ACCJC hit with city lawsuit and legislative investigation, broadening the discussion of City College's fate
Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, was much more direct. "Sen. Beall and I met with (ACCJC) President Barbara Beno in my office," he said. "In all my career, in my thousands of meetings with agency individuals, representatives, secretaries, etcetera, I have never met with such an arrogant, condescending individual in her response to Sen. Beall and I. That attitude reflected in such a senior person raised huge red flags for me."
In public comment, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-SF, noted that recently the U.S. Department of Education upheld the California Federation of Teachers' complaints that the ACCJC process "is guilty of no transparency, little accountability, and conflict of interest."
Then it was the ACCJC's turn to defend itself. Beno was unable to attend, but ACCJC Vice President Krista Johns and Commissioner Frank Gornick were there instead.
Gornick defended the accrediting commission, saying it was "rigorously" evaluated every six years. Ultimately, the committee voted 10-1 to investigate a number of mysteries regarding the ACCJC: how it stacks up to the five other accrediting bodies nationwide, determining the ACCJC's compliance with open meeting laws (it denied public access to a recent "public meeting," also barring a San Francisco Chronicle reporter), and an evaluation of the fairness in how the agency issues sanctions.
MEET THE NEW BOSS
Amid the state and city level battles over City College, one key player prefers to work quietly. Super Trustee Bob Agrella, tasked by the state to take over the power of City College's Board of Trustees and save the college, feels his hands are tied.
"My job is to play within the rules and regulations of the ACCJC," Agrella told the Guardian. Sitting in his office at City College's Ocean Campus, he pointed out that the accreditation agency actually has a rule that says colleges have to be on amicable terms with the ACCJC — or else.
"One of the eligibility requirements is the college maintains good relationship with the commission," Agrella said. Notably, if City College fails to meet its requirements, it won't be able to keep its accreditation in its evaluation next July.
So while Herrera and JLAC can blast the ACCJC, Agrella feels like he needs to remain neutral or he could blow City College's chances at staying open.
If he were to try battling the commission on its rules, Agrella told us, he would do it within the framework of the ACCJC's own policies. But it's exactly those policies that Herrera said the ACCJC is violating.
The lawsuit from Herrera's office alleges, among other things, that the evaluating team that ACCJC sent to review City College was stacked with the school's political enemies from a body called the California Community College Student Success Task Force, which City College loudly and publicly opposed (full disclosure: as a former City College student, I spoke against the Task Force at a hearing in January 2012, and that public testimony is cited in Herrera's lawsuit).
The ACCJC's president, Beno, wrote multiple letters to state agencies in support of the Task Force's recommendations, the suit alleges. This action contradicts the ACCJC's conflict of interest policy, according to the suit, which defines a conflict as including "any personal or professional connections that would create either a conflict or the appearance of conflict of interest."
So if the ACCJC won't play by the rules, shouldn't Agrella support the actions of Herrera and JLAC to resist the ACCJC's decree?