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Uncategorized ACCJC prez admits City College got unfair treatment

ACCJC prez admits City College got unfair treatment

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ACCJC President Barbara Beno ducked and covered -- but had to answer the key questions
ACCJC President Barbara Beno ducked and covered — but had to answer the key questions

By Tim Redmond

OCTOBER 28, 2014 — In what could be a decisive moment in the City College trial, the head of the ACCJC admitted today that the agency’s decision to yank accreditation from City College violated the agency’s own standards and denied due process to the San Francisco school.

Barbara Beno, president of the accrediting commission, also admitted that she personally edited the report of the visiting team responsible for evaluating the school, and that her changes – which were detrimental to City College – were adopted in the final document.

Among those changes were the removal of language stating that the school administration, faculty, and board had shown “a high level of dedication, passion, and enthusiasm and provided compelling evidence to address the issues” that lead to a loss of accreditation.

Under the ACCJC’s rules, Beno — a staffer, not a commission member — should have had no role in deciding whether City College kept its accreditation.

She also denied that the commission’s decision to put her husband on the team that evaluated City College was a conflict of interest – and insisted that she had never once discussed the school’s accreditation with him. That, one City College supporter told me, “strains credulity.”

Beno was on the stand for more than two hours, and at times, it felt as if Deputy City Attorney Ron Flynn was a dentist pulling a painful and deeply impacted molar. Over and over, Beno resisted answering the questions. Over and over, she ducked and diverted and tried to avoid the key admission.

But Flynn persisted, taking Beno methodically through the ACCJC’s own processes, outlined in the agency’s own policies and procedures manual. A January, 2011, version of that manual notes that colleges subject to the panel’s oversight have the right to due process.

Here’s the key point: When the ACCJC sends a team to visit a school, that team – made up of volunteers who are supposed to be peers of the institution – writes up a report and makes recommendations. The school gets a copy of the draft report and has the right to respond.

But if the full commission recommends sanctions that are tougher than what the visiting team wanted, and bases that decision on information and conclusions not in the team report, the rules say the school gets additional time to respond in writing to that decision.

In this case, there’s no question that the visiting team recommended probation, a lower sanction than the “show cause” that led to the loss of accreditation. The final report of the ACCJC – after Beno’s edits – was changed; some areas in which the team said City College met the applicable standards were changed to say that the school failed to meet those standards.

And the termination report, everyone agrees, included new charges that City College never had a chance to challenge. That would certainly appear to be a violation of the ACCJC’s own rules.

Duck and cover

Three times, Flynn asked Beno:

Did the ACCJC follow its internal standards and afford City College additional time to respond to the new claims?

At first, she tried to change the subject. Then she said that she thought the ACCJC did, indeed, let City College respond.

Flynn went through the time frame again, demonstrating that Beno was wrong, and repeated his question:

“After the commission imposed termination, did it afford City College extra time to respond?” Flynn asked.

Beno paused. Finally, she looked up and said: “No.”

Tim Killikelly, president of the City College teachers’ union, told me afterward that “the answer she had to give was that she didn’t afford the college adequate time – an obvious violation of due process.”

Beno was today’s star witness, although she was, at best, hostile to the plaintiffs. Flynn started off asking her if she thought that completion rates – a standard that the state’s community college chancellor talked about yesterday – were a valid measure of success. She said they were one measure.

Flynn then asked her about the politics that some say are behind this entire trial – the move by some state officials, backed by Beno, to change the mission of community colleges in California.

The so-called Student Success Task Force, and a bill that sought to implement its recommendations, were aimed to limiting community colleges to a curriculum aimed at students who sought to gain two-year degrees or transfer to four-year schools.

The more open policy at City College – which offers continuing adult education, English as a second language classes, and a wide range of programs aimed at a diverse community – was at odds with the vision that Beno openly and actively supported.

At the same time that City College was under accreditation review, college students, administrators, and faculty were engaged in a strong battle to defeat the measure that Beno wanted to see enacted.

She said at first that she didn’t know City College was opposed to the bill, but then acknowledged that she was aware that two schools, City being one of them, were staunch foes of the legislation.

No pillow talk here

Then came a somewhat bizarre series of questions about the accrediting team that involved Beno’s husband.

Flynn asked if she thought that placing her spouse on a visiting team could create a conflict of interest. No, she said.

Q: Did you discuss with your husband what happened at the team visit?

A: No

Q: Did you discuss the report?

A: No

Q: Did you discuss the team recommendations?

A: No

It reminded me of the US Senate hearings on the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who insisted that he had never discussed the Roe. v. Wade abortion-rights case with anyone, including his wife.

Which drove then-Rep. Barbara Boxer to ask: “Are they claiming to be the only married couple in America that has never discussed Roe v. Wade?”

And it drove Killikelly today to tell me that it “strained credulity” to think that the married couple never discussed what one of them was doing at work. “Unless she knew there was a conflict of interest,” Killikelly said.

Beno acknowledged – again, under tough questioning – that the US Department of Education had found that the role of her husband could create problems, and that the ACCJC has since changed its policies to avoid that type of conflict of interest.

Then Flynn started asking about how the visiting team report evolved. The first version of the report didn’t suggest the harsh level of “show cause;” the visiting team wanted to put City College on probation, and give the school two years to address its problems.

The ACCJC staff, including Beno, regularly reads those reports for style and clarity; that editing role, she agreed, should not involve policy changes.

“My job was an editor,” Beno said.

But she also admitted that she had offered very substantial changes to the team report – changes that included replacing at least two areas where the team found the school to be in compliance with ACCJC standards with new language showing the school not in compliance.

In fact, she asked the chair of the visiting team not to send City College the first draft of the report until she had a chance to read and edit it.

“It appears the chair took your comments and followed them, right,” Flynn asked.

“It appears so, yes,” Beno said.

Conflicts and interests

The day started with an expert witness who said that the situation Beno and her husband were in should have set off alarm bells.

David Bergeron, who spent a 30-year career with the US Department of Education, could not legally testify to whether the ACCJC was fair in its assessment of City College.

But when presented with a hypothetical scenario that was identical to the process at issue in this case, Bergeron said clearly that he saw it as a conflict.

Among other things, he said that the process of accreditation is by nature not very transparent, since much of the work is confidential – and therefore it’s crucial that the public not see any real or apparent conflicts.

“Having expectations about preventing conflicts of interest is critical to the process,” he said.

The ACCJC panel reviewing City College included the spouse of ACCJC President Barbara Beno, who is also a senior official at Laney College, which would stand to gain students if City College were forced to close.

A direct conflict of interest, Bergeron said, occurs when there’s a potential financial benefit to one of the parties. When asked if the situation described at City College would be a direct conflict, the witness said yes.

And even outside of that personal connection, Laney College and its senior staff would stand to benefit financially from the closure of City College.

Bergeron also testified that the main purpose of accreditation is to ensure academic quality – which is why evaluation teams need to include a reasonable number of academics.

For big, complex research universities, the teams might include fewer front-line academics. But for teaching colleges, he said, “you would want to have more academics.”

There was only one teacher on the panel that evaluated City College.

On cross-examination, ACCJC counsel Andrew Sclar went back to yesterday’s focus: Finance. He asked Bergeron if financial stability was a key part of accreditation, and Bergeron agreed that it was.

Sclar pointed to one of his big charts, this one tracking the communications between the ACCJC and City College around financial standards. Sclar kept pushing Bergeron to say that the school received adequate notice of its deficiencies.

But by the time Beno took the stand, all of that evaporated.

The defense will get a chance to examine Beno tomorrow.

Full disclosure note: While I try to raise enough money for 48hills to actually pay myself a living wage, I’m taking on outside work. I am a guest lecturer at City College, teach at San Francisco’s State’s Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning, and recently did a class at USF. I have been paid the princely sum of $50 to speak at a friend’s journalism classes at the Academy of Art University.

As a freelancer, I am helping edit the member newsletter of SEIU Local 1021, a union that has members at City College. I am also on the board of Legal Assistance to the Elderly, which is losing its office space in mid-Market because of tech-driven rent increases; I get paid nothing for my board service. I am volunteering to help the Bernal Heights Neighborhood center restart its bimonthly newspaper, The New Bernal Journal, although I am way behind on that effort.

I will continue to update any future conflicts in the unlikely event that anyone else out there offers to pay me for anything.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Moreover, looks at the public record completed Accreditation Reviews of CA community colleges since 2006. Hittleman’s CFT complaint barely scratched the surface on systemic state-wide non-compliance & violations of Secretary’s Criteria for Recognition of ACCJC. Sadly, CCCCO & BOG have similar a philosophy of “K-14 reform”, but at least public bodies are covered by the full range of CA Sunshine Laws & at accountable if there is political will.

    Part of the condescending blitheness which CCD policy faces on the part of politicians, accreditors, and many administrators seems to come from the perception that CCDs are essentially USDs. In no other state of comparably population & demographics does the liminal 13th-14th Grade advanced secondary education paradigm exist. Taking NY, given that it has comparable state shared governance laws for SUNY & CUNY, community colleges are still considered lower-division postsecondary institutions classed with SUNY/CUNY 4-years under education & labor laws (their CSU/UC equiv.), accredited by the same college/university accreditor rather than a separate 2-year Commission.

  2. Relying on future monies to meet current liabilities is the quintessence of a Ponzi scheme.

    It is a strategy based on hope and the idea that you can always cam future taxpayers to bail out past errors.

  3. Sam, the reference to pay as you go as a Ponzi scheme is right-wing dogma and ignores the larger picture I outlined above.

  4. David. I see you got the SF Republican Party endorsement for D6.

    Do you agree with their CCSF trustee endorsement to reject Grier?

    And with the SF Libertarian Party endorsement to vote only for Moyer for CCSF trustee?

  5. “Pay as you go” is a Ponzi scheme that requires an ever-growing stream of revenues coming in to avoid default and bankruptcy.

    Better to address that now and rely on “jam tomorrow”

    And, by the way, I’d say the same thing about social security. I’m not singling out CCSF except that their fiscal situation seems much more dire.

    If CCSF is allowed to survive in some form, then it must be financially sound and sustainable, and not rely on hitting up the taxpayers every time there is a shortfall.

  6. City College’s financial situation is not on trial here; whether the ACCJC gave CCSF a fair evaluation is and the article above clearly suggests the answer is no.

    As for CCSF’s financial situation, the college’s VP for finance said the college was in good condition before the ACCJC voted to revoke its accreditation. The $189 million in unfunded retiree healthcare liabilities mentioned in yesterday’s Chronicle was a political issue ginned up by the ACCJC, which wants colleges to pre-fund retiree health benefits instead using a pay-as-you go approach as CCSF and a number of other California community colleges do.

    In an ideal world a move toward pre-funding would be a good idea but the right-wing squeeze on public education — indeed on all programs with public employees — makes this difficult and turns retiree benefits into a political football, as the ACCJC has done here. It demonizes public employees and goes hand-in-hand with the idea of making government small enough to fit into a bathtub.

  7. So criticism of CCSF’s woeful financial performance and organizational deficiency is all a vast right-wing conspiracy then? With absolutely no basis in fact?

    That’s very convenient for the guilty parties at CCSF.

  8. Your bottom line, blaming “aging, reactionary rebels” for the accreditation crisis, is simplistic and deceptive. There are a host of characters that deserve more credit for what we have now: Neoliberal education reformers, the ACCJC, Brice Harris, Ed Lee, two interim chancellors, Super Trustee Robert Agrella, a Board of Trustees that was slow to recognize the danger, and of course the Chronicle, which spent much of the developing crisis as an ACCJC cheerleader. There are probably others who could be added to this list.

  9. Hi Tim, Once again, excellent reporting by you and all your City College follow-up.

    The accreditation commission must be held accountable for the incredible harm that has been and was done to City College students, faculty, staff and department chairs. That Beno substituted her own ACCJC report for her own personal agenda is unconscionable and calls into question the integrity of the entire accreditation process nationwide. Her unilateral actions and decisions to close San Francisco’s City College, one of the largest and most diverse community colleges in the nation, would set a dangerous precedent for all education in the United States.

    This has been a hard, painful fight. And many City College people have suffered unfair and unwarranted harm and damage.

    City College is San Francisco’s college, representing all our communities. Our gratitude to so many who fought so hard. To Dennis Herrera and his team: Yvonne Mere, Tom Lakritz, Sara Eisenberg and Ron Flynn. To our city officials, Board of Supervisors, our representatives in Sacramento, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges and all the City College community: students, faculty, staff, department chairs, unions, board members, associations, groups, alumni/ae and CCSF retirees and former employees.

    Beno and the accreditation process nationwide must be held accountable for the damages to City College’s educational promise and mission. And the harm to the 80,000 CCSF students, 2000 employees and 800,000 SF residents who have supported the college.
    .
    Ann Clark, San Francisco Resident, Educator and CCSF Graduate

  10. “As a freelancer, I am helping edit the member newsletter of SEIU Local 1021,”

    No appearance of ethical conflict of of quid pro quo here.

    “And the Guardian, always a self-proclaimed voice of the malleable term “progressivism,” became aligned with specific, individual “progressive” politicians and specific, individual union bosses and their organizations. As such, those assailing the city’s ossified system were often rebuked within the Guardian’s pages with a spirited progressive defense of the status-quo.”

  11. Read the original CFT May 2013 complaint to the Department of Education (you can find it online) along with the ACCJC’s response.

    It clearly shows Beno’s involvement with the SSTF, her knowledge of CCSF’s involvement, and even defends her participation in these issues. So, yes, she knew and admitted it at the time.

    Could this be perjury?

  12. “Flynn then asked her about the politics that some say are behind this entire trial – the move by some state officials, backed by Beno, to change the mission of community colleges in California.

    The so-called Student Success Task Force, and a bill that sought to implement its recommendations, were aimed to limiting community colleges to a curriculum aimed at students who sought to gain two-year degrees or transfer to four-year schools.”

    Light bulbs were going off in my head as I read the above.

    The Student Success Task Force (SSTF) and the state legislature bill to implement it were both fought hard by radical CCSF students, with active support and guidance of radical CCSF teachers. There are a series of YouTube videos of CCSF students testifying in Sacramento at hearings on the SSTF, beating the crap out of a corporate Democrat bill sponsored by big money and big institutional forces.

    So 48 Hills theory that the Beno accreditation report was payback against the CCSF student & faculty radicals for fighting SSTF makes perfect sense. And this may also explains why the “City Mothers & Fathers”—the SF Democratic Machine—took so long to sue against the closure of a vital public college.

    I now suspect that behind the scenes a battle raged between Sacramento corporate Democrats and SF radicals. The corporate Dems want to “reform” the California community colleges by turning them into junior colleges to fast track middling high school students into worker bee jobs. Incidentally, there are huge profits to be made in privatizing and “reforming” education. Why else would Bill & Melinda Gates be investing so heavily in education reform “philanthropy?”

    Using the neo-liberal tools available during an austerity crisis, the SSTF plan was use a phony accreditation crisis to chop the continuing education “fat” out (no more art classes for seniors, no more lithography classes for idlers, etc.), to chop out the social services “fat” (no more ESL for immigrants, no parolee re-integration programs, etc.) and refashion the California CCs as corporate education service centers to create docile workers for the hoped-for information economy boom of the 2020s.

    CCSF has long been a hotbed of SF radicalism. 48 Hills creator Tim Redmond is only one of many progressives who makes ends meet with a part time gig at CCSF. Calvin Welch also teaches at CCSF. The Labor Studies and various ethnic and queer studies departments were specifically attacked by Barbara Beno’s minions.

    But Beno went too far. She’s an aggressive pit bull who got CCSF in her bloody teeth and tried to tear it to shreds, perhaps in part as payback for other murky career wounds in her past (some say she left the Peralta Community College system under extreme duress.)

    Let’s hope CCSF and the SF City Attorney wins the case against Beno, stability is restored and the full, traditional mission of the *community* colleges are preserved.

    Bottom line: CCSF has been badly damaged in the battle between the SSTF education “reformers” and the aging, reactionary radicals who’ve run City College for decades as a political fiefdom with perks for insiders like Redmond and Welch.

    The CCSF debacle is a case study of how and why SF politics doesn’t work to benefit those our public institutions are supposed to serve.

  13. My hopes are cautiously up that the judge, who’s donated $$ to Barbara Boxer and Gray Davis, is gonna rule the right way to save City College and get rid of the overseer.

    By the way, the Bay Guardian’s old web site has been down all day. If it comes back up, sure hope they restore all historical comments made before the staff banned any new comments in August. It’s one thing to ban comments, which was the staff’s decision, but to also delete every comment made before the banning erases SF history.

    If you’re pissed off, vote Petrelis!

Comments are closed.

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