Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Note to Students and the Community

Dear Students and Community Members:

My name is Patti Flores-Charter, and I have been a faculty member at Southwestern College since 1992. I am also a member of the faculty Academic Senate and Senate Executive Committee.

The SWC Accreditation Report raises many questions. This note is to

  • Give you enough information to understand what is happening at our college with accreditation.

  • Help you feel confident and calm about the safety of the classes in which you are now enrolled.

I will include what I know about the accreditation process and my experiences from participating in the last three accreditations at SWC, including this one. I think that will help you understand why our college was placed on probation and how we got here. You have chosen to be a college student because you know that knowledge is power. So I will work here to give you the knowledge needed to be in control of the information about what is happening to our College.
  1. Classes are safe: All current and past classes at SWC remain accredited; nothing has changed. We have not lost accreditation. Classes will transfer, count for an associate’s degrees, for certificates, licensure, work requirements, etc. Please don’t worry.

  2. You’re right, accreditation is critical. It is a federal process organized by geographic area. Each area has an official office that oversees each college’s accreditation. Our office is in Northern California. Here is the website for more information: http://www.accjc.org/

  3. College Standards are set by the accreditation system for every aspect of a college from curriculum (what is taught, how it is graded, etc.), hiring practices, campus policies, to financial aid and tutoring, etc.

  4. Possible Accreditation Outcomes: After the site visit, all evidence is reviewed by the Accrediting Office with a decision made about accreditation and provided in a final report. Outcomes may include:

    1. Re-accredited, nothing changes. In the past we have always been reaccredited with accommodations and recommendations for improvement made. This was normal for our college.

    2. Warning: This identifies that improvements are needed and specifies those. A timeline is given (usually a year or more) with a report due on progress. No site visit.

    3. Probation: This is what SWC received, and it means that improvements must be made, specifying both improvements and a timeline. This is a serious level of what is called a “sanction”. We must improve by the timeline or risk getting the next level of sanction, Show Cause.

    4. Show Cause: At this level, the college is a step away from losing accreditation. The college must prove that it should not lose accreditation.

    5. Accreditation withdrawn

    Problem Areas Identified in the Report

  5. Dismantling of Shared Governance: Our community colleges have state law that requires the administration and governing board to listen to facultyinput. This is called Shared Governance. This has not happened, so it is an area that must improve.

  6. No Office of Research: Accreditation requires hard data on critical college functions, so every college must have an Office of Research. We have not had one since former President Norma Hernandez was in charge. Thus we could not get the research we needed for the SLO requirements, Academic Program Review, and many Curriculum tasks. This is an area that must improve.

    Here is a list of other areas affected by the lack of Shared Governance to date: This Governing Board has approved Dr. Chopra’s dismantling of

      1. Office of Research
      2. Office of Instruction
      3. Office of Business and Fiscal Affairs
      4. Office of Human Resources
      5. Financial Aid Office
      6. Office of Admission
      7. Performing Arts Program
      8. Student Newspaper
      9. Outreach Office
      10. SWC Foundation
      11. Grant Writing Program (at a time when everyone is writing grants)

So What Do We Do?

For our college to recover, our Governing Board, President, and Vice-Presidents would have to establish a working environment of mutual respect. On campus we all need to be interested in working together in an environment of mutual trust and collaboration as our federal and state legislatures require. To date the President and voting majority has refused all input from our faculty at every Governing Board meeting since Norma Hernandez's departure. We went to the extreme measure of Votes of No Confidence, first in our College President last April 2009 and finally of our Governing Board. Typically, after a vote of No Confidence, a College President will resign soon afterward or the Governing Board will take action. Colleges don’t function under conditions of “No Confidence.” In reality, with our No Confidence Vote the faculty requested that the Board intercede and help us establish a relationship of mutual trust with our President. We were summarily ignored, which led to the No Confidence in the Board.

Only Board Members Nick Aguilar and Jorge Dominguez have listened and tried to intervene. But they are only a minority vote. We have been working in a triage environment under this Board, reacting to one poorly informed decision after another.

Keep in mind there never has been a fiscal crisis at our college. Fiscal reports filed each year with our state Chancellor’s Office have shown this. There was no college to rescue from the brink of fiscal bankruptcy unless those reports were filed erroneously.

There is Good News: We have amazing faculty, classified staff, directors, and deans who understand how an award winning college must operate, because we are one despite our treatment under this current administrative regime. We can get back to where we were, but we need your help NOW.

  1. Contact your Governing Board Members of SWC and College President today and demand the change we must have in leadership. Use your voice and be heard.

  2. Write to the Union Tribune and Chula Vista Star about our needs.

  3. Stay informed and vote in the coming Nov. 2010 election when three Governing Board seats are up for election.

  4. Read more from our SaveOurSWC.blogspot.com.


  1. The college needs to immediately begin the arduous process of getting up to speed on program review (including program disconuance), establishing an integrated planning and allocation process; establish and make real progress on the Student Learning Outcome rubric required by the Accrediting agency; establish a structural and organizational process to accommodate the realities of participatory governance; establish a framework for board evaluation and training and implement a formal procedure for handling potential conflict of interest and ethics piolicy volations for the board; as well as a plan for meeting the requirements on substantitive change reporting as required. This is not kid stuff and takes more than hand-wringing or finger-pointing.

    These outcomes require administrative professionals who are skilled and experienced in the processes -- well-meaning folks are just not enough. The letter from the Commission stated, "...the Commission staff is available to assist the college with consultation and advice on its program review, integrated planning, and resource allocation processes. Please call the Commission office if you wish to avail yourself of that assistance." Has that call been made?
    Time is of the essence. Now is when the college needs real executive leadership. If you don't have the administrative skills in house, find them elsewhere, but get them quickly.

  2. Given the Board's recent decision to let go of the Dean of Research, I'm concerned about whether these data issues will ever get corrected. Where do we go from here?