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California union complaint has accreditors in hot seat

The U.S. Department of Education has told the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges that it has until July 8 to provide a documented response to a complaint the accrediting agency received from the California Federation of Teachers and its City College of San Francisco affiliate.

On April 30, the CFT and AFT Local 2121, representing 1,650 full-time and part-time faculty, counselors, librarians and researchers at CCSF, filed a 298-page complaint and third-party comment with the ACCJC, raising serious concerns about the commission.

The City College of San Francisco, which, with 85,000 students, is one of the largest community colleges in the nation, has been in a yearlong fight for its survival in the face of the most drastic "show-cause" accreditation sanction leveled by the ACCJC last summer. The commission gave it a deadline of March 15 to act on recommendations and show why it should not lose its accreditation. (See background coverage from the AFT and from the California Federation of Teachers.)

The April complaint raises questions about the ACCJC's compliance with its own policies and state and federal law, its impartiality and integrity, and its reliability for federal accreditation purposes. It alleges that, in the matter of CCSF's accreditation, the ACCJC violated 10 federal regulations and a federal statute, and committed procedural errors and due process violations, as well as violating or inconsistently applying its own standards. More broadly, the complaint questions the ACCJC's treatment of all California community colleges. It asserts that the show-cause sanction is unwarranted and asks for it to be rescinded.

The CFT also filed a copy of the complaint with the Department of Education, which is authorized, through the office of the secretary of education, to recognize the regional accrediting agencies.

On May 30, the ACCJC offered a seven-page response to the CFT's complaint. It said at the outset that the commission would not address any of the allegations in the complaint since "the ACCJC has no reason to believe that its policies are not fully in accordance with all applicable legal requirements."

The CFT wrote to the Department of Education on June 4 to allege that ACCJC had failed to investigate and respond to the CFT's complaint in a manner required by law. (See the June 4 letter.)

In a June 10 letter to the ACCJC, Kay Gilcher, director of the Education Department's Accreditation Group, wrote that, as ACCJC "is recognized by the Secretary of Education, the concerns of the CFT about the Commission are taken seriously."
Coincidentally, the ACCJC is scheduled for a federal review of its petition for renewal of recognition this year. Department staff will review the petition, and then the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity will consider the petition at its December 2013 meeting.

The ACCJC made a decision on CCSF's accreditation at a meeting in early June. It is keeping it secret, however, until it makes an announcement in July.

(Read a longer version of this story on AFT higher education blog.) [Barbara McKenna, Alisa Messer]

June 27, 2013