ACCJC Part Deux

Is It Real Change or a Trojan Horse?

By David Yancey, AFT 6157 Past President, SJCC History Faculty

When bullies finally get their nose bloodied by someone they thought they could intimidate and when they realize they have met their match and finally learned that some people or groups just won’t back down or be victimized, they can experience a moment of clarity.

The ACCJC had that experience when they tried to bully CFT and its members by attacking our brothers and sisters at City College of San Francisco (CCSF). There is an old saying: “It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight; it is the size of the fight in the dog that matters.”

It is clear now that the ACCJC was the biggest dog in this fight but the CFT and the CCSF certainly had the most fight in them. So six years later, defeat after defeat, we hope this bully (ACCJC) has indeed experienced that moment of clarity. Time will tell.

This rebirth of the ACCJC began at the 2017 CFT Convention in Sacramento. Attendees were introduced to the new version of the ACCJC in the person of Dr. Richard Winn, Interim President of the ACCJC.

Interim ACCJC Executive Officer Visits CFT

Dr. Winn was there at the invitation of Jim Mahler, the President of the Community College Council regularly scheduled at each convention. Many were surprised Dr. Winn accepted the invitation, given the combative history between the CFT and especially the Community College Council.

It was this same ACCJC that viciously attacked CCSF in 2011, trying to close that wonderful college. At the same time, it levied sanctions on most of the other community colleges in California, including both colleges of the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District. And let us not forget that Dr. Winn was a Vice President of the ACCJC at that time.

But everyone seemed willing to at least listen and hear what Dr. Winn had to say. Dr. Winn’s tone was calm and his demeanor open and not as defensive as many expected. He stated he would stay and hear all the concerns in the room and there was no limit to the length of the Q&A section. His tone and manner seemed conciliatory and even had the hint of an olive branch type gesture or peace offering.

He listened to the many concerns of the community college members in attendance. He absorbed strong and valid criticisms, not only from the CCSF faculty, led by Tim Killikelly, their president, but also from the President of the L.A College Guild, Joanne Waddell, who rebutted the perception that community colleges were opposed to accreditation. She said we are opposed to the abusive responses from the ACCJC and the more than $1 million cost to comply with ACCJC demands.

Taking on the ACCJC Nothing Changes Much

Our own AFT 6157 President Paul Fong spoke strongly as well as our Executive Director Barbara Hanfling, who outlined the abuses our District had suffered, detailing how the ACCJC, illegally intruded into the area of Collective Bargaining by forcing districts to accept SLOs in their contracts. Dr. Winn did not try to defend the previous actions of the ACCJC that had resulted in their losing one lawsuit with the City of San Francisco and being put on sanctions from “their” accrediting agency in the Department of Education.

His mission seemed to be to reach out to the community college community at large and ask for another chance. He did not apologize directly for the ACCJC’s egregious acts against CCSF and he would not admit the agency had made legal mistakes (fearing liability lawsuits still pending by CFT against the ACCJC).

Dr. Winn stated the ACCJC was reviewing its priorities and its processes in an effort to revise and restructure how it would conduct its work in the future. Some of the ideas he expressed seemed positive in nature:

  • Being clear what they are looking for in accreditation visits.
  • Training visiting teams to look for the right things.
  • Moving away from a “gotcha mentality.”
  • Avoiding mixed communications between visiting teams and colleges.
  • Reviewing which standards “really” matter, such as “student earning and institutional stability.”
  • Importantly he also said that the ACCJC will focus on “educational and NOT SLOs, finances or governance.” This last statement will be huge if that is indeed what they do.
  • And finally trying to “take the fear out of the system.”

He acknowledged there had been a significant straining of mutual respect and trust between the ACCJC and the community colleges and that the future plans of the ACCJC is to send smaller teams to the institutions and grant full accreditation of seven years unless there were egregious problems. Minor problems could be covered in an 18-month review if necessary.

During the Q&A, he repeatedly resisted going back and reengaging in the many disputes between the ACCJC and the various colleges in our system that were victimized by the abuses of power by the ACCJC.

But by the end of the evening – and this debate and discussion went for the entire length of the three-hour meeting – most people were still skeptical of Dr. Winn’s answers, but to all it was certainly a better conversation than most had anticipated.

It is appropriate to thank Jim Mahler for bringing Dr. Winn to this meeting and it is also appropriate to thank Dr. Winn for enduring a long and often contentious discussion about this most difficult and painful time for our “community of colleges” and the faculty and students who suffered at the hands of this out-of-control agency.