New College still poorly managed, report says


The beleaguered New College of California is facing another gloomy report just released from its accrediting agency after first being placed on probation last July. Meanwhile, two trustees of the school, Peter Gabel and Colleen O’Neal, reportedly resigned from the school’s board Jan. 15.


Representatives of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges made a special site visit to the famous liberal arts institution and training ground for social justice activists in November to see what progress the school had made since an array of deficiencies were identified in the July report. During the summer, WASC found a history of administrative “sloppiness and arbitrariness” and identified “clear and egregious violations of institutional integrity, academic integrity.”

WASC is still apparently skeptical that New College can improve its management practices despite having repeatedly allowed the school to remain on probation intermittently for years without stripping its accreditation away entirely.

“The institution has established a pattern over the years of being placed under sanction by the commission, responding with superficial adjustment, and rapidly falling back into past practices.”

The latest report says an attempt to lend professionalism to the school’s money handling and student registration have already partly failed since the July probe was released. A newly hired financial aid officer swiftly resigned after two board trustees attempted to intervene in the Financial Aid Office’s activities. A registrar hired in October has resigned and will now only work part-time. The report says it could take the school up to two years to repair student files, which were badly disorganized.

“The team’s audit of randomly selected transfer student files and 19 transcripts only served to emphasize the enormity of the problems in record-keeping. The site team reviewed six files of students who transferred to NCOC; of these, only two were appropriately organized. The remaining four were filled with loose papers in no particular order; many of the papers that were attached to the file were upside down or backwards.”

In one case, two students completed an entirely different number of units before being awarded the same degree. In another case, two students completed the same number of units, but only one of them was granted a degree.

Since receiving its accreditation in 1976, the school has spent the intervening three decades on warning or outright probation for a variety of problems:

-In 1978, the college violated WASC’s rules on making major changes to academic requirements without prior review from the accrediting agency.

-In 1984, the school was placed on probation “primarily because of numerous curricular concerns.” An attempted change in the requirements for an MA in Humanities was denied.

-In 1985, New College was placed on warning – a softer punishment status – with the promise that it would fix cash problems and continued issues with program curricula.

-The school spent seven whole years between 1988 and 1995 on warning due to concerns school-wide including “governance and administration, faculty, and finances.”

-In 1996, it was placed on warning due to concerns about how the Board of Trustees functioned.

-Between 2002 and 2006, the school was again on warning due to problematic finances and attempts to change curricula. By 2005, little seemed different with the school’s money woes despite years of attempting to correct them. “The commission noted continuing concern about the college’s prospect’s for long-range financial stability” during that period.

The commission was planning a fall 2007 special visit to see if management had improved at all. Instead, it received several “credible and well-documented complaints concerning ethical and related matters” in advance of the visit.

WASC then dispatched a special investigative team, which eventually released a scathing report that led to the reluctant departure of long-time school president Martin Hamilton, whose rancorous tenure often divided the school into two factions of supporters and opponents.

Former San Francisco Sup. Harry Britt, who has taught at the school for years, told the Chron back in late July that New College is run by “a small group of people who are very highly motivated by the white male experience of the 1960s.” He added:

“There is rhetoric about love and community and trust, but in reality, it is an unhealthy situation because of the abusive and unwelcoming power situated at the top.”

Despite Hamilton’s departure, the newest WASC report doesn’t have very many positive things to say about the school’s current leadership.

“The team remains concerned that there is much to be done and, more important, that there is so little foundation to support the massive and complex changes that the institution must undergo and sustain. The highly effective administrative transition team is temporary, the institution is in financial distress, and those who created and perpetuated the institutional disarray continue to be influential.”

The Guardian reported in December that several students across the school had gone months without receiving their financial aid after the federal Department of Education placed the school on heightened scrutiny concluding that administrators may have illegally mishandled scholarships and other aid money. The checks of employees were bouncing, vendors weren’t being paid and the school was losing about $80,000 each month relying on shot-term loans to stay afloat. As of May 2006, we reported, the school owed creditors approximately $6 million, according to its federal nonprofit tax disclosure forms.

Finally, the most recent report questions whether the school should seek an alternative to WASC accreditation if it’s not consistent with the school’s mission. But accreditation is crucial for the school’s financial viability, which relies heavily on student tuition, and subsequently, government-administered loans and grants.

“The fragile state of the financial situation leaves the college with few options to continue operation in the near and long term. All the property is highly mortgaged, leaving little ability to sell and lease back buildings which would, in any case, be a short-term solution to the cash crisis. Continuing to borrow from individuals and bank overdrafts (the report puts the total of overdrafts at $341,886 during 2007) are a further indication of desperation to meet the basic operating obligations.”

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