JUNE 12, 2104 – The decision by the accrediting commission to allow City College a lifeline has much of the city’s political establishment applauding, and for good reason: The combined pressure for local, state, and national elected officials played a huge role in forcing the ACCJC to back off from an effort to shut the school down.
If the ACCJC had gone forward with revocation of accreditation, as it could have this month, the school would have stayed open – City Attorney Dennis Herrera has won an injunction preventing any final move to end accreditation until after a trial, which won’t happen until this fall.
But the furor over that move might have driven the political establishment to seek ways to shut down the entire commission. Among others, Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Jackie Speier have demanded that the ACCJC give City College more time – and members of Congress don’t like to be treated with the sort of disrespect the panel has shown for pretty much everyone else in this process.
Assemblymember Tom Ammiano has introduced legislation that would limit the ability of state officials to suspend the control of an elected college board – and he’s gotten support from many Republicans, who agree that the ACCJC is a nightmare. State Sen. Mark Leno is pushing a bill that would amount to an end run around the ACCJC.
So the ACCJC clearly had to do something to create the appearance of fairness, to get some of the pressure off. But if this move works, it will be a victory for an out-of-control agency: The accreditors haven’t admitted they were wrong, haven’t changed the rules for evaluating City College, haven’t offered to approve accreditation … in fact, all they’ve done is come up with a new process for the school to apply to stay open, under rules that aren’t terribly fair.
The new process, known as “accreditation restoration,” is outlined on the ACCJC website. Read it carefully; it’s not an “extension of time,” which is what City College supporters asked for. It’s not a good-faith effort to hold off on a final decision until the school completes its process of jumping through all of the hoops the ACCJC has demanded.
It’s an entirely new process – one that requires City College to give up all rights to appeal if the decision that comes down at the end is wrong:
“If, however, in the judgment of the Commission, the college does not fully meet all eligibility requirements and/or has not demonstrated the ability to fully meet all standards within the two-year restoration status period, the termination implementation will be reactivated and the effective date will be immediate. There will be no further right to request a review or appeal in this matter.”
“It seems to us that the new procedure would take away any ability to appeal,” Tim Killikelly, head of the City College teachers’ union, AFT Local 2121, told me. And that from an agency that just about everyone who has watched this procedure agrees is out of control.
In other words, the same crew of crazy people who caused this problem in the first place will now put City College through a new wringer, with the outcome uncertain and the school forced to give up its rights in the process.
“Instead of an extension, which is what the school asked for, we have this new term and policy,” Killikelly said. “Right now, we have a lot more questions than answers.”
Killikelly agrees that it’s good for students and the city (and, of course, teachers) to have confidence that City College will be open this fall – but it would have been open anyway: The lawsuit, which would force far more sweeping changes in the accreditation process and the ACCJC, guarantees that. It gives two more years for the school to get its house in order – but leaves the final decision up to the same panel.
“Anything that keeps the school open, we want,” Killikelly said. “But we’re not entirely comfortable with this new process they’re suggesting.”
In a message from AFT to its members, the union notes: “This latest move, made under extraordinary pressure, seems more designed to save ACCJC than City College.”
There’s a real danger that what appears to be good news for the moment could undermine long-term reform: If this new procedure takes the pressure off the ACCJC, and if the agency can use it to undermine the city’s lawsuit and say, hey, no problem: We’re listening, we’re fixing things … then an opportunity to overhaul and reform a disastrous accreditation commission and process could slip away – and City College won’t be the last victim.
So for the moment, let’s hold the champagne; it’s not over, by any means. City College has, at best, a reprieve, but only on very unfair and possible unacceptable grounds. With its back against the wall, the ACCJC is trying to slide away with a half-assed policy that never addresses the real problems, keeps City College in a terrible limbo, and leaves unelected, unaccountable people in charge.
Don’t mean to be throwing the turd in the punchbowl, but I’m not ready to party yet.