AFT 1493 President Addresses the ACCJC

In July of 2012, the ACCJC (Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges) asked City College of San Francisco (CCSF) to “show cause” to keep its accreditation. Their complaints were about financial planning, management, and documentation of assessment; they were not about the quality of education or teachers. City College faculty, staff and administrators, along with the city of San Francisco, have lived under the dark cloud of ACCJC’s threat to shut down the college. In response to the Commission’s complaints, City College has closed three instructional sites, restructured their system of shared governance, and implemented clearer assessment to demonstrate SLOs (Student Learning Objectives).

On June 5-7, the ACCJC met in Burlingame behind closed doors to make their decision about the accreditation of City College. To offer support and solidarity with our sister union, AFT 2121 of CCSF, your AFT 1493 President, Teeka James, was selected by the CFT (California Federation of Teachers) to give public testimony on its behalf during the public comment period on the final day of the meeting. As a representative of the CFT, Teeka delivered the message below, and then confidently fielded questions from the accreditation panel with clarity and poise.

June 7, 2013

Testimony of Teeka James, President, AFT Local 1493 on behalf of the California Federation of Teachers, AFT, AFL-CIO, to the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges Public Meeting

Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. Good afternoon. My name isTeeka James. I am the President of AFT Local 1493, which represents the faculty of the San Mateo County Community College District. I am speaking on behalf of the California Federation of Teachers. I ask that my written comments, which I will provide to the Commission, be made a part of the record of this proceeding.

ACCJC’s policies and actions impact faculty, students, and staff of the California community colleges and the public at large. CFT’s concerns about ACCJC, expressed in its April 30th and June 4th complaints, reflect those expressed by many educators over the last 10 years. CFT feels, as do MANY others, that The Commission lacks transparency, fairness and accountability.

First, visiting evaluation teams do not sufficiently reflect the constituent groups.Faculty, who have the most direct responsibility for educating and serving our students,represent 75% of the college workforce, yet make up just 15% of the evaluation teams.Rarely are faculty given leadership roles in these teams, even though they serve majorleadership functions on campus.

Second, the Commission often escalates the recommendation of the evaluation teamwithout accountability, explanation of its reasoning, or transparency.This practice of escalating sanctions without explanation prevents institutions fromresponding to any additional information that the Commission may be relying upon.Furthermore, by keeping the Commission’s reasoning and evidence secret, it is impossibleto tell whether these decisions are being made properly or not.

ACCJC needs to recognize college students, faculty, board members, and employees as part of their constituency, each having a legitimate interest in accreditation. The Commission should provide information about its activities and about the colleges to each constituent group at the same time that they provide such information to college CEOs.

Third, various policies of the Commission are not widely accepted by educators, norby other accrediting bodies. This contributes to the stunning disparity in the number ofsanctions imposed by the ACCJC when compared to those of other accreditors and, strongly suggests the Commission relies on Standards that do not accurately reflect institutional performance or excellence.

Fourth, The Commission responds to criticism defensively and without transparency.For example, The Commission’s recent response to the CFT Complaint was unsigned andfailed to address its substance; and when the editor of AFT 1493’s newsletter contactedACCJC just two days ago, the Commission refused to identify who is on the Commission’sExecutive Committee nor who issued the Commission’s Response. This secrecy and lack ofaccountability is unjustifiable for an accrediting body performing a public function, oneprimarily funded by the State of California.

CFT has outlined several recommendations for reform. Among them are these:

Timeliness and accountability: ACCJC should provide visiting team actionrecommendations to an affected institution sufficiently in advance of Commission actions toallow the institution and its various constituencies to respond; and it should post proposedchanges in its Policies and Procedures on its website at least 45 days prior to theCommission meeting to allow a similar opportunity for review and comment prior toCommission action.

Fairness: ACCJC’s visiting teams should proportionally reflect the variousconstituencies within the California community colleges. Members of the Commission andits staff should not be appointed to visiting teams. Absent unusual need, no more than twomembers from any institution should be appointed to a visiting team. And faculty should beappointed to chair teams and subgroups for various standards.

Transparency: ACCJC should assure that team action recommendations are signedand dated, and when the Commission increases sanction level above that recommended bya team, it should clearly explain the rationale and connect the findings to the decision.The ACCJC should appoint someone who is independent of the Commission staff andwho reports directly to the Commission, to review ACCJC actions to assure consistency andcompliance with ACCJC policies and procedures, including avoiding conflicts of interest.

And finally, ACCJC should abide by the standards of the Brown Act and the CaliforniaPublic Records Act.

ACCJC is the most controversial accrediting body in this country, and is unfortunatelyviewed with distrust, concern, and fear within the community colleges. Its integrity is opento question. There is good reason to doubt ACCJC’s reliability as an accreditor. This resultsnot only from its actions, but also many of its overly prescriptive policies, and its failure toadhere to a culture of transparency.

To serve the students and people of California properly, ACCJC has to change or bedelisted by the Department of Education; the time is now. Thank you for your time.

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