California Faculty Union Accuses College Accreditor of Violating Laws

May 01, 2013

The California Federation of Teachers and its affiliate representing faculty members at the City College of San Francisco have filed a complaint with the accreditor of that state's community colleges, accusing that organization of having conflicts of interest and of violating federal and state laws.

The complaint, submitted on Tuesday, also has been sent to the U.S. Department of Education to review as it considers whether to renew its recognition of the accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

The complaint accuses the commission of taking improper actions at the City College of San Francisco and argues that those actions are part of a broader pattern of malfeasance affecting community colleges throughout the state, where the commission has issued either sanctions or warnings to 27 of the 112 community colleges.

In a media advisory announcing the union's plans to publicly release the complaint on Wednesday, Alisa Messer, president of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, which represents both full- and part-time faculty members at the San Francisco college, said, "The ACCJC's actions in San Francisco and elsewhere are in sharp contradiction with the agency's mission, have harmed and continue to harm the interests of students, faculty, and the broader community, and must cease."

In an interview on Tuesday, Ms. Messer said, "We felt that we had a responsibility to go to the ACCJC and bring this complaint to them in advance of their next decision about any community college in California." The union sent a copy of the complaint to the Education Department, she said, because "we thought it was important for them to have this information" in making a routine decision on renewing federal recognition of the commission, which accredits two-year colleges in California, Hawaii, and the Pacific territories.

In a written statement issued on Tuesday, the commission said that its policies prevent it from commenting extensively on the complaint at this point and that any response based on its review of the complaint will be communicated directly to the City College of San Francisco. The complaint, it said, "will be processed in accordance with commission policies, including the obligation to maintain in confidence materials pertaining to a member institution."

'Show Cause' Sanction

The filing of the complaint comes as the City College of San Francisco waits to learn whether it will be stripped of its accreditation by the commission, which last July issued a "show cause" sanction ordering the college to shore up its finances and overhaul its governance and operations. Many steps that the college has taken to satisfy the commission have met with resistance from the college's employee unions and Academic Senate. The complaint asks that the "show cause" sanction against the college be removed.

Among its accusations, the union says the commission has numerous conflicts of interest. Among them: Peter Crabtree, the husband of its president, Barbara A. Beno, served on a team that evaluated the City College of San Francisco. Other members of the evaluation team have been involved in an advocacy group, the Community College League of California, that has pushed community colleges to lock away more money in a retiree-health-care fund than is required under federal law. And the commission evaluated the City College of San Francisco at the same time it was publicly at odds with the college over pending state legislation to narrow the mission of California's community colleges. The measure passed after being amended in ways that reduced the union's opposition.

The complaint also accuses the commission of being biased against the rights of unions and of stacking evaluation teams with managers and administrators who advance the interests of colleges' administrations at the expense of their employees.