CFT leaders challenge college accreditation agency

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The California Federation of Teachers and its City College of San Francisco affiliate, AFT local 2121, filed a complaint or "third-party comment" on April 30 with the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), and sent a copy to the U.S. Department of Education. With this action, the CFT is protesting the ACCJC's placement of City College of San Francisco on a "show cause" sanction in 2012.

The document argues that no sanction, let alone show cause, should have been imposed on CCSF. It also notifies the ACCJC and the Department of Education that in the view of the CFT, the accrediting agency is in violation of federal and state law and its own policies, and has overstepped its authority in a number of ways. The agency is currently undergoing its own review by the Department of Education, and the CFT is presenting the complaint as information useful to that process.

"It's ironic that an accreditation agency itself has to be held to account," says CFT president Joshua Pechthalt, who is an AFT vice president. "But it's past time for someone to blow the whistle here. Community college faculty should be in their classrooms with their students, not fearfully pushing paper to appease a wrong-headed 'education reform' agenda, or worse, standing in unemployment lines because of these actions. The CFT is prepared to do whatever it takes to make this right for students, faculty and the quality of education in California's community colleges."

City College of San Francisco has suffered the loss of thousands of students due to fears they would not receive credit for classes taken, and would not be eligible for student financial aid. The ACCJC's action has thrown the college into turmoil, disturbed what had been a collegial atmosphere, and negatively affected the college's ability to deliver a high-quality education to its students.

Says Alisa Messer, a CCSF English instructor and president of AFT 2121, "City College's accreditation process should be used to improve the quality of education we offer, not to diminish educational choices or support for students. Instead, this process has done harm to our college and our ability to offer the quality education our students deserve. We once had an atmosphere of engagement and collegiality that could carry the college even through challenging times. Unfortunately, though our support from the San Francisco community remains strong, the process has been used as an excuse to dismantle many things our college community holds dear."

The complaint seeks remedies, the most significant of which are to lift the show cause sanction on CCSF, and for the ACCJC to cease violating laws and its own policies in pursuit of an inappropriate education reform agenda.

The CFT's Community College Council president Jim Mahler observes, "We need to get the commission back to where it used to be, as a positive force for quality instruction, not as an agency to be feared."

More information about the issue and the CFT's third-party comment is available on the CFT website. [California Federation of Teachers press release]

May 1, 2013