By Jim Miller
Last week I outlined the plight of the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) noting that CCSF had become the “Chicago of Higher Education” as the college and their community allies were engaged in a struggle to stop the loss of its accreditation at the hands of a corrupt commission that was driven by a misguided corporate education reform agenda.
As I noted in that column, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) has become a rogue entity:
Obviously, the ACCJC has a conflict of interest as it has transformed itself into not just an evaluator but also a lobbying group pushing for various forms of education reform, such as completion-based funding models and more. They have broken federal laws, destroyed key documents, intimidated critics, ignored their own rules, and totally disregarded the notion that agencies involved in the public’s business should be accountable to the public and operate transparently.
Indeed, as CFT has challenged their role, the ACCJC has shredded documents, tried to impose confidentiality requirements on publicly elected trustees, sought to destroy shared governance on campuses, and tried to undermine collective bargaining agreements. In sum, the ACCJC is a profoundly undemocratic private entity licensed by the U.S. Department of Education that seeks to operate in secret with no accountability to anyone.
The California Federation of Teacher’s (CFT) response to this untenable situation was to file a complaint with the ACCJC noting the commission’s failure to follow state and federal law in a variety of areas while being arbitrarily punitive with their sanctions of CCSF. Predictably, ACCJC dismissed the CFT complaint, which was then sent to the Department of Education (DOE) who oversees the commission.
On August 13th, the DOE responded to CFT’s complaint by concluding that the ACCJC had indeed violated Federal regulations by not adequately representing faculty on their visiting teams, refusing to comply with conflict of interest requirements, failing to clearly indicate the significance of their recommendations with regard to meeting standards, and inconsistently enforcing their “recommendations.” The DOE letter to ACCJC ends by noting that given the fact that ACCJC is itself up for renewal by the DOE, the DOE will conduct a full review of their practices that may include other deficiencies not raised in their preliminary report. Hence, after pulling the accreditation of CCSF the ACCJC itself may now face a similar fate.
The Department of Education’s report calling out the ACCJC’s rogue behavior is a big win for CFT and its allies in the fight not just to save CCSF but to reform the accreditation process for all community colleges. It gives the movement to save CCSF political momentum and paves the way for a lawsuit to challenge the ACCJC’s sanctions in San Francisco. And now that the DOE has acknowledged the veracity of CFT’s claims against ACCJC, there is also hope that Barbara Beno’s reign of terror heading that commission may soon be coming to an end.
Thus, CCSF lives to fight another day.
Bad Outsourcing Bill Checked, For Now
Back in March I reported on a terrible bill put forth by State Senator Darrell Steinberg that “proposed what he thinks of as a bold new way to reshape higher education in California and to deal with the bottleneck of students who have trouble getting into ‘gateway’ classes in our community colleges and universities. What is Steinberg’s answer to our access ills? Sadly, it is outsourcing higher education to the corporate interests who have long been aggressively lobbying to get a piece of the publicly funded pie that is California’s public education system.”
Jon Weiner also covered the Steinberg bill (SB 520) in The Nation:
Here’s how California treats its public colleges and universities: first, cut public funds, and thus classes; then wait for over-enrollment, as students are unable to get the classes they need to graduate; finally, shift classes online, for profit. That’s the way Laila Lalami, UC Riverside creative writing professor, explained it in a recent tweet, and that’s pretty much the whole story behind the bill introduced this week by the Democratic leader of the state senate, Darrell Steinberg.
Despite Steinberg’s claim that the bill’s inclusion of a “panel of California faculty” to approve which courses will be outsourced constitutes “consultation,” the truth is that his proposal would gut all existing shared governance and curriculum policies and represents a dangerous trend toward the micromanaging of higher education policy by Sacramento.
Fortunately, since then, after months of lobbying by a coalition of education and labor groups, SB 520, Steinberg’s online learning bill, has been turned into a two-year bill. This does not mean the bill is dead—but it gives critics time to fight and/or change it. Opponents of the bill now have the next six to eight months for a faculty/labor coalition to work with Steinberg to figure out a solution or next steps.
This was made possible by a months long effort by faculty and their allies across the state pointing out the deep flaws in SB 520. Now, rather than a rushed bill getting jammed down the throats of California colleges, there is hope that with more collaboration among stakeholders, we might come out of this process with a bill that does not outsource higher education and, instead, follows best practices in online education that enhance rather than undermine our colleges.
Adult Education Programs Saved
Finally, in yet another piece of good news for higher education in California, Senator Liu’s SB173 which would have all but eliminated access to community colleges for parents and older adults was also stopped from advancing. As with much of what we are seeing on the higher education front, Liu’s bill would have dramatically transformed and limited access to college for adult learners in the name of efficiency and cost savings.
The big picture take away here is that until we address the long-term revenue needs of our state’s higher education system, we will continue to see a litany of bad ideas from accreditation commissions and legislators seeking to build the future on the cheap frequently at the expense of working and middle class students who will continue to get the short end of the stick.