OPINION: Accreditation’s shady past
By Alex Schmaus
The private organization threatening to close City College is itself a threat to equity, democracy and justice.
Sherrill Amador, the chair of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, has a controversial past herself.
Amador resigned from her post as president of Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif., after faculty and staff issued no-confidence votes against her during union contract negotiations in 2003.
Palomar College Trustee Nancy Chadwick said, “the major issue was a lack of communication between the president’s office and constituents –an attitude of unilateral kind of authoritarianism,” according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
Not surprisingly, then, the commission’s report threatens workers with demands that City College “reduce the percentage of its annual budget that is utilized for salaries and benefits; and address funding for retiree health benefits costs.”
The 17-member team sent by the commission last March to evaluate City College was packed with administrators –it included only three faculty, one elected trustee, zero staff and zero students.
Their report complains that shared governance — which allows students, staff and faculty to shape college policy on issues such as sexual harassment, diversity and grading — engenders excessive democracy and insufficient authoritarianism.
Accordingly, the evaluation team writes, “there exists a veil of distrust among the governance groups that manifests itself as an indirect resistance to board and administrative decision-making authority.”
City College certainly has problems, such as Sacramento’s diminishing commitment to provide adequate funding, but I believe the college can only benefit from a broadening and deepening of democratic governance.
Upper-tier administrators, however, are not promoting democracy as a solution.
Interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher, who is leading the accreditation response workgroup tasked with drafting a new mission statement, appears to be maneuvering in such a way as to circumvent meaningful student input.
A draft of proposed changes indicates that the workgroup aims to eliminate vital elements of the college’s current mission, such as:
“active engagement in the civic and social fabric of the community, citizenship preparation, completion of requirements for the Adult High School Diploma and GED, promotion of economic development and job growth, lifelong learning, life skills and cultural enrichment.”
Associated Students Council President Shanell Williams, who is officially listed as one of two students in the workgroup, says most of the work was done before she had a chance to contribute.
“I am signed up for this committee and the draft is already completed. How can you call for student input if the guiding committee is already
completed?” Williams said.
Student Trustee William Walker said, “I asked the chancellor to admit students on to the accreditation response workgroups on July 6 and she said she needed to speak with other campus presidents beforehand. That’s why the draft was complete before (Williams) was able to contribute.”
Accreditation Liaison Officer Gohar Momjian said that because the mission statement workgroup “needed to be fast-tracked (…) it is true that by the time (Williams) joined the workgroup, the bulk of the work had been done.”
The history of accreditation has a shady past itself.
A national accreditation system began taking shape in the early 1900s that required colleges and universities to have certain financial resources and facilities — a system that shut out many black institutions and favored those supported by white philanthropists.
New York City teacher Brian Jones writes in Education and Capitalism that accreditation was devised during old Jim Crow-days as a “technique to limit Black higher education.”
These grievances with the accreditation commission and the chancellor should raise a question: do we really have to play by these bothersome rules, or can we make up our own?