Department of Education asks CCSF accrediting commission to make fixes to keep recognition

Beth LaBergeThe City College Chinatown/North Beach Campus at 808 Kearney St on Nov. 7

The federal government again chastised the commission that revoked City College of San Francisco’s accreditation, but also gave a mixed response to complaints by the commission’s opponents in a report released Monday.

The report, a routine review of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges by the U.S. Department of Education, restated some points addressed in an August letter to the California Federation of Teachers alleging the commission’s failures.

In August, the DOE claimed the ACCJC failed to meet federal requirements in its review of CCSF, failed to identify deficiencies and had the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Still, the latest report fell short of what ACCJC opponents had requested: the commission’s invalidation.

In the end, the review recommended that the commission keep its recognition and be given 12 months to fix a list of problems instead of being denied recognition, which would end its status as an accrediting body.

“Our review of the agency’s petition revealed many areas where the agency does not meet the regulatory requirements; however those areas do not rise to the level for the department to recommend denying recognition,” noted the DOE staff report, which will go to vote Dec. 12.

The report also commented on a series of allegations and critiques of the commission, noting that most of “the commenters did not tie their areas of alleged noncompliance to specific sections of the … criteria,” which made the claims “outside the scope of the [department’s] review.”

Opinions on the report, and its potential impacts, varied.

Commission President Barbara Beno said the report was “a success, not a slap on the wrist.” Many accrediting bodies are given a year to fix their issues, she said, pointing out that the process is fairly usual. “None of these [problems] are so serious for us to be worried about our recognition,” she said.

But ACCJC opponents contend the report proves the commission is a troubled organization with major issues and should be shut down.

“It seems to me a pretty clear admission that they weren’t following their rules,” said Alisa Messer, president of American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, CCSF’s faculty union.

Regardless of opposition, the ACCJC acknowledges it must take a series of steps to receive recognition.

By August, the commission must clarify its definition of “academics” included in its accrediting teams; more clearly lay out the process used to sanction and evaluate schools; and make sure its standards, policies and procedures are widely agreed upon, among other recommendations.

The report said there was no evidence of “ACCJC’s interference with the CCSF mission” and that there was no “evidence of the claimed inconsistency in application of standards, of inappropriate political involvement, or of any conflict of interest arising out of ACCJC’s Lumina Foundation grant.” But the DOE stated in August that the appearance of conflict of interest at the ACCJC raised questions because Beno’s husband was on an evaluating team.

The commission’s July announcement about City College’s impending closure charged numerous violations of operations, structure and the way the school handles its finances.

While City College is still accredited, its special trustee, Robert Agrella, must successfully show the accrediting commission by July that the school has reformed in order to avoid closure.

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