The South Orange County Community College District is attracting unwanted attention from the private commission that accredits schools and colleges, but its standing as an approved institution is apparently safe for now, officials said.
However, the strife that has split the district for more than a year over how to run the 33,000-student campuses has spilled over into the accreditation renewal process, which rules a college's ability to garner federal funds, foundation backing and acceptance of its course credits at other institutions.
Critics of the majority of the Board of Trustees charge that a draft report of a "self-evaluation" prepared by faculty and administrators was altered to remove lengthy passages critical of trustees.
The editing--while not illegal--shows an attempt to cover up problems at Irvine Valley College, one of the campuses administered by the South Orange district, critics charged.
"There are differences between the original draft report and the one submitted to the board," said Lisa Alvarez, an associate professor of English at the Irvine college and a member of the Faculty Senate. "It probably would have been better to submit the whole messy original and go from there than to submit one that was watered down."
The report, which still contains some of the criticisms of the Board of Trustees, will eventually end up at the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges in Santa Rosa, a branch of the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, the private accreditation agency.
The accreditation process is undertaken every six years under commission guidelines. After the self-study is completed, a team of inspectors from the commission will visit the campuses, probably this fall, said Judith Watkins, associate executive director.
The accreditation commission is aware of the district's problems--fiscal woes, a drain of top administrators, infighting over institutional governance and a trustee recall campaign--and will not be deceived "for three nanoseconds" by an inaccurate self-study report, Watkins said.
"If that self-study is not an accurate representation--if that campus is misrepresented in that study--it's the team's duty to confirm that and comment and comment strongly," she said. "There's no sense trying to turn this into a public relations piece."
Rarely do colleges lose accreditation without warning, but Watkins said accreditation could carry conditions, ranging from a warning to probation, depending on what inspectors find. A change in status from accredited to unaccredited is a lengthy process, she said, that could take from months to years.
It's not the first time the accreditation agency has expressed concern with the district that oversees the Irvine campus and Saddleback College. Earlier this year, the commission expressed concern over the colleges' fiscal problems and an administrative exodus. Those issues were discussed in a special visit to the district's Mission Viejo offices April 13, Watkins said.
The commission evaluates colleges on how they follow 10 standards ranging from educational programs to student support to administration and governance.
In the original draft Irvine Valley College report that dealt with administration and governance, faculty and administrators criticized the Board of Trustees' majority for violating open-meetings laws, micromanaging campus affairs and "losing sight of the district's educational mission."
But long sections of the critical remarks were removed from the self-study presented to trustees Monday night. Even a factual reference to district's financial status--on a state fiscal "watch" list--was cut out, critics said.
The report was edited by Irvine Valley College electronic technology instructor Ray Chandos, who was appointed chairman of the school's accreditation committee by college President Raghu Mathur over objections of many faculty members.
Chandos could not be reached for comment Tuesday.