Charges, Counter-charges as SF Community College Faces Shut Down

Jun 26, 2013

Posted in SF City College

 By Helena Worthen and Joe Berry

The explosive news came on July 3 when the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges announced that it would withdraw accreditation from City College of San Francisco in one year, effectively shutting the college down.

In response to charges leveled by the accrediting commission, the California Federation of Teachers and AFT 2121, the union of City College faculty filed a 280-page complaint against the commission at the end of April.

The complaint was sent to the accrediting commission and filed at the Department of Education, which is scheduled to review the work of the commission.

The commission says the college must adopt a streamlined management system and stop using its financial reserves to cover operational costs. The Save City College Coalition charges the commission with operating in secret and trying install its own model of top-down management at the college.

Here is some of what both sides are saying:

Barbara Beno

Charges Against City College

Interestingly, the main concerns raised by the commission in their evaluation were not whether the education provided to students is good quality or whether the credentials awarded to graduates are accepted as legitimate by employers and universities. There is no debate about that: the college is doing a good job.

The commission says the college should not use its financial reserves, grants or contracts to cover operational costs to keep its doors open.  This is even though the people of San Francisco voted for the Prop A parcel tax in fall 2012 specifically to keep classes open.

The college has too few administrators and should stop relying on regular faculty elected to do administrative work.

The college should hire consultants to streamline its decision-making, which involves too many people and too much discussion.

The college should create detailed lists of student learning outcomes (SLO’s) for every course or program.

In addition, public resistance has also become an issue for the accrediting commission. In the July 3 letter announcing the decision to terminate accreditation, the commission focused on this resistance.

Because of it, said commission President Barbara Beno in the letter, City College would never be able to move fast enough toward meeting the commission’s demands, making termination inevitable.

“City College of San Francisco would need more time and more cohesive institution-wide effort to comply with accreditation standards, “Beno wrote. “While some groups work to make needed changes others militate against change. The acrimony is evident in behaviors at governing board meetings and other venues.”

The protests “indicate that not all constituencies are ready to follow college leadership to make needed changes in a timely manner,” she wrote.

It is true that street demonstrations, testimony at board meetings, creation of a Save City College coalition and other actions have drawn national attention.

 Charges Against the Commission

The complaint filed by the California Federation of Teachers and AFT 2121, the faculty union, charges that commission operates with a lack transparency, lack of accountability and lack of fairness or due process.

The commission has abandoned the real mission of accreditation, which is to ensure that students get a good education.

The commission operates in secret. It requires a pledge of non-disclosure of discussions and proceedings from its board members. It appoints its own appeals panel, so that no outside appeal is possible. Its meetings are closed to the public.

The commission explicitly rejects educational standards accepted by government agencies, the legislature or other organizations such as the faculty union.

It has not taken time to educate itself or its members in scientifically based studies of what makes good educational practices.  It relies on discredited measures of education quality such as requiring teachers to create and document SLO’s (Student Learning Outcomes).

Many faculty believe that student progress is best judged by tests and assignments and that final grades are the most accurate way to communicate that students have satisfied course requirements as stated in the catalog. Thus SLO’s are viewed as redundant, phony busy work.

The commission is trying to impose its own top-down management model.  It intimidates faculty and administration of colleges that it reviews, using threats of sanctions to coerce cooperation.

It tries to interfere with legally binding agreements about job security, pay and benefits that have been negotiated between administration and the faculty and staff unions.

On May 31, the accrediting commission responded to the April 30 complaint with a letter saying, “We appreciate your effort in sharing this information with us.”

Helena Worthen and Joe Berry can be reached at [email protected].