ACCJC not showing openness to input in development of new accreditation standards
No response from ACCJC at January meeting after librarians raise problems with Commission’s proposal to eliminate the current Substandard II.C.2
by Eric Brenner, Advocate Editor
As the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) is in the process of drafting new accreditation Standards to replace the 2002 Standards, it has been urged from all corners—from Academic Senates at colleges around the state as well as the statewide Academic Senate to the California Federation of Teachers to dozens of faculty members and administrators who have dealt with the Commission’s accrediting practices—to be more collegial, open and transparent in its processes. In December, as it was facing a “Renewal of Recognition” review by the Department of Education and the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), ACCJC leaders pledged greater openness and consideration of input from the community college community.
ACCJC discourages public participation
At the January 10th ACCJC meeting in Sacramento, however, when a revised set of accreditation Standards was presented for First Reading, the Commission did not encourage the presence of the public and did not provide materials in advance so that the public could even follow what the Commission was doing. The regular ACCJC practice of limiting attendance at its “public” meetings to 20 people in rooms that will hold many more people is one indication of the appearance of a desire to exclude the public. Leaving only 15 minutes for public comment is another example of the drive by the ACCJC to discourage attendance and participation.
Karen Saginor, a CCSF Librarian and Academic Senate leader, reported on the meeting to Academic Senate leaders across California. She noted that: “The ‘public’ portion was comprised of reports, policy changes and a first ‘reading’ of greatly revised accreditation Standards. Most significant of the policy changes were a removal of the requirement that changes to ACCJC Bylaws be considered in public session, and extensive changes to the Policy on Complaints Against the ACCJC, narrowing the scope of complaints to which ACCJC must respond, requiring more information and substantial evidence from the complainant; specifying the form that the complaint must take (including an original signature) and disallowing the right to appeal the disposition of a complaint.”
New standards weaken information competency
The Commission’s newly presented Standards propose the merging of Standard II.C, concerning libraries, into Standard II.B. Student Services. The Council of Chief Librarians (CCL), a group that represents librarians in the California Community Colleges, presented an alternative proposal to the Commission to strengthen the coordination of student learning among librarians, learning support staff, and discipline faculty. In a resolution passed by the state Academic Senate, the librarians’ group stated that:
• “The current Substandard II.C.2 entitled ‘Library and Learning Support Services’ contains elements that have provided for constructive assessment of libraries and systematically improved them;
• The ACCJC draft Standards weaken, to the detriment of student learning, the criteria used in the 2002 Standards in regard to information competency and access to library materials and services regardless of location or means of delivery; and
• The ACCJC draft Standards eliminate all reference to institutions ‘providing personnel responsible for student learning programs’ and eliminate the current Substandard II.C.2 entitled ‘Library and Learning Support Services’ and place the standards now in that section under Standard IIB (Student Services).”
They called for the retention of the “Library and Learning Support Services” as a separate Substandard in the proposed new ACCJC Standards. At the beginning of the public meeting, Tim Karas, President of the CCL, spoke in public comment about the process used by his organization to provide consensus from the field on standards for libraries. The ACCJC has not used nor responded to any of their input.
Karen Saginor spoke during public comment about the contrast between the December statements made by ACCJC claiming wide vetting of the new standards and their actual practice, including the withholding of half the standards from the ASCCC and the lack of responsiveness to input. Saginor reported that:
“Vice President Krista Johns and others responded to say that the phase for feedback to the standards was just beginning at that meeting–even the Commission members had just received the new standards for first reading two days before–and there would be a wide process for feedback this Spring. These statements were contradicted a few hours later when the commission started its discussion of the standards and John Nixon, speaking for the standards committee, talked about how much input and feedback they had already had from ‘experts in the field’ including the ASCCC. In the discussion, one of the commissioners remarked ‘I just don’t want us to leave the impression with the public that this is the first time the Commission is looking at these standards. It is not.’ I cannot reconcile these various statements with each other or with the experiences many of us have had in not being able to access the text of the draft standards and the agency’s lack of responsiveness to feedback during a time when the agency announces it is seeking input. It is also unclear how the January 10th afternoon meeting qualified as a public presentation of the standards as a first “reading,” since these standards were not provided to members of the public who attended the meeting, nor were they read out loud. There was some discussion of sections of it by members of the commission (mostly impossible for the public to follow with no text) but no changes were made before it was unanimously approved. Vice President Krista Johns estimated that the text as approved may be provided to college CEOs and ALOs by the end of January.”
The Second and final Reading of the new Standards will be approved at the June 2014 meeting of the Commission.