By Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President
One of the principles of our democracy is the right to elect our representatives. In California, one of the most basic decisions we make is about our children’s education through the election of local school boards that govern both K-12 and community college districts. This may not receive the same fanfare as statewide or national elections, but in more than 1,000 K-12 and 70 community college districts, community residents make key educational decisions that matter to them.
Alarmingly, it has now been a decade since Compton College lost its accreditation. Since 2006, Compton residents have been disenfranchised from making decisions about the community college that has served them with distinction since 1927. While community members technically still vote for their local board of trustees, because the college lost its accreditation, those elected officials have no authority over the college.
Accreditation is essentially a stamp of approval that says a degree from that college is accepted by other academic institutions. It also means that college students are eligible for government grants and student loans. In a working class community like Compton, this is essential.
Compton College lost its accreditation when the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) took this ultimate step after charges of fiscal mismanagement and fraud by the college’s Board of Trustees. Since that time, Compton has been able to keep its doors open as a satellite campus of neighboring El Camino College.
Much has changed at Compton College in the last 10 years since accreditation was revoked. Those responsible for fraud and mismanagement were convicted and sent to jail. The fiscal crisis that plagued the college has been corrected and in the past year the institution enjoyed a more than $3 million surplus. In addition, the college has expanded a number of academic programs including innovative courses that create opportunities for students to get into the workplace. Importantly, at no point in the decision to rescind the college’s accreditation was there any criticism of the faculty or the quality of instruction at the school.
Yet today, the Compton College community and its residents, who are overwhelmingly African American and Latino, are being told by the ACCJC that accreditation will not be restored for another 10 years and possibly longer. That means that unless something changes, the residents of Compton will be denied the same rights that communities enjoy throughout the state. In a period when there is increasing awareness that race plays a major role in issues of health and safety, policing, jobs and access to higher education, the near absence of any discussion of the Compton College situation speaks to a tacit acceptance of institutional racism.
Hovering over the Compton situation is the status of the ACCJC. The commission that revoked the college’s accreditation, and has the authority to restore it, has been plagued by its own serious issues that threaten to bring its reign of mismanagement, favoritism, lack of transparency and institutional intimidation to an end. Two years of critical findings by the U.S. Department of Education, a lawsuit brought by the City Attorney of San Francisco, a pending lawsuit, a scathing report by the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee of the state Legislature and a recent decision by the state Community College Board of Governors to replace ACCJC with a new accreditor should be reason enough to restore Compton College’s accreditation.
The people of Compton who support their community college through taxes have a right to a voice in their college. The time has longed passed that disenfranchising a community in the name of some higher good should be tolerated. The people in that community have no less a right to fully participate in the democratic process than any other community. Another ten years or more without a voice in their community college is not acceptable. Now is the time for our state elected leaders to demand that Compton College should have its accreditation restored and the elected Board of Trustees restored with the authority to run the college.