At the City College of San Francisco, there are more than 3,000 jobs on the line thanks to the decision of the accrediting agency to pull CCSF’s accreditation. Among those 3,000 people who will lose their jobs if administrators don’t come up with a solution quickly, are some 1,464 part-time faculty. It would be a devastating loss of jobs. Ironically, adjunct activists have long argued that accrediting agencies should sanction colleges that exploit non-tenured faculty. The New Faculty Majority, an advocacy group for adjuncts, is working to propose new accreditation standards. In April 2013, Keith Hoeller and Kathryn Re, two adjunct faculty at Green River Community College in Washington State and co-founders of the Green River Faculty Association, filed a complaint urging the regional college accreditor to investigate alleged abuses of part-time faculty at Green River. (AdjunctNation conducted investigations those alleged abuses here, here and here.) In March 2012 The Chronicle of Higher Education published, “Accreditation Is Eyed as a Means to Aid Adjuncts.” In that piece Peter Schmidt writes, “Some higher-education experts and prominent advocates for adjunct faculty members would like to see accreditors and others who pass judgment on colleges ask questions like that more often. Those concerned about the conditions of adjuncts argue that the poor environment in which many of them work represents not just a labor concern but also an educational problem, and they hope to persuade college accreditors to more rigorously examine the treatment of adjuncts in institutional reviews.”
The AAUP issued a report in 2008 titled “Looking the Other Way? Accreditation Standards and Part-Time Faculty,” in which it is argued that “While a few accreditors have added statements dealing with the evaluation and support of part-time faculty, there is little evidence that noncompliance with these statements has been a consistent factor in institutional evaluation. Because of the relatively scant information released by some accreditors, the public often has no way of discerning the specific problems leading to actions taken by accreditors or the details of how an institution achieved a subsequent reinstatement to good standing.”
Barbara A. Beno, president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, told The Chronicle of Higher Education her commission has pushed colleges to ensure that part-time faculty members are involved in curricular planning and discussions of how to assess and improve learning. “Colleges have been telling us they don’t have the money to pay part-time faculty to do this. Our response has been that they must do it,” explained Ms. Beno in March 2012. Three months later, Ms. Beno and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges issued a report in which the agency outlined its intention to revoke the City College of San Francisco’s accreditation.
According to the ACCJC report:
The self study identified several components of the faculty evaluation process designed to ensure the effectiveness of producing student learning outcomes, including that the student evaluation provides measures of linkages between the faculty and SLOs. During the visit, the team was not able to substantiate these assertions. The actual instrument used for faculty evaluation does not include these component parts. A review of evaluations did not provide evidence that this sub-standard is being met (III.A.1.c).
CCSF Local 2121’s AFT contract called for the following evaluation schedule: “Every temporary part-time faculty member must be evaluated within the first year of service. Thereafter, evaluation shall be at least once every six (6) regular semesters.” The union’s evaluation forms, included in the 278 page contract, had no items that could link the evaluation process to student learning outcomes. Rather, evaluations were conducted solely to give feedback to the instructor on the assumption, perhaps, that student learning outcomes are impacted most prominently by whether a faculty member can lecture credibly while a colleague is watching. Research, instead, indicates that total student load impacts student learning outcomes more significantly than teaching performance.
Adjuncts typically carry heavier student loads than do full-time faculty. The union contract at CCSF predictably throttles adjunct employment in order to provide higher salaries to the union’s full-time faculty members. This tactic guaranteed that those “full-time-part-time” adjuncts living in the Bay Area with its sky-high cost of living would take on high student loads in order to make ends meet. About half of the nation’s 1.2 million non-tenured faculty work off the tenure-track because they choose to do so. The other half are people who’ve hitched their wagon to the hope of a full-time teaching job and who work as Roads Scholars, freeway flyers, full-time-part-time faculty.
On July 9, 2013, there was a rally by part-time and full-time faculty at the City College of San Francisco to protest the threatened closure of the college. It enrolls upwards of 85,000 students and employs 1,464 part-time faculty, along with 776 full-time faculty. The college’s leaders described the full-time faculty as “a substantial core of qualified faculty” in the college’s February 2013 draft Show Cause Report. Faculty staged a protest in January 2013, when it became clear that the City College was in jeopardy of being shut down. In response that that protest, one the college’s trustee’s told the San Francisco Chronicle: “I think the protest today was an unproductive response to a house that’s burning down. We’re trying to put out the fire, and [faculty] are arguing about the drapes.”
The college’s Board of trustees had from June 2012 until March 15, 2013 to put out the proverbial fire and didn’t do it. A January 2013 editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle was biting:
“San Francisco’s woefully managed and financially feeble City College isn’t getting the message. An outside overseer, brought in to carry out promised changes, says foot-dragging by interest groups may mean the institution will miss a deadline for needed changes….The institution quickly went into overdrive to repair the problems. Its dysfunctional and dozing Board of Trustees brought in an outside overseer to fix matters. Problem areas such as soft management, an all-powerful faculty and too many campuses were all going to be addressed, college leaders promised.”
That overseer was Robert Agrella and in January 2013 he was of the opinion that “the conditions don’t exist for a deal that will satisfy the accreditation agency.” Turns out, he was right. Last week the commission ended City College’s accreditation effective July 2014. Commissioners pointed to deficiencies in fiscal planning, administration, student support services and other areas that the college failed to remedy a year after it had been put on notice to “show cause” why it should retain its academic standing.
If we are dispassionate about the situation at City College of San Francisco, and passionate about the need to support adjunct faculty, we have to look at Barbara Beno’s statement that colleges must involve part-time faculty “in curricular planning and discussions of how to assess and improve learning” and pay them to do it as an important step in the right direction. The City College of San Francisco wasn’t doing that. In fact, part-time faculty were routinely viewed as “non-core” faculty by both the institution and the union. Protesting the closure of the City College of San Francisco doesn’t change the fact that both the college and the union neglected to include part-time faculty in curricular planning and discussions about how to best assess and improve learning. That happened, in part, because the union cleverly negotiated a contract that didn’t call for faculty evaluations that were linked to student learning outcomes or the assessment of learning. That was a critical and tactical mistake that Dr. Beno’s accrediting organization identified (among several others).
Not-so-astonishingly on July 8th, the AAUP Executive Committee issued a statement on the Accreditation of City College of San Francisco. In that statement, the AAUP support’s the California Federation of Teachers’ (CFT) “complaint with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) questioning ACCJC’s impartiality and its compliance with its own policies as well as state and federal law. CFT alleges that, during its evaluation of CCSF, ACCJC violated ten federal regulations and a federal statute and committed procedural errors and due process violations.” Then again, the AAUP Executive Committee also included this: “CCSF has also been exemplary in its efforts to rely principally on full-time tenure-track faculty and to provide part-time faculty with fair compensation and working conditions conducive to student learning.”
According to the Local 2121 contract, an adjunct with a Ph.D who teaches 45 semesters tops out at $99.04 per contact hour, or $4,455 per course. Conversely, a full-time faculty member with the same qualifications tops out at $95,817 per year after 16 years. That means if both faculty members teach 8 courses per year (adjunct teaching loads are capped, however), the part-timer in the union would earn $35,640 per year while the full-timer took in 2.5 times more money. That’s not fair in my book, and I would venture to say that if Rudy H. Fichtenbaum, President of the AAUP found himself getting paid 2.5 times less for doing the same work with the same qualifications, he would be somewhat less cavalier in his definition of the term “fair compensation.”
This, however, is not why the college’s accreditation is being threatened. The college’s administrators did a poor job correcting the problems identified when the ACCJC’s team combed through the school’s financial records, student learning outcome documentation, faculty evaluations, curricular and technology plans. The college was $5 million dollars in the hole, skating uncomfortably close to insolvency. There were loads of “interim” administrators and 60 department chairs, money-losing branch campuses and non-credit programs whose administrators simply couldn’t demonstrate how the courses achieved their stated curricular goals. In short, City College of San Francisco was being run as if it were a jalopy. That doesn’t mean that, should the college lose it accreditation, over 3,000 faculty and staff won’t lose their jobs. Those 776 and 1,464 faculty will flood the local academic job market with applications. The process to win back accreditation takes six years, and it’s not clear the college, founded in 1935, would survive that ordeal. The students? There are 85,000 students whose academic careers would be rear-ended. It’s unclear whether their credits would transfer, and whether degrees conferred this year would be accepted as credible. To be sure, the situation is a mess.
Nearly 70 percent of degree-seeking students at California’s community colleges drop out, according to a study from the Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit think tank. That’s one of the highest dropout rates in the nation. At base, the accreditation team nailed CCSF administrators for making claims about student learning outcomes they were not able to document in either curricular plans, faculty or program evaluations. While it’s a long-shot, I think, to rely on accreditation to force colleges to pay non-tenured faculty equitably, the lesson from CCSF is clear: accreditation standards surrounding student learning outcomes are non-negotiable. It’s a lesson adjunct faculty activists should study closely.
While hoping changes to accreditation could solve the widespread exploitation of non-tenured faculty, it’s unlikely that’s going to happen. I say this because after reading the ACCJC’s 50 page report it became clear that the focus is on the 85,000 students, the quality of their learning outcomes, and whether those learning outcomes are documented in ways dictated by state and federal law as well as the U.S. Department of Education. The ACCJC report shows us that higher education is about educating students, not about improving or protecting the jobs of higher education staff and faculty.