It was only three years ago that a federal accreditation agency had its hands around the throat of Southwestern College, threatening to close it down. SWC received a stay of execution after a reformist board majority took control in 2010 and swept out the corrupt Raj K. Chopra administration.
Today, like a hard-to-kill zombie, the accreditation agency is back.
SWC Accreditation Oversight Committee Co-Chair Dr. Rebecca Wolniewicz said the college should be in good shape this time around.
“It’s quality assurance,” she said. “It just says that the programs we offer here are valuable, worthwhile programs that have been approved by the federal government and our accreditors.”
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) is looking at that and more. Visiting accreditors will look at myriad of criteria, including quality of administration, instruction, campus climate and service to the community.
To begin the six-year accreditation cycle, the college must conduct a self-evaluation. A midterm report is provided to ACCJC three years into the cycle, along with yearly reports and special reports that could be requested at any time.
To remain accredited, a college must meet ACCJC eligibility requirements related to effectiveness, learning services, resources for students and school leadership.
Although the ACCJC grants colleges its authorization, its own operation is being examined. City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is currently suing the ACCJC for threatening to close the school, California’s largest community college.
“Right now people are actually challenging the power of accrediting agencies” due to the recent news at CCSF said Wolniewicz.
SWC was placed on probation in 2010 for 10 serious administrative deficiencies when investigators deemed the environment as “toxic” and demanded sweeping changes. In the 38- page report, WASC reported a “culture of fear” under Chopra and former administrators Nicholas Alioto, Michael Kerns and police chief Brent Chartier. All were fired or resigned after the 2010 elections, though many Chopra appointees remain. Most have altered their behavior to comply with ACCJC and the expectations of the new board majority, according to a campus leader who requested anonymity.
Problems at CCSF are something SWC leaders must monitor, Wolniewicz said.
“We have no idea where it’s going to go,” she said. “Everybody’s just waiting to see what happens at the end of June.”
SWC Accreditation Liaison Officer Dr. Mink Stavenga said the self-evaluation procedure is rigorous.
“The key to everything is documentation,” he said. “ You can say everything you want, but you need to back it up with documentation and evidence.”
SWC’s first self-evaluation report is due next summer.