Article - Office of College Advancement

Accreditation in no danger, Ohlone says

Trustees lash out at Argus report, advised to address internal woes

By Todd R. Brown.

Friday, March 14, 2008—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area.

Fremont—Although they were accused of failing to stand in unison behind their institution, Ohlone College's Board of Trustees agreed on one thing this week: Students need not fear that the school will lose its accreditation.

A team of evaluators said last week that the main challenge before the college is for the board to focus less on administrative nitpicking and more on cohesive policy making.

The team's formal report will go in June before a commission that will determine the school's academic standing, a process that recurs every six years for all western U.S. colleges.

Several board members Wednesday accused The Argus, when it reported the evaluating team's concerns, of overstating the likelihood that the college could lose its accreditation.

Accreditation loss happens rarely. In one recent example, Compton Community College in 2006 lost its academic standing because of a serious fiscal crisis.

In January, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges issued several warnings, including to the College of San Mateo and Canada College, and it put the College of Marin and Modesto Junior College on probation.

This week, Ohlone's administration asked Pamila Fisher, a search consultant who is helping find a replacement for retiring President and Superintendent Douglas Treadway, to ensure that the Tri-City area's junior college fares better.

"You are in damage control mode, rightly or wrongly," she told the board at a Wednesday workshop. "We're going to try our best not to be defensive."

Trustee Nick Nardolillo said several students have approached him, worried that their time spent at Ohlone could be for naught if the college's accreditation is in danger.

"There were major concerns that if they put two years of work into this college … it didn't count," he said.

Fisher, who lives in Montana and has served on various accreditation teams, said the board would have to show great disregard of the evaluators' critique before the college faced real jeopardy.

"You would have to do something really egregious," she said. "If they find that you've not responded … they can go so far as to put you on probation. This is going to be in the plus column that you're here tonight. What really got Compton in trouble was, they ignored the accreditation commission."

Central to the workshop was the board's perceived lack of unity, as when individual members complain about consensus decisions afterward at meetings—some of which the evaluators saw via Web video archive—and in the media.

Even before the evaluators revealed their recommendations for the college, Fisher said candidates for Treadway's job had concerns that "the board is not always practicing good trusteeship," which complicates the hunt for a new leader.

The trustees plan to interview three to five finalists April 14 and 15. They would not reveal their names, but Trustee Bill McMillin let slip that one candidate is from Saudi Arabia.

Treadway said he doesn't think the college's accreditation is in jeopardy. But he added, "The danger would lie in not paying attention to the feedback they're getting."

Last week, Nardolillo, reacting in an e-mail, wrote, "Shame on the commission, and the newspaper, for giving only one side of the story, which in fact is way out of balance of all the good works of this board.

"If I was a member of the public reading your article, and was not that familiar with Ohlone College, I might think that the Ohlone College Board of Trustees are the kissing cousins of the Keystone Cops."

On Wednesday, Fisher said, "They are not saying you didn't make good fiduciary decisions or good hiring decisions. This is a really good report—'You know what, things are really going well here'" despite the board.

Board President Garrett Yee, who recently published a book on his Army reservist experience called "Greetings From Iraq!" seemed optimistic.

"It's a process that we can start right away, to become a better board," he said. "I think we have some great people. This is easy stuff for us to address. They didn't give us something hard to do, like develop a whole new curriculum for a science lab."

Trustee Richard Watters said he thinks some in the Ohlone community overreacted to the news that the accreditation team has concerns about the board.

"I don't understand why everyone's freaking out about everything," he said. "We need to move in a positive way. It is what it is. You have to take into consideration the reputation of The Argus. Those of us who live here know what that is."

Asked Thursday to clarify his remarks, he said: "In Newark, the word on the street is everyone hates The Argus. They don't like the types of stories it runs, they're not positive, they're not accurate.

"The quality has gone down. People are very frustrated."

On the Web: Ohlone board meetings archive, http://www.ohlone.edu/org/board/#archivedvideos.

Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Western Association of Schools and Colleges, http://www.accjc.org.

Reach staff writer Todd R. Brown at 510-353-7004 or todd.brown@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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