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State Accrediting Commission Puts SBCC on Warning Status

ACCJC finds the college's Board of Trustees out of compliance with standards and gives it one year to correct the deficiencies

An oversight agency responsible for accreditation has placed Santa Barbara City College on warning status as the result of a complaint filed last summer alleging that the college’s Board of Trustees was out of compliance with a number of accreditation standards.

A complaint was filed with the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges last summer, alleging that the board was not complying with its own rules of governance.

The commission launched an investigation and, in a 16-page report dated Jan. 31, delivered its preliminary findings to SBCC Acting President Jack Friedlander. A copy of the confidential report was mailed to Noozhawk anonymously, and painted a damning picture of a board that violated its own rules and refused to delegate authority to the school’s former president, Andreea Serban.

The college was allowed to respond to the findings, and the ACCJC has now placed it on warning. SBCC must submit a special report that shows the college has resolved the deficiencies.

According to a letter sent March 26 from ACCJC President Barbara Beno, the board must correct the deficiencies found in January’s report, as well as implement three recommendations.

The first says that the trustees must receive training from “outside experts” on the appropriate roles of the board and the superintendent/president. The agency also called for the trustees to revise their code of ethics policy and appoint a person responsible for enforcement.

The last recommendation issued by the agency called on the board to “redirect its focus to creating an environment for empowerment, innovation and institutional excellence.” It also called on the board to work with administrators, faculty, staff and students for the good of the institution and to focus on improvement of student learning and services.

The board must submit the report by March 15, 2013, after which ACCJC representatives will visit the college and determine whether it will remain accredited.

Friedlander told Noozhawk on Tuesday afternoon that he was “disappointed” with the conclusion reached by the ACCJC.

Because the college is dependent on the accreditation, “it should be easier to just cooperate and document that we are in compliance with all the standards and get this thing behind us,” he said. “There’s nothing they’re asking us to do that hasn’t already been done or isn’t easily done.”

Friedlander said the board has already approved a new code of ethics, and that it’s working to find the outside experts called on by the ACCJC to do a training session.

“What’s important is that we start documenting from here on how the board is in compliance,” he said.

Though the changes aren’t difficult, Friedlander said more time will have to be spent doing paperwork rather than focusing on the needs of students.

The commission’s findings in January also stated that the trustees either didn’t understand or dismissed the Brown Act, the nearly 60-year-old California law that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies. Though not in the commission’s purview to enforce, the document posed some unsettling questions about how the trustees approach closed session.

When asked about the Brown Act allegations, Friedlander said the findings had included an out-of-context remark from an ACCJC source. Friedlander also cited Santa Barbara County Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerry Lulejian’s statement last August, in which he said the trustees did not violate the Brown Act in their dealings with Serban.

Board President Peter Haslund also said Tuesday that the college will prove it is in compliance. 

“The SBCC board and administration are working together to resolve the issues that were identified and demonstrate our compliance with ACCJC Standards,” Haslund said in a statement. “SBCC has been — and continues to be — a wonderful institution helping thousands of students reach their higher education goals.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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