The ACCJC AND Collegial Peer Review
Our strength often increases in proportion to the obstacles imposed upon it.
-Paul de Rapin
In a recent discussion about Compton college, someone compared the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) saying that what we have with compton is an economically depressed and diverse community whose needs have been disregarded by a powerful agency entrusted with the people's welfare. Of course, this analogy is inadequate because unlike the situation with the ACCJC and Compton, FEMA did not blow up the remaining levies and attempt to scuttle all opportunities for recovery.
The comparison to New Orleans is apt when privilege ignores need.
What galls me about the ACCJC's decision to deny accreditation at Compton is their failure to support Compton's astounding Renaissance in the making, that and the ACCJC's disregard for the campus and its surrounding community, now cast into despair and uncertainty. Their decision to not accredit Compton and to not work constructively with the System Office is part of an ongoing pattern that ignores the statewide and local voices of California's unique system of governance. This whole episode represents the tragic end of anything resembling a collegial process of peer review in California.
In contrast to the ACCJC's punitive approach, we have Chancellor Drummond taking the high road when on July 11, 2005 he committed the "full resources" of the System Office to help compton overcome its difficulties. Administrators were replaced and for the first time in more than ten years, Compton's faculty were provided the necessary resources to rebuild their curriculum, conduct program review, and participate in professional development. Five weeks later on August 19, 2005, the ACCJC, in vainglorious contrast, terminated compton's accreditation, with a continuance pending resolution of any review and appeal.
Undeterred, Compton's faculty continued their good work, laboring long hours beyond their contractual agreements to make significant progress with course design, the establishment of outcomes and objectives, the development and redesign of curriculum, and progress on program review. They contacted the State Academic Senate for workshops on academic and professional matters, and they went into their community to assure everyone that compton was still accredited. After all of that, and after all the corrective measures throughout the college, after everything, the ACCJC announced on November 21, 2005, its decision not to reaffirm Compton's accreditation.
For the record, nothing of this accreditation debacle was ever about compton's faculty. When their board and administrators created the financial issues that threatened to undermine Compton, the faculty petitioned their boards, their administrators, and their local press. It was after the System Office ordered an audit that the ACCJC asserted itself. It is worth noting that the ACCJC arrived without faculty members on their team and responded only to institutional fiscal malfeasance, an issue about which the system office had taken decisive action. Had the ACCJC worked in a constructive and coordinated manner with the system office, Compton and our entire system would have fared better than it has by the ACCJC's punitive and unilateral assault.
upon learning of the ACCJC's decision on November 21, eleven days after their closed door hearing on the matter, the first reaction was stunned disbelief. How is this possible? all this forward motion, all this hope just ignored? It was vintage kubla Ross, with a twist. While we might experience emotions related to denial, anger, bargaining, and despair, acceptance is out of the question! though the ACCJC had decreed compton as persona non grata, Chancellor Drummond and the System Office, the State Academic Senate, and most importantly, Compton itself have declared that this decision will not stand.
A question that remains, though, is if this experience with Compton is a harbinger of things to come?
A half decade ago, when the academic senate, FACCC and AAUP spoke against the new standards, and when the Academic Senate requested input into the development of the 2002 standards, it was all for naught. The ACCJC was not and is not interested in working with representative organizations. ACCJC representatives will say that they deal only with individual member institutions largely because WASC/ACCJC is not exclusive to california. When the ACCJC works with colleges in Hawaii, Guam, Palau, or the Marshall Islands, they are committed to uniform standards that are not constrained by the specifics of California's unique circumstances.
California's community colleges are united by representative state-wide senates and legislative intent that affirm faculty primacy over academic and professional matters. By failing to work constructively with the CCC System Office, the ACCJC cannot properly serve california's colleges and universities. the most obvious rationale for the ACCJC limiting their interactions to individual colleges is one of scale. one college may be intimidated by the ACCJC's punitive actions, but a system of 109 colleges is quite another story.
Also of interest is that Wasc is the only one of seven accrediting regions to establish separate standards for community colleges and four year institutions. Their explanation is that california is too large to manage within one accrediting division. If this is true, then why is WASC/ACCJC expanding its domain to include so many other regions and countries? Wouldn't it be better if California had one set of post-secondary standards that took into account its unique structure of intersegmental relationships? The ACCJC standards not only differ in content from those of California's four year colleges, they are more invasive and less respectful of academic freedom and local bargaining rights. When one considers that and our ongoing struggle to reach intersegmental agreement on transfer, course articulation, and the successful coordination of our various missions, one can only wonder what benefits might be derived from a common accreditation process that is responsive to CCC, CSU and UC concerns.
California's Community College System teaches between 20 and 25% of all of the college and university students in the entire United States.
Add to that the student headcount in the CSU and UC systems, and it soon becomes apparent that our representative system of governance in the three segments constitutes a threat to those who would prefer another, less independent academe.
clearly, the ACCJC has stood at a privileged distance from the real concerns that engage california's faculty on a daily basis, except when there arose an opportunity to assert their authority over Compton. One would hope that Compton's situation is unique in California, but it is entirely possible that other situations, just as onerous, may be slouching toward our bethlehem. When one considers the ever vacillating state of our budgets, the limitations imposed by high-fees-high-aid, the effort to excise lifelong learning from the fabric of our collective identity, the growing reign of accountability, the vagaries of transfer, the assaults on governance, the political agendas of those who promote that irony known as the Academic Bill of Rights, and the shifting power base of an expanding cadre of consultants and administrators within our system, it is clear that we must be vigilant.
Again, consider Compton's situation. Apart from the financial shenanigans that occurred outside of the faculty's pay grade, they are faced with another extraordinary task. Compton's feeder schools are among the least prepared in the nation. Though their students have graduated with a local high school degree, many of them arrive with a fourth grade reading level. Read Compton's mission statement and you find a college that is dedicated to providing for the academic needs of an economically depressed and often violent community. Whether the subject is degrees, certificates, transfer, basic skills, or academic enrichment, the faculty at Compton have been there to provide a combination of hope, rigor, encouragement, and assessment within a system that is increasingly fixed on moving people through in the most cost effective and expeditious manner.
As faculty throughout our state are faced with new, often orwellian attacks to their academic freedom and accreditation, they must remember that they can call on the State Academic Senate for a technical review (www.academicsenate.cc.ca.us and click on "Resources"). Of course, the question remains, what if all parties do not agree to a technical review? In that event, a local senate may do exactly what Compton's senate did: contact the Academic Senate and request assistance. From such a request, responses may entail a simple phone conversation, a visit by one or more executive committee representatives, or a Proposal for services, which happened with Compton. In the final analysis, local senates need not feel isolated and without options. naturally, one may be tempted to ask, "What good did all this assistance do Compton?" the answer is that we do not know yet, but we can say that we did the right thing. We worked together, and that is our primary strength. We are united in our service to our students, to protecting academic freedom, and to retaining our authority over academic and professional matters. all of California's 58,000 community college faculty are card-carrying members of the State Academic Senate, and if you don't have a card, simply request one by sending an email to as4ccc [at] earthlink.net.
If Compton fails, if their students fail, we all fail.
While powerful entities sit in remote judgment and dispense their forms of "justice," real people and real faculty continue to do the real work of helping California's students, one person at a time, come what may.
To that end, let us resolve to support our statewide organizations, to read their publications and to study the resolutions approved by our delegates at each academic senate plenary session. let us agree to call on the senate, when possible, before the arrival of cataclysmic circumstances, and let us resolve that our strength shall increase in proportion to the obstacles imposed upon us.
At the Academic Senate Fall 2005 Plenary Session, a resolution in support of Compton's faculty was given a roar of support by the hundreds of faculty in attendance. This article will conclude with the words that introduced the resolution.
In John ford's brilliant film rendition of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, Henry Fonda in the lead role as Tom Joad says the following:
I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be ever'- where-wherever you can look. Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad-I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise, and livin' in the houses they build-I'll be there, too.
While trustees abused their trust and administrators and other well placed officials placed the interests of students last, Compton's faculty were there. Compton's faculty were writing and updating the curriculum. Compton's faculty were placing SLOs in their syllabi. For many of Compton's students, their only hope was with the patient persistence of Compton's faculty.
In the community of Compton, there have been sixty homicides this year alone. But the college is untouched by violence-and always has been. At Compton college, faculty and students tend the grounds together; they plant trees, shrubs, and even food gardens. Compton college is an island of hope surrounded by a sea of social and economic turmoil-yet when the surrounding community was asked to support a bond for the college, they responded with a 78% approval, the highest percentage in the state.
Compton's faculty asked the Academic Senate for assistance, so President Walton sent Janet fulks, Pat Jameshanz, Lesley Kawaguchi and me to provide support. for a month now, we have been spending our fridays there, working with the most wonderful and dedicated faculty you could ever want to know. the faculty is what is right with Compton college.
Now, as in the Grapes of Wrath, Compton college faculty have been beaten up and have cried out, but, at the same time, they and their students are eating the food that they have raised together. Today it is time for us to be tom Joads, to acknowledge that we, all of us, are Compton college faculty.
The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.