ACCREDITATION REPORT BLASTS NEW COLLEGE: “Clear and egregious violations of institutional integrity, academic integrity”

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By G.W. Schulz

San Francisco’s New College of California has a culture of administrative "sloppiness and arbitrariness" in addition to flawed academic curricula, according to a report released this month by an accrediting outfit based in Alameda and obtained by the Guardian.

The accrediting commission for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges concluded following a special investigation that among other things New College fails to properly maintain student files and questions persist about how well the school handles and awards scholarships and financial aid to students under federal rules and regulations.

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The group’s investigation began after it received six detailed letters alleging “various improprieties” and violations of its fundamental accreditation standards such as problems related to the fair and equitable treatment of students and the college’s ability to maintain operational integrity through sound business practices.

New College has long teetered on the brink of financial disaster, and according to the report, nothing's changed and the school has failed even to make improvements since 2002 when the commission concluded that New College did not have stable revenues or effective financial controls. In fact, the commission learned that New College’s money woes had “materially worsened in the last year” since it bought two properties “without necessary analysis and planning.”

As a result of the investigation, New College has been placed on probation and will now be “subject to special scrutiny and any new site or degree program is subject to review through WASC’s substantive change process.”

The college’s PHLUTE program (Pilot Hybrid in Leadership in Urban Transformed Environments) does not have a clear and published curriculum, the report concluded, and students are expected to handle an exceptionally large load of courses while only attending one-fourth of the necessary classes for the credits involved.

The school’s contention that students can get a degree in two years “seems highly questionable on its face.” The commission also called the PHLUTE program a “gross misapplication of academic advising, program administration and program design” due in part to doubts about the depth of the work involved for students and whether students who have to work while attending school can handle so many courses.

According to the report:

“The commission has repeatedly found that, in addition to longstanding and ongoing financial challenges, New College did not have systems and structures in place in very basic areas of operation, including governance, faculty oversight of academic matters, assessment of student learning, and financial management and accounting.”

The report, of course, merely adds to troubles the college was already facing. Scattered in a handful of buildings along Valencia Street, the experimental New College historically has been lefty-activist oriented offering everything from a green business degree to a Public Interest Law Degree to an MFA in “Writing and Consciousness.” The school already maintained a rocky history of accreditation with the WASC.

Late last year, however, the SF Weekly’s Matt Smith revealed that the bright and respected Jesuit priest who founded New College, John Leary, had allegedly sexually assaulted young men while he was the president of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. during the 1960s. More recently, the Weekly’s Francis Reade noted that two factions of students exploded at one another over whether the college should have done a better job responding to Smith's story.

We’ve created a link to the WASC report, which you can read here.

*UPDATE: Just realized the report was linked here first at a Web site compiling information about problems at New College. The site includes a Guardian story from 1996 about an administrative shake-up at the school.

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