Accreditation, is no easy fix

By Albert H. Fulcher

Published: Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Some believe, according to the Mayan calendar that the world will end in chaos December 2011. Southwestern College’s calendar is predicting catastrophe by October of this year.

SWC is on probation and its academic status is at stake. Students are asking questions in class, parents are questioning where they should send their children to college and the community is wondering if South Bay’s only source of higher education is worth their time and tax dollars.

No big deal.

No reason for concern. Everyone can sit back and relax. SWC’s finest are at the helm to ensure that this college maintains its accreditation.

Governing Board President Yolanda Salcido called this an “easy fix” at the Feb. 23 board meeting. She should know. Salcido has been a member of the governing board since 2002. Beside her are board colleagues Dr. Jean Roesch (2000) and Terri Valladolid (1998), who have also been through this test.

They failed, bombing just as miserably as Superintendent Dr. Raj K. Chopra did on his recent faculty evaluation report card.

Six out of the ten recommendations made by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC/WASC) are leftovers from the past two evaluations. With the governing board unable to fix six recommendations in seven years, there is little hope or comfort for an “easy fix” here. It now has only one year, or less, to deal with these issues, and more.

Here is the kicker.

Recommendation 8 suggested “that the college set as a priority fostering an environment of trust and respect for all employees and students that allows the college community to promote administrative stability and to work together for the good of the college…establish and follow a written process and structure providing faculty, staff, administrators, and students a substantial voice in decision-making processes.”

SWC’s Governing Board cannot foster an environment of trust and respect for each other once a month as they bicker back and forth and gang up on trustees who do not agree with their predetermined decisions. It now has until October 15 to develop and implement written definitions of an effective decision-making process for the entire college community. It is frightening.

At the center of this recommendation is the “climate” of SWC. This accreditation team got an earful this past October as it visited and spoke with the SWC community. In four days, this team had more open communication with the students, faculty and staff of the college than the administration has provided in years.

Despite the fear of getting fired or coming under the direct scrutiny of the superintendent, factions of this campus spoke openly about the lack of shared governance, controversial decision making and their concern for their future at SWC. It appears that the accreditation team understands the first rule of good communication—to listen.

Administrators and superintendents have provided fodder to SWC’s reputation for years. Recently their actions have placed this campus in the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons, and its light is shining out well beyond the local community.

Recently, dealings with Blackwater have left a taste of distain in the mouths of many. This went well beyond an argument between administration and unions. Students and the community rallied together to let it be known that they wanted no part in the board’s decision to ally with such a controversial company. In this case, the community won, and with its victory a lack of trust continues for those willing to make such a shady deal.

Controversial firings of the second reorganization package to the suspension of teachers for protecting their students in an impromptu march by students through the campus, this administration has set SWC up for an array of litigation. Charges can be based on discrimination, wrongful firing and defamation of character. There has been a lack of shared governance and retaliation demonstrated in these incidents.

Retaliation against students and faculty leaving the free speech patio brought SWC into the limelight of national media. Without the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) getting involved, there is no telling what this administration would have done.

Instead, SWC now has a special Freedom of Speech Task Force to pave the way for a new Free Speech Policy.

Watch this policy unfold.  They have had only closed meetings. No reporters allowed because many of the task force members are “uncomfortable” with the press being present. This task force has also declined invitations from ACLU and FIRE representatives to come and assist the team in making a policy that is appropriate and does not limit the voice of the college community.

How moronic. A Free Speech Task Force that is afraid to speak and for some odd reason not willing to let the experts in to lend a helping hand. Who is making these decisions? We are talking about a Free Speech Task Force. There is still a fear that surrounds this campus, especially those bound by a paycheck.

We need ACLU and FIRE to intervene and fight the denial this administration is living in. This problem will get worse before it gets better if our history with this administration repeats itself.

Surely, the board will adopt some legal rubbish paper that might appease the accreditation team into thinking that it is taking proactive steps to improving campus climate. Brown bag lunch meetings, open forums and vague promises will do very little good at this point. It will not wait until November elections, and it is not an easy fix.

It is time for something different. Getting involved. Board members need to spend some time on campus. Come talk to the students, the faculty and the staff, face-to-face. Not in an open forum but person to person. Go to a club meeting or take a class. Governing Board Member Nick Aguilar does.

Administrators do the same. Dr. Angelica Suarez, vice president for student affairs, does. Nearly a day can go by without seeing her in the cafeteria, normally buying lunch for the student behind her. She roams the campus freely and is seen speaking with students and faculty and staff. Dr. Mark Meadows, vice president for academic affairs, does the same.

Kings and queens became tyrants. Administrators as “monarchy” with jeweled chairs at court while peasant students starve for education in line.

“Please sir, just one more class?”

Queen Elizabeth embodied the service-oriented philosophy “for the people” (not herself).  She brought England from utter devastating poverty to absolute power by listening to her talented people.

Face to face. It is the only way to move forward at this point. Break down the silo.  Get out there. Talk to the students, they are the reason you are here. Speak with the faculty or walk into a classroom and spend a few minutes. Get to know the community you are supposed to be serving. Listen to their words, not as complaints, but as needs.

Be honest, blunt and disagree with what you hear—but, this is the important part, —listen to each of them. Then make your decisions based on hands-on knowledge of the needs of your community.

This would be a good start and just might help prevent angry students with a coffin from barging into the superintendent’s office.

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