City College will appeal

OPINION City College will appeal last week’s decision by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to revoke City College’s accreditation.

The reason for the appeal is simple: Most of what ACCJC asked for has been accomplished, and the rest is well on its way towards completion within a year.

First, the San Francisco City College district is financially secure. This is not a district that is close to fiscal collapse. This year’s audit was “clean,” and the budget is balanced, thanks to multiple cost-saving reorganizations, large spending cuts, reforms in practices, and the passage of Propositions A and 30. City College also has a healthy reserve fund well above that of state requirements. City College is even squirreling away money for a special “Ninth year” fund in the event that voters don’t reapprove Prop A when it expires 8 years from now.

The City College budget also increases spending in areas that ACCJC wanted: there is nearly $3 million per year for new technology and building maintenance, both long deferred through the years of radical state funding cuts. City College is also paying money towards the unpaid liability in retiree health benefits. The City of San Francisco also has this kind of liability — to the tune of $4.4 billion — but has so far not come up with a plan to deal with it. City College, on the other hand, has a plan and the funds to enact it.

City College has also cut costs by millions of dollars. There have been layoffs and furloughs, and salary cuts. For instance, faculty members are earning 5 percent less than they did in 2007. Department chairs are earning less, and the Board of Trustees just cut administrators salaries. Streamlined operations have resulted in other savings.

Governance is another area where City College has made major changes. There have been five major management overhauls to streamline bureaucracy, increase efficiency and speed the carrying out of decisions. And many administrators have been replaced. Any one of these overhauls could ordinarily have taken a year each to implement. There were all done in a matter of months.

For instance, the job description of every dean’s position was completely rewritten; some posts disappeared, and new ones were created. Every dean had to reapply for a job, and many did not return. The same is true for other management positions.

City College also replaced a decades-old department chair structure with a system that costs less and has simpler lines of authority. And last fall, the Board of Trustees acted to completely restructure the Participatory Governance system. This is a state-mandated system of getting input from faculty and staff into management decisions. Over 40 committees were dissolved and replaced with a more streamlined system.

The faculty and staff also worked hard in fixing problems identified by ACCJC, particularly in the areas of planning. One of the most important of these is in the collection of Student Learning Outcome data -– a measure of how well students do. Faculty filed thousands of reports in order to fulfill this requirement, a truly enormous amount of work. The collected data will then be used to improve courses next year. This cycle of planning, data collection, and improvement are the basis of ongoing reform effort that takes a year at minimum to prove that it’s working. There is a lot more work to be done in this area. It will take another year to complete — if City College is given the time.

Not everyone at the college agrees with all of the changes that were made. People have the right to express their views, and indeed, we want the internal experts to speak up and give their best advice. And given the speed and monumental scope of the changes, it is very likely that these changes have flaws and that improvements can be made.

But regardless of what people think of the changes that have occurred, these are changes that ACCJC asked for. City College neither ignored nor fought ACCJC’s recommendations, as many people wish we had. City College’s response was to work to enact ACCJC’s will as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, the decision to revoke accreditation will harm City College’s otherwise good financial position by causing a large drop in student enrollment for fall — and the loss of millions of dollars in state funding. Ironically, this will make it more difficult to finish what ACCJC wants done.

The best course for students is to let City College retain accreditation while it finishes the job that ACCJC wants done.

John Rizzo is President of the City College Board of Trustees