting.

The ACCJC decision, which is secret, is expected to be announced at the beginning of July.

Coincidentally, the ACCJC is scheduled for a review of its petition for renewal of recognition this year. DOE staff will review the petition following the procedures outlined in federal regulations. Then, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity will consider the agency’s petition at its December 2013 meeting. [Barbara McKenna, Alisa Messer]

One Response to Union complaint in California has accreditors in the hot seat

  1. Martin Hittelman June 28, 2013 at 12:24 am #

    See CFT website for my ACCJC Gone Wild report