Accreditation Commission lifts sanctions, restores college’s accreditation

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Interim Superintendent/President Denise Whittaker

In an announcement that caught even the most optimistic staff members by surprise, the regional accreditation body that placed Southwestern College on probation in February 2010 today lifted all sanctions and reaffirmed the college’s accreditation and good standing.  The announcement by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (AACJC) marks the end of a two-year period of turmoil at the college that culminated in the unseating of two governing board members, the firing of top administrators and a campus-wide effort by faculty, staff and an interim superintendent to get SWC out of its worst predicament in its 50-year history.

 

“This is a huge victory for our students, institution and community,” said Interim Superintendent Denise Whittaker. “We’ve been working tirelessly to resolve the ACCJC’s concerns while safeguarding the high-quality education Southwestern College provides. Our hard work paid off.”

SWC was slapped with probation for 10 deficiencies in administration, budgeting, planning and board conduct under a previous governing board and the administration of former superintendent Raj K. Chopra. Though none of the sanctions were related to teaching and learning, SWC risked closure if the deficiencies were not corrected.  Board members Yolanda Salcido and Jorge Dominguez were swept from office last November, and Chopra resigned shortly thereafter.  Two vice presidents, the chief of campus police and other administrators were fired or resigned following the election of Norma Hernandez and Tim Nader to the board.

Colleges on probation with as many sanctions as SWC faced usually are moved off in increments, said Academic Senate President Angelina Stuart, a leader in the effort to restore the college’s accreditation. SWC made “an epic leap” from probation to fully accredited, she said.

“That’s like going from a D- to an A+,” she said. “There is such a great sense of relief and hope in what we have accomplished. The spirit of the college is back.”

A follow-up report will be sent to the accrediting body in October to document progress that has already been made.

“It’s meant to show we are doing what we said we would,” she said.

SCEA faculty union president Andy MacNeill said SWC was fortunate to have “great support from the inside.”

“We had the right people in the right place at the right time and that made all the difference,” he said. “Our change in administration was huge. I don’t think we would have been able to do it if we didn’t have such an incredible turn around within our governing board and top leadership. There was no doubt Denise was the person to help us reaffirm our accreditation.”

Board President Nader said the combined efforts of the school and community to restore SWC’s accreditation was “incredible.”

“It’s been such a phenomenal effort by the community,” he said.  “All the people were happy to be helping, they just needed the right leader.  Denise Whittaker provided the right leadership. We all owe her a great deal of thanks.”

Nader also had praise for the faculty and staff who did most of the work.

“Everyone at the college who contributed, completely on a volunteer basis because they care about the students, deserve the thanks of every member of the community,” he said.

SWC still faces many challenges, Nader said,, such as finding permanent administrators and working with the tightened budget.

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  • CK

    Having worked at this college for over 23 three years and having gone through the last three painful ones, I think the credit for this success belongs to the campus employees, students, our community as well as the recently installed leadership. I myself feel that Hernandez, Whittaker, and Nador (et all), have played a role in this success, however, we must remember the fact that they were really ushered in by the wave of change organized and fought for by the rank and file (campus and community at large).

    Too often we are taught to “look up” to explain how change happens. Having been in the “deep” of this battle, and I mean “up to my waist,” I think looking to the folks standing next to you is the best way to understand this change. I fear a “top down” leadership mentality whether it is bad leadership or good (brutal or paternalistic). For me it is the source of many of the problems that have plagued our campus. I fear the demagogue and I think we all must.

    It is simply a fact that the administrative leadership that paralyzed this campus either continues to sit in place or has been allowed to walk away with a check in the back of their pockets. Real accountability for their past horrendous behaviors has not been clarified or resolved well. This is the real skill of great leadership, the ability to lead us through such a discussion and come out, not covered in blood, but with a collective understanding of what will or will not pass on this campus for managerial behavior.

    How can people change, how can we create the new without having understood, however painful that might be, what we have done? What has been done? I am not talking about “manners,” who speaks when, etc. I am speaking about challenging significant abuses of power that have been exercised at this campus; yes, abuses of power. Without this examination we never reach internal consensus about what we want to be, what we should be, or even who we should hire next. I fear this leaves us vulnerable to future miss-judgments. Having raised this point with both upper management and new Board members, I must be honest with you and tell you that the response received to this inquiry was a little more than disturbing. Characterized as “negative” or “lacking tact” etc. for wanting change to continue even “under their leadership” seems like simply trading one toolbox of silence making tricks with another.

    In terms of the Accreditation Team’s decision, we must never underestimate the fact that the Accreditation Team saw the ugly face of the Chopra administration, and their initial ruling was clearly a warning shot they wanted to be heard around the county. We responded, and the community responded,and we responded well. I am grateful for that shot, and believe the Team honored the work we did (not only this past several months but our work done last summer and fall as well) to bring change to this place. They are smart folks!