Fair accreditation, transparency demanded of out-of-control agency

Cañada College alumnus and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo called community colleges lifeboats and springboards for Californians. Congresswoman Jackie Speier said they keep our workforce vibrant. And state Sen. Jim Beall said seven of his nine siblings went to community colleges, the only way they could afford higher education. 

These three hosted a forum, “Is the Accrediation Process for California’s Community Colleges Fair and Accountable?” to scrutinize the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, which last July decided to revoke City College of San Francisco’s accreditation in July 2014. Speakers included CFT President Josh Pechthalt, faculty union President Alisa Messer, and David Yancey, president of the San Jose/Evergreen Faculty Association.

“We’re here to get some answers, and we’re here to ask some questions,” Speier told the packed room at CCSF’s Diego Rivera Theater on November 7. “One thing is absolutely clear to me, and I think everyone on this panel — I firmly believe in City College of San Francisco.”

Speier and her colleagues are seeking Congressional scrutiny of the accreditating agency following several blows to the agency’s legitimacy. Since the CFT filed a 280-page complaint against it in April, the Department of Education has found the agency violated federal regulations, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, the CFT, and Save CCSF all filed lawsuits against the ACCJC, and the state Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved a request by Beall and Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen to audit the ACCJC. Nielson called ACCJC President Barbara Beno the most “arrogant, condescending and dismissive individual” he had ever dealt with. 

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano said he was thrilled the issue of accreditation had the attention of two Congressional representatives. He extorted people to be warriors, not victims, and denounced the “hubris, arrogance, and corruption” of the ACCJC. 

Ron Galatolo, chancellor of San Mateo Community College, said he’s been trying to get people to pay attention to that hubris and corruption for six years. He asked the audience to put “City College should be closed forever because…” before the 14 recommedations made by the ACCJC’s evaluation team to show how they have nothing to do with education. One example Galatolo cited is “City College should be closed forever because it did not develop a comprehensive plan for equipment maintenance and replacement.” He wants the mandate saying California has to use the ACCJC for accreditation changed.

Since students are wary of attending a college they perceive as being in chaos, enrollment at City College has experienced two years of precipitous decline, meaning millions of dollars less from the state. 

“The only plausible explanation for City’s massive enrollment decline is the severe, overzealous action taken by the ACCJC,” Galatolo said. “Simply put, the punishment does not fit the crime.”

He went on to say that the state’s entire community college system is under threat from the ACCJC. While the average sanction rate for the six other accrediting agencies in the country hovers around two percent, the ACCJC sanctioned 66 percent of the community colleges in California from 2003 to 2013. 

Galatolo said people have warned him the ACCJC could retalitate against the three colleges in his district. “They said, ‘Don’t raise this, we’re all trying to survive here, don’t make this an issue,’” he said. “It’s time to make this an issue.”

That was something faculty members, staff, and students at CCSF have been waiting to hear. 

“The tides are turning, right?” said CCSF Student Trustee Shanell Williams. “It’s so rewarding after this long, crazy year of fighting for our college.”

The lawmakers, who listened to about an hour of public comments after the panelists spoke, pledged that they would work to make changes. 

“We need a fair and transparent system to accredit our schools,” Beall concluded. “Believe me, we’re going to do something about this.” 

— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter