By Tim Redmond
JUNE 30, 2014 – It’s become pretty clear in the past couple of weeks that the fight to save City College is only going to end when the rogue accreditation commission is either disbanded, replaced, or completely reconstituted.
The Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges is so far beyond redemption that the state Auditor’s Office has slammed the panel. The California Federation of Teachers has released a scathing report on the City College decision. The state chancellor and the head of City College both say the ACCJC went too far and needs to back down.
The facts are on the side of the critics – so clearly and so overwhelmingly that I think the city attorney’s lawsuit will be successful, and the state Legislature (where the ACCJC has essentially zero friends) will seek alternatives, and the schools that pay the ACCJC’s nut will get together and demand something better.
And this whole group of crazies will have to resign to save their organization, or see it taken out from under them.
Whatever the positive media spin, the ACCJC hasn’t given up its efforts to shut down City College – and as long as the current leadership is in place, I don’t think it will.
The state auditor is generally pretty neutral, and has no reason to take sides in this fight. Her report has the usual smooth language of bureaucratese, but when you cut through that, it’s brutal. The report suggests that the state Legislature take steps to replace the ACCJC with some other sort of accrediting agency – a radical proposal that would end the hegemony of President Barbara Beno’s fiefdom.
At the very least, the auditor says, the state should offer alternatives, giving schools options for accreditation. Again: That’s the end of ACCJC. Nobody is going to pay dues to this group if there is any possible alternative.
The auditor cited some of the same problems that everyone else in the state is complaining about: The ACCJC does everything in secret session. The sanctions against City College are inconsistent with how other institutions have been treated (as if, for example, there was a political vendetta). City College was not allowed to introduce evidence on its appeal to show that it had made progress in addressing the problems the panel wanted solved.
More: Colleges that have staff members on the board of the ACCJC don’t get sanctioned at the same rate as other institutions.
The auditor is pretty clear: The point of accreditation is to ensure academic quality (oh, and by the way, nobody disagrees that City College students are getting a good education.) Accreditation is not supposed to be used as a tool to promote a policy agenda.
This is devastating stuff in the political world. Take this audit to the Legislature and there’s a good chance that in 2015, the ACCJC could cease to hold monopoly power over the fate of community colleges in California.
Then there’s the CFT report. The teachers, of course, oppose the shut-down of City College, but have also (as teachers do) done their homework. The analysis looks at the flaws in the ACCJC’s decision to deny much of the City College appeal.
Among the key elements of the CFT report: the ACCJC is not telling the truth about the history of City College compliance and accreditation. In 2006, the last time a review team descended on the school, the ACCJC found academic excellence, and noted only a few problems and issues. That’s typical of these reviews – nobody is perfect, and every site visit leads to suggestions.
But the notion that City College was out of compliance for years and refused to make changes is just wrong, and another example of how the ACCJC has twisted the facts in this case to reach a conclusion driven – as a lawsuit and now two different studies show – but ideology and not education.
The ACCJC is not as powerful an institution as it might think. You can’t be arrogant and unresponsive to the state Legislature, the United States Congress, the US Department of Education, and most of your constituents and hope to survive unscathed.
And despite its best efforts, City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s lawsuit is moving forward. The judge in the case, Curtis Karnow, read all the spin in the newspapers and got the attorneys together for a phone conference to see if the lawsuit was moot at this point, but Sara Eisenberg, the deputy city attorney who is so far kicking the ACCJC’s ass, made it clear that the issues are still very real and need to be litigated.
So that question – whether the bogus new “process” is enough to satisfy the legal issues Herrera’s office raised – will be briefed in the next couple of weeks, and if things go as they have been, the judge will confirm that the trial is happening this fall.
What happens if the courts rule in the city’s favor, and the ACCJC can’t defend its position on accreditation? It will have no credibility anywhere.
The only way this agency can keep its operations going at this point would be to back off City College, grant a two-year stay and then approve reaccreditation. But Beno and her team show no intention of doing that. So she is forcing a showdown that I don’t think she can win.