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AFT leaders urge government to delist accrediting agency

The regional accrediting agency that wants to deny accreditation to the City College of San Francisco should, itself, be shuttered for violating the law and its own policies, national and state teachers unions leaders and City College students told a government panel on Dec. 12-13.

The U.S. Department of Education's National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity heard testimony about whether the accrediting authority of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges should be renewed. The commission has ruled that the City College of San Francisco should lose its accreditation effective July 31, 2014. The California Federation of Teachers filed an injunction late last month, contending this sanction—which no doubt would result in closure—is unjustified. None of the alleged infractions involve the quality of the academic program.

"The CFT has heard from our members for years about the wrongheaded, destructive, expensive and vindictive actions of the ACCJC, and we have documented numerous abuses of its public trust in our third-party complaint," Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers and an AFT vice president, said in urging the panel to recommend delisting the agency.

The advisory committee staff identified 15 areas in which the ACCJC fails to meet recognition criteria but said the violations do not warrant nonrenewal. Pechthalt countered that the agency "denies it has problems, obstructs efforts to fix them and misrepresents its actions continuously."

Alisa Messer, president of AFT Local 2121, the faculty union at the college, said the Department of Education needs to restore confidence in the entire accreditation process by holding the ACCJC accountable. "The process is broken for California's community colleges, and the Department of Education's own investigation confirms that the ACCJC acted inappropriately and illegally in its dealings with City College of San Francisco," she said. "The Education Department must end the reign of terror and abuse that the ACCJC has been visiting on City College, the citizens of San Francisco and California's community college system."

Shanell Williams is the elected student member of the college's board of trustees. "I refuse to let this runaway commission take hope and opportunity away from students like me who need CCSF the most. The diverse population of the San Francisco Bay Area, including working families, single parents, new immigrants, returning veterans and others, depends greatly on this college being here," Williams said. She was one of seven students who traveled to Washington, D.C. to address the NACIQI.

The college is losing enrollment because of the ACCJC's actions, Pechthalt said. There are now 80,000 full- and part-time students—down from 90,000 two years ago—2,500 faculty members and staff, 140 occupational programs, 60 academic departments that offer transfer opportunities to thousands of students, and an English-as-a-second-language program that instructs 20,000 immigrants each year.

Before addressing the commission, Pechthalt and Messer met with Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who is the ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee. They discussed the affect of ACCJC actions on community colleges in the state. The Higher Education Act, which regulates the federal system of accreditation, is due for reauthorization this coming year.

On Dec. 7, the faculty union overwhelmingly ratified a contract that protects hard-won rights and benefits, especially for adjunct faculty.

"This school is in a fight for its life, and the union did everything it could at the bargaining table and in the accreditation process to help keep the school open," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "In particular, the contract honors extraordinary rights and benefits for part-time faculty, which are rarely seen in contracts today. It ensures that all faculty, including part-timers, are respected and treated as the professionals they are."

[Barbara McKenna, AFT press release]

Dec. 14, 2013