Interim commission president listens, pledges some new ways forward
At the end of a Friday night Community College Council meeting that went over the 10 o’clock ending time, Richard Winn said he wanted to continue being a “thinking partner” with the CFT and thanked everyone for their honesty.
He might have preferred a little less honesty. Winn is the interim president of the Accreditation Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, and the assembled members of CFT had plenty to say about the commission’s unfairness, lack of transparency, and meddling in collective bargaining. The CFT has a federal lawsuit against ACCJC and continues to fight for a new accreditor.
How will the commission address the past and all the harm done to the students and the state’s community college system, asked Wynd Kaufman, executive board member of AFT Local 2121 at City College of San Francisco, which had its accreditation revoked by the ACCJC (this was stopped by a court injunction). Recently, City College got accredited for the next seven years. That happened because political pressure forced the commission to finally do what it should have done to begin with, Kaufman said.
“I don’t think the commission is ready to accept that narrative,” Winn told her to hisses from the room.
In spite of the hisses, Winn stayed up on stage as long as there were people lining up to ask him questions, gamely talking about trying to work with faculty members and to regain trust. Many of the speakers acknowledged this as brave. Or foolish.
AFT 2121 President Tim Killikelly told Winn he liked his tone and what he’d been saying.
“Coming here is not an act for the faint hearted, but really the question is where’s the beef?” Killikelly said before talking about how the ACCJC has impeded collective bargaining rights, required prefunding of retirement benefits, and pushed for far more in college’s reserves than the five percent legally required.
Winn responded that the ACCJC would not tell an institution what it needed to do or impede collective bargaining.
The commission members’ sincerity in rebuilding the trust of the faculty was called into question when Jessica Buchsbaum, secretary of AFT Local 2121, read text from a workshop at a conference the ACCJC was hosting the week following the CFT Convention.
“We’re not afraid of accreditation. What we fear are the arbitrary, capricious, and punitive responses that our self-studies receive.”
The workshop, entitled “Do Educators Have a Prima Donna Complex?” argued that educators think they don’t need the oversight of a regulatory agency and that they do “just fine” on their own and resent the ACCJC telling them what to do. The presenter promised to cure this notion.
Buchsbaum pointed out this was particularly offensive in how it targeted faculty members and Winn said he deeply regretted this. Jim Mahler, CCC president, suggested inviting an opposing voice and paying for their registration.
Joanne Waddell, president of the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, made it clear she had no problem with oversight of a regulatory agency.
“We’re not afraid of accreditation,” she said. “What we fear are the arbitrary, capricious, and punitive responses that our self-studies receive.”
Sometimes, Waddell added, even if you want to save a building, if the wiring is shot, the plumbing is bad and there are toxic chemicals, you should tear it down and begin again — a metaphorical argument for getting a new accreditation agency. She asked Winn how he could justify the millions that accreditation costs colleges and if the agency had plans to repay them for mistakes courts had deemed to be the fault of the ACCJC.
Winn responded that he understood her outrage, but there was nothing he could say to assuage it — he likened it to asking Obama to apologize for Bush sending troops into Iraq. He added the agency was trying to reduce costs to the colleges and that a whole new accreditation institution was not the answer.
Both Barbara Hanfling, executive director of the San José/Evergreen Federation of Teachers, and Jenny Worley, vice president of AFT Local 2121, spoke about Student Learning Outcomes. Worley, an English teacher, said they take time she could use helping students with their writing. Hanfling said that the ACCJC had illegally inserted itself in collective bargaining by requiring SLOs. Winn seemed to say that the agency will back off on SLOs, maybe phasing them out eventually.
Winn kept repeating he wasn’t there to redeem the past. That’s what he told Kathe Burick, a PE and dance teacher at City College and a representative on AFT Local 2121’s executive board. The harm that the ACCJC has done to CCSF is far from over, said Burick, and morale at the school is the worst she’s experienced in her 37 years there.
“We’re on our third interim chancellor. It’s been horrific,” she said. “What was a sane and humane place is now being turned into something cheap and cheesy.”
Mark James Miller, president of the Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, told Winn that the commission listens to the administrators, but not members of his local. Winn said he’s working on changing that.
“Going forward every voice will be heard,” he said. “We’re going to try and listen to everyone.”
—By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter