Accreditation Standards: State and Local Concerns

October
2003
Greg Gilbert, Chair

Since Fall 1979, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges has passed nearly 120 resolutions that have to do with accreditation. Of those resolutions, nearly one-third date from Fall 2000 and urge opposition to the unilateral imposition of new accreditation standards by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), which includes the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC). At the heart of the Senate's complaint is the new standards' reliance on Student Learning Outcomes (SLO's). Though the Senate will continue its dialogue with WASC and the ACCJC, as will other institutions of higher learning, the standards have been adopted and are the official heuristic for all accreditation self-studies beginning this academic year.

Until now, the polemics and posturing that have surrounded the new accreditation standards have resided outside the laboratory of our classrooms, our programs, and our institutions - as a thought experiment. Today, as Drew Barrymore said in Poltergeist, "They're here!" Fortunately, the Academic Senate, along with its commitment to provide assistance to local senates, is also here.

Among the Academic Senate's goals for this year is the development of an accreditation primer and toolbox. To achieve this goal, the Senate is working with teaching professionals from around the state, including researchers and those whose colleges have already managed successful accreditation efforts without compromise to principles of participatory governance and service to students. Lamentable though the new standards may appear, the suggestion is that they may harbor the kernels of new opportunities. As my colleague at Copper Mountain College, Doug Morrison, observed, the new standards represent a fairly typical approach to project planning in that they require a mission that is linked to resources, production, and authority. The project, in this instance, involves SLO's, and, while college administrators manage resources, the role of the faculty is essential to the completion of an institution's successful accreditation report. Administration and faculty must work together, cooperatively and constructively, as they do at many colleges every day.

Certainly, we have seen collaborative success stories around the state. One such example is the Miramar College faculty response to the SLO challenge with their own principled perspective: "21st Century Learning Outcomes." Miramar's faculty, as well as colleagues from throughout California, will share their experiences and expertise at our Fall Plenary. The upshot is that though we are facing new realities, we need not sacrifice our principles. Neither must we operate within a vacuum. In the words of Adlai E. Stevenson, "Via ovicipitum dura est" (The way of the egghead is hard), and true as that may be, we have our collective wisdom to draw upon and will do so at the plenary. Though the accreditation challenge is unique to each region, all of us are bound by an overarching commitment to academic and professional matters, including valid, reliable, and authentic assessments.

By pooling our best minds, we can determine if our institutional self-studies can represent more than clerical exercises in compliance. Indeed, do we have the capacity to use the new standards to strengthen institutional unity in support of student success? We shall see. By examining the larger issues of accreditation together, we hope to formulate stances that preserve firewall protection between data collection and faculty evaluation, and we can stave off challenges to academic freedom. In that spirit, I hope that you will attend the Fall Plenary and come prepared to gather and dispense information that will help all of us successfully navigate the challenges of the new accreditation standards.

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