Leaders of the South Orange County Community College District hastened to offer assurances Friday that educational quality is being maintained and that accreditation is not at risk as students threatened to leave the district to attend other colleges.
"I want to assure the public, students and faculty that we'll maintain the highest standards," John S. Williams, the board president, said at a news conference.
Criticism is intensifying over faculty contentions that a draft college accreditation report on the school system's administration was "sanitized" when criticism of trustees was removed. But administrators said the process has retained its integrity.
Not so, critics said. "Everybody is up in arms about this," said Irvine Valley College ethics professor Roy Bauer. "People are hopping mad."
The district's two colleges, Saddleback College in Mission Viejo and Irvine Valley College, are seeking renewal of their accreditation by the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Kathleen O'Connell Hodge, the district's acting chancellor, said the process is accompanied by in-depth "self-studies" that are supposed to involve "passionate, forthright and honest" debate.
But the process has been particularly contentious at Irvine Valley, where faculty members say criticism of the Board of Trustees in early versions of a report was removed by editors appointed by administrators.
Accreditation officials this week said they are aware of turmoil at the south Orange County colleges but said there is no immediate threat to accreditation.
In a series of student and faculty demonstrations on campus against controversial administrative changes, some students have carried picket signs vowing to transfer to other community colleges and have shouted chants that they are going to Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.
In the Voice, Irvine Valley College's student newspaper, a cartoon in Thursday's edition portrays the college as a mock Monopoly board game featuring cards reading, "Get out of IVC Fast Ticket" and "Drive to OCC for School."
"We've never seen anything like it," Bauer said.
Administrators said students are overreacting to accreditation concerns. A loss of accreditation would limit their ability to transfer course credits to other schools, but the possibility of loss of accreditation appears remote.
Hodge, who has worked with the accreditation commission, said she would guard against any untoward interference in the process by trustees or administrators.
"The academic community is always a very critical, forthright and honest community," Hodge said. "The debate [during accreditation periods] is always rigorous. Predictably, there will be conflict and there will be a difference of opinion. These are components of a self-study."
But Bauer called the flap at Irvine Valley College a case of "classic, crass sanitizing."
Bauer attended the Friday news conference uninvited and was silenced when he tried to ask questions on behalf of his periodical, Dissent.