As Santa Barbara City College tries to move on from the acrimony of the last few years — which resulted in the induction of four new trustees and the deduction of one president/superintendent — accusations of impropriety are clinging to the college like a post-surf wetsuit. On Tuesday, college officials released the cheerful news that the search for a new president has yielded four final candidates, right after revealing sanctions from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).
The ACCJC — which started scrutinizing the city college’s Board of Trustees after a group called Take Back SBCC lodged complaints against the current trustees — followed up a scathing letter sent to the college on January 31 by issuing its final decision that SBCC has been assigned “warning” status, its lowest level of sanction that keeps SBCC’s accreditation in place. That is, it’s in place until March 15, 2013, by which time SBCC must demonstrate in a “special report” that it has addressed every area in which the college is out of compliance.
Specifically, the ACCJC made three recommendations: that “the Board of Trustees should receive additional and topic-specific training from ‘outside experts’ on the appropriate roles of the Board and Superintendent/President,” “the Board should revise its code-of-ethics policy to align with Accreditation Standards and policies,” and “the Board of Trustees should re-direct its focus to creating an environment for empowerment, innovation and institutional excellence.”
Acting President/Superintendent Jack Friedlander said that he has already requested suggestions for “outside experts” and that the board is currently revising its code of ethics. How to document action on the third suggestion is a bit less clear, said Friedlander, but he plans to conduct surveys of different parts of the college community.
Board President Peter Haslund said of the ACJCC, “I’m obviously disappointed in their decision. But I don’t want to spend one more dime on lawyers and opposition. What they are asking us to do is reasonable,” he went on. “I don’t agree we have done anything in error, but we are going to do exactly what they suggested and get this behind us.”
The ACCJC, an entity of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) that accredits community colleges in California, Hawai‘i, and the Pacific islands, has come under fire from Jack Scott, the president of the California community college system. In May 2010, he complained about its methodology to the U.S. Department of Education. The department agreed that the commission lacked transparency in selecting commissioners, a problem that could lead to potential conflicts of interest. ACCJC President Barbara A. Beno couldn’t be reached for comment.
Friedlander said that the commission lacks both checks and balances and proper due process, but he explained he harbors no interest in fighting the system. “In the end, the college is what’s most important,” he told The Santa Barbara Independent.
In fact, Friedlander has played his role as peacemaker so far to the hilt that he withdrew his candidacy, despite broad support, for the president/superintendent job two days after applying. The four finalists are as follows: Dr. Lori Gaskin, president of West Valley College in Saratoga, California; Dr. Willard Lewallen, president of West Hills College in Coalinga; Eloy Oakley, superintendent/president of Long Beach Community College District; and David Viar, president of American River College in Sacramento.
The Board of Trustees, a statement from the school reads, will conduct interviews on April 13 and 18 and will sponsor public forums for candidates on those days.