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.