SWC prepares for accreditation evaluation

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Southwestern College is preparing for a follow-up visit from the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) in March to determine whether the college can get out of the accreditation doghouse. A comprehensive report by the college is due to ACCJC March 15.

One year ago an ACCJC team put SWC on warning status with 15 sanctions. SWC has 18 months to make corrections or face closure.

Leading Southwestern’s revamped accreditation team is Professor of Spanish Angelina Stuart, the hero of the 2011 accreditation crisis that put the college on the edge of being closed down, and Linda Gilstrap, dean of Institutional Effectiveness.

Stuart and Gilstrap, along with more than 100 faculty, put together accreditation follow-up report that Stuart said she hopes demonstrates the college’s improvement on all 15 sanctions.

Major sanctions centered on the college mission statement, Student Learning Outcomes and distance education training. None were related to teaching and learning.

Tracy Schaelen, distance education faculty coordinator, presented new DE practices to the Academic Senate.

“Our 2014 DE plan set forth goals and objectives for distance education for a three-year period, 2014-2017,” she said. “Of the 25 objectives in that plan, 20 have been met.”

Schaelen said she is optimistic the remaining five will be completed this semester.

To be reaffirmed, SWC must demonstrate to the ACCJC complete resolutions or proof of improvement. Accreditation team members gathered more than 400 pieces of evidence for the report, said Stuart. Due to ACCJC in March, the report must first be approved by the Academic Senate, Shared Consultation Council and governing board.

Stuart and Gilstrap assigning a workgroup to each of the 15 sanctions.

“So we have 15 recommendations, that means 15 workgroups that have been working and their leads, with faculty working with their leads to make sure that these things get done,” Stuart said. “It’s been a lot of work.”

During the 2009 accreditation visit SWC was hit with 10 serious administrative sanctions and placed on probation, one step lower than its current placement of warning. SWC narrowly missed dropping to “show cause” in 2011, one step from shutdown.

“There are many levels in being affirmed,” Stuart said. “Even if you are in a sanction (warning, probation and show cause), you still retain your accreditation. It’s like being given a speeding ticket and you show up to court. You have a chance to prove you were not speeding.”

In January 2010 Stuart became Academic Senate President shortly after SWC was put on probation under since-disgraced former superintendent Raj Kumar Chopra, who resigned in December 2010 and charged with multiple felonies for corruption in 2012. Chopra was combative with AACJA and uncooperative with faculty and staff working on accreditation.

“In the last accreditation cycle, when I came in, Chopra was still in power,” Stuart said. “When he left and we got our interim president, (Denise Whittaker), the school had already (been on sanction for) about a year, because they gave you 18 months. In January, February, March (2011), the faculty, administration, classified, everyone pulled together.”

ACCJC reaffirmed SWC in June 2011 after the show cause scare.

“It was tight, we were all very worried,” said Stuart, “but after all that work and showing how much we can turn around, they granted us reaffirmation and I fell to my knees and said ‘Thank You God’, and I don’t say that lightly, I say that very seriously.”

ACCJC was handed its own warning by the U.S. Department of Education last year. Staff from the California Community College Chancellors office has been working on a recommendation made by the state taskforce last year to replace or restructure ACCJC.

Barbara Beno, ACCJC’s caustic and controversial president, was placed on leave prior to her scheduled retirement. Beno feuded with administrators at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and tried to shut down the state’s largest college. CCSF, however, was reaffirmed last month for seven years after enormous pressure from state and federal elected officials.

The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Equity, a federal panel, is expected to review ACCJC’s recognition and scope at a meeting next week.

SWC Board President Tim Nader has been highly critical of Beno, ACCJC and what he has called “their high handedness.” He has testified against ACCJC in Washington D.C.

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