City College and its faculty have come to terms on a new contract – and now the union is focusing on another long-term challenge: Getting rid of the rogue accrediting agency that created the financial problems at City.

The California Federation of Teachers filed a detailed complaint Aug. 8 with the US Department of Education demanding, among other things, that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges be immediately stripped of its authority and replaced.

Union President Tim Killikelly wants the rogue accreditor shut down. Photo by Gabriella Angotti-Jones
Union President Tim Killikelly wants the rogue accreditor shut down. Photo by Gabriella Angotti-Jones

The complaint argues that the ACCJC should not be allowed to decide this winter whether City College remains accredited. “The ACCJC continues to flaunt federal rules and its authority should be rescinded immediately,” the complaint states.

Pretty much everyone in the educational world has lost faith in the ACCJC, including the state chancellor and state Community College Board (hardly, by the way, a radical group). The colleges that pay for the ACCJC and use its services no longer trust it.

But still, like Dracula, the agency refuses to die. In fact, it’s representatives are scheduled to be on campus in October to review whether City College has jumped through all of the hoops and done all of the things the agency wants, some of which are just bad and wrong.

And then early in 2017, it’s supposed to render a final verdict on accreditation – from which there will be no appeal.

So the people who a Superior Court judge, the state regulators, and their own constituents say are biased and unqualified still hold the school’s fate in their hands.

ACCJC President Barbara Beno has lost all credibility. Photo by James Fanucchi
ACCJC President Barbara Beno has lost all credibility. Photo by James Fanucchi

The CFT, with the support of the American Federation of Teachers, wants to halt that process and give another organization – one with more credibility – the right to review City College.

It’s hard to underestimate the damage that the ACJC has done to City College and to the San Francisco community. The threats to shut the place down have devastated enrollment, hurt tens of thousands of students, and cost the state taxpayers millions of dollars.

There’s no way to hold the agency, or its astonishingly arrogant leader, Barbara Beno, directly accountable for the wreckage. The ACCJC is funded by the schools that subscribe to its service, so even if City College were able to sue for damages, there wouldn’t be any money.

But at the very least, the Department of Education could stop and further harm by in essence doing what the ACCJC tried to do to City College: Revoking the agency’s accreditation.

“ACCJC’s institutional failures are such that they cannot be corrected,” the complaint states.

Among the criteria for federal recognition of a college accreditor: The agency has to be “widely accepted” by educators and educational institutions. That makes sense: An accrediting agency has to has credibility.

But by any standard at all, the ACCJC lacks that credibility. In the past 15 years, the ACCJC has sanctioned schools at 400 times the rate of the next strictest accrediting body in the country. At times, the complaint notes, that rate has exceeded 700 percent.

(In the meantime, the ACCJC had no problem accrediting a for-profit chain of schools that the feds had to close for misleading students.)

The chief executive officers of the 113 California community colleges have agreed that the ACCJC is not acceptable and are looking for alternatives.

So why is this operation still going? (My suggestion, that the schools just quit paying their ACCJC dues, which would effectively kill the agency, may not be practical, but something has to be done.)

So it’s now in the hands of the Department of Education, in the waning days of the Obama Administration. Obama’s DOE has been highly critical of the ACCJC,, and it’s crazy to think that City College could still be trying to please an out-of-control accreditor that has done its best to ruin one of the top community colleges in the state.

The DOE tends to move slowly. But there’s not a lot of time left. “We are asking for an immediate decision, for immediate de-listing,” Tim Killikelly, president of Local 2121 and a named complainant, told me.

Unless that happens quickly, the visiting team will arrive a City College in October. In the past, those teams have been a lot more supportive of City; the bad decisions were not made, court testimony showed, by the actual academics who evaluated the school but by the commission itself.

The DOE has known for more than three years that this is a problem. There’s no evidence to the contrary. It’s just bureaucratic slowness – and City College’s future is in the balance.

  • aj

    What ACCJC is really about is power, power projection, and unquestioning obedience to its dictates. Even if unrelated to education, ACCJC requires that:
    “The institution…complies with Commission requests, directives, decisions and policies. The institution acknowledges that if it fails to do so, the Commission may act to impose a sanction, or to deny or revoke candidacy or accreditation.”

    Barbara Beno’s 1985 doctoral dissertation “The Political Economy of Public Organizations: A Comparative Study” should be helpful in understanding ACCJC behavior.

    Her dissertation compares two environmental health agencies’ handling of their domain. One agency deals with its domain in a “parochial” traditional bureaucratic fashion. The other agency deals with its domain in a pro-active manner, creating its own new realities to expand its domain and legitimacy.

    Here’s one relevant quote from Beno:
    [Organizational] “Success” is defined as an organization’s ability to maintain or expand its boundaries in the face of external control of its resources and the resulting external influence on its actions.”

    It’s important to note that Beno does not define organizational success in terms of how well it fulfills its mission. She defines “success” in terms of power and reach.

    As the leader of ACCJC, Beno has modeled her agency after the “Downstate Agency” described in her dissertation. It’s a model for the expansion and enforcement ACCJC’s domain and its organizational self-interest.

    In a 2008 doctoral dissertion, “Shifting Alliances in the Accreditation of Higher Education: On the Long Term Consequences of the Delegation of Government Authority to Self-Regulatory Organizations”, Paul Weissburg concluded:

    “From the perspective of the general public, however, there are numerous potential disadvantages to governments‘ growing reliance on privately run, self-regulatory organizations. There is no guarantee that the interests of the self-regulatory bodies and those of the general public will neatly coincide; if they do not, self-regulating organizations should be expected to pursue their own best interests. …. Further, self-regulation can result in a lack of transparency and accountability.”

    BOTTOM LINE: ACCJC seeks to maximize its own organizational self-interest and “success.” ACCJC’s pursuit of its own organizational “success” works to the detriment of the public interest.

    • Karl Young

      Well, while I’m somewhere near the top of the list of people who want to see the ACCJC completely and immediately stripped of all authority, that’s not because it “seeks to maximize its own organizational self-interest”. All organizations do that to some degree; it’s just that the ACCJC’s organizational self interest is simply not aligned with anything of use or interest to anyone involved in education, in any capacity, only with their single minded and evidence free belief that privatization is the sole solution to any problems that arise in education.

  • “But still, like Dracula, the agency refuses to die.”
    One simple solution:
    (I’ll set up the crowd funding page)

  • JonathanNathan

    Can someone give me the Cliffs Notes on why ACCJC has it out for City College? I’ve never been able to figure it out.

    • Karl Young

      Well Cliffs Notes would be generous re. what I can say, but what the heck ignorance never stopped me before… You can look up to confirm or disconfirm all of this, though concise sources seem to be in short supply.

      But my understanding is that the ACCJC has an agenda re. privatizing much of public education, particularly in their domain at the community college level. A couple of people I know that have taught at community colleges say that the ACCJC promotes and rewards the hiring of pro business administrators who bring a bottom line agenda to their jobs and try to cut as many programs and classes as possible based on claims that they don’t produce revenue, and generally with little regard for any educational benefits they provide. These administrators apparently try to push a lot of functionality out to things like online courses, much of which they contract out for, allowing them to get rid of expensive tenure type positions.

      And while I don’t think anybody argues that CCSF didn’t have administrative problems that made them vulnerable, their mission of full service to the community rather than just rushing people through to 4 year programs (which would no doubt be a lot cheaper) wasn’t in keeping with the ACCJC’s agenda. Then there was some legislation (anyone out there know the specific bill ?) that the ACCJC strongly favored and that CCSF actively opposed and according to some that was the last straw and is what finalized the ACCJC’s vendetta re. revoking CCSF’s accreditation.