by Will Kane
The commission that decided to revoke City College of San Francisco‘s accreditation next year did not adhere to several federal regulations when it investigated the school system, the Department of Education said in a letter to the body on Tuesday.
It is not immediately clear what impact the federal letter will have, if any, on the 85,000-student college, which is set to lose its accreditation – and probably close – a year from now unless administrators make substantial progress in reforming the school.
“Right now, we don’t know what is happening other than that the letter was issued,”Jennifer Aries, a spokeswoman for the college, said Tuesday. “We’re staying focused on meeting the standards and the eligibility requirements. We have to keep our focus.”
“It is not affected by this letter,” she said. “This letter really examines the policies and procedures of the accrediting commission.”
But a leader of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, which represents faculty at the school, said she thinks the accrediting commission’s ruling should be overturned.
“I believe it means they need to reverse the entire decision,” said Alisa Messer, an English teacher at the school and president of the teachers federation, which filed the complaint with the Department of Education in May that prompted the investigation of the accrediting commission. “When you get a letter from the Department of Education that goes into detail, noting that there were significant policies that were violated, that means something.”
State law prohibits taxpayer funds from going to unaccredited institutions, so if the commission’s decision stands, the college would lose funds and be forced to close.
The commission is a private, nonprofit agency, one of six regional accrediting bodies overseen by the Department of Education. It has 19 voting members, mostly college chancellors, faculty and education experts.
Specifically, Gilcher said that the commission’s evaluation teams, which are supposed to be made up of both administrators and teachers, had only one teacher.
Conflict of interest?
Additionally, the Education Department cited conflict-of-interest concerns because one of the evaluation team members was the husband of the accreditation commission’s president, Barbara Beno.
Gilcher also said that the accrediting panel did not provide the school with a clear, detailed report of its findings, and allowed the school to be out of compliance with several standards for longer than two years, a violation of federal regulations.
The Department of Education gave the commission one year to comply with its regulations or face possible termination of the recognition it receives from the department that allows it to pass judgment on colleges.
“In order to avoid initiation of an action to limit, suspend or terminate (the accrediting commission’s) recognition, (the commission) must take immediate steps to correct the areas of non-compliance identified,” Gilcher wrote.
Messer, the president of the union that filed a nearly 300-page complaint with the Education Department about the commission, said she was pleased by the letter.
“The letter is great news, to hear from the Department of Education that they agree on these points,” Messer said.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges voted in July to revoke accreditation because CCSF had fully addressed just two of the commission’s 14 major recommendations.
The commission issued its most severe sanction against City College a year ago, citing a broken system of governance and fiscal planning in which a skeletal crew of administrators and bickering employees failed to make necessary budget cuts even as state funding dried up.
The commission gave CCSF eight months to show why it should remain accredited, a deadline that expired in March. Now, the school has until 2014 to reform, or it will lose accreditation.
Johns, the commission’s vice president, said it is looking forward to working with federal regulators.
“It appears from the U.S. Department of Education letter that they found four areas of deficiency in our compliance with regulations, some subsets of regulations,” Johns said. “There will be the need to correct a few errors of fact, but this will also be a good opportunity for us to review our polices and say how can we ensure we meet every requirement.”