College faces potential loss of accreditation

Nearly 10 years after it was cited for serious accreditation flaws, Saddleback College has moved only slightly closer to solving its internal woes, leaving morale in question and its relationship with the board of trustees in tatters.

At issue has been constant meddling in campus affairs by the South Orange County Community College District board of trustees, according to a sub-committee report released last month by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the agency charged with overseeing how the college runs its business.

All accounts indicate that the college is nowhere near losing its accreditation, interviews reveal. But the report indicates that the college better get the job done soon before there are serious repercussions.

“If the [accreditation] team makes recommendations, the college has to address it,” said Janice Ito, of Leeward Community College of Hawaii and a member of the 2004 accreditation team that visited Saddleback. In 2002, Saddleback started preparation for its 2004 progress report to be reviewed by the WASC sub-committee know as Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, which is made up of administrators and faculty from other campuses in the Western United States.

The progress report was intended to address issues specified by ACCJC from its 1998 visit, that pointed out seven specific areas where the school was deficient or needed improvement.The 2004 visit found three areas in which the school was still lacking improvement.

The three recommendations made by ACCJC concerned student learning outcomes, reduction of the role of The Board of Trustees and improvement in the college’s climate in regards to the “hostility, cynicism, despair, and fear that continue to plague the college.”

It blamed trustees for taking too much interest in campus decisions.

Board members are unwilling to change, according to a credible source who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

“The only thing that separates us is our instructors,” the anonymous source said. “[The board is] taking a passive aggressive approach to silence instructors who say things.”

Nevertheless, will the school lose its accreditation?

“I would say no,” said Ana Maria Cobos, Saddleback librarian who has worked on ACCJC accrediting teams for 10 years. “The quality of the instruction, what we are doing for the students, has not suffered.”

The college would be warned, then placed on probation before accreditation would be revoked, according to WASC protocol.

“Saddleback College is nowhere near being placed on warning,” Vice President for Instruction, Rajen Vurdien said. “Saddleback will not lose its accreditation.”

Letters and notices from ACCJC are available on Saddleback’s website at www.saddleback.edu.

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