Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2007 • LCC’s accreditation status worsens from warning to probation

Lassen Community College is on probation — again. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College, Western Association of Schools and Colleges placed LCC on probation Jan. 31, following up on a July report by its evaluation team.

The team visited the campus in July to review the college’s accreditation warning status that was imposed in June 2006.

During that visit, the evaluation team noted a “pathological college culture,” “unprofessional and insubordinate behavior on the part of mid-management” and expressed its grave concern over “a readily apparent power struggle” that has “crippled the college governance structures.”

In fact, the evaluation team reported until LCC’s profound governance issues were resolved, the college probably would be unable to address the other issues facing the institution.

The commission’s Jan. 31 determination marked the acceptance of the evaluation team’s report and a subsequent progress report submitted by LCC.

According to a letter addressed to LCC President Dr. Homer Cissell, the commission will require the college to file another progress report by March 15 to address 21 specific recommendations. LCC has two years to correct the issues addressed by the commission.

According to the commission’s letter, “Probation is issued when the commission finds that an institution deviates significantly from the commission’s eligibility criteria, standards, or policies or fails to respond to conditions imposed upon it by the commission. The accredited status of the institution continues during the probation period.”

“I’m disappointed in the accreditation commission’s decision to place Lassen College on probation in response to its acceptance of the college’s progress report submitted to the commission on Nov. 15, 2006,” said Lassen Community College District Board President Chris Click.  “That progress report was provided in reply to the commission’s action to place the college on warning status last June 29, followed by the commission team’s special visit in July resulting in the team’s draft report.”

Cissell was out of state and unable to comment upon the letter or the commission’s recommendations.

“Obviously, we’re very disappointed with the commission’s decision to put us on probation,” said LCC’s Dean of Administrative Services Larry Perryman, “but the good news is we have met or are in the process of meeting most of the commission’s recommendations.”

Perryman said a couple of the recommendations might prove difficult for the college. For example, the dean said the commission’s recommendation the college utilize an instructional researcher could prove challenging.

“It’s not about the classroom and it’s not about teaching,” Perryman said. “It’s all about governance issues. This goes back to an earlier visit, and I guess all the way back to 2002. Again, it’s somewhat disappointing we haven’t gotten our act together. These governance issues are things we can correct, things we can fix. We can do that. We’re working on these problems. The main point is, it’s not a classroom issue.”

Responding to one of the commission’s recommendations, Perryman said the entire campus community will participate in a conflict resolution training held on campus March 15.

The training group from Fresno first will meet with administrators on campus March, 14.

Perryman said the trainers are “experts in this area,” who have worked with other colleges. They’ve also resolved conflicts between police departments and communities.

“This is not a one-shot type training and then it’s over,” Perryman said. “We’ll meet on two other dates and then assess our progress.”

The commission’s recommendations
The commission recommended the college seek assistance from the Community College League of California, the California Academic Senate, ACCJC and outside mediators and trainers “to help individuals and groups change their behaviors and develop strategies for working together for the good of the college.”

The commission also recommended the college and president develop a governance document that includes all college committees; include more faculty in decision-making bodies; establish deadlines for board materials; fill all administrative/management vacancies as soon as possible; hold annual evaluations for administrators; improve training for administration; hold regularly-scheduled staff meetings; contract with an outside expert to assist in evaluating policies, procedures and practices; work on student learning outcomes; review current staffing; submit substantive change proposals for three programs available through distance learning; create a research function with appropriate resources and staff; use the resulting data to implement a robust program review; design and implement an on-going institutional planning process; and, define and follow appropriate practices and procedures to ensure timely decisions based upon student needs, curriculum and state attendance regulations.

“In addition, the board wishes to express its concerns that the inability of the institution’s governing board to take appropriate actions to stabilize the institution and support its chief executive officer may have a continued, lasting and negative impact on Lassen College’s ability to come into compliance with the standards for accreditation and remain an accredited institution,” the letter read.

“The progress report (filed by LCC) contained responses to 21 specific recommendations made by the commission’s team in its draft report,” Click said.  “Three specific recommendations, distilled from four pages of observation and discussion, were directed to the board itself.  Based on the commission’s most recent letter, two of those three recommendations were satisfactorily addressed.  The third, recommendation No. 9, requires that the college meet deadlines set by the board for receipt of meeting materials pertinent to agenda items.  That materials are mailed timely has apparently not ensured timely delivery to every board member in every instance.  I believe the college can quickly correct that shortcoming.

“The tougher task of acting collectively to stabilize the institution and support the CEO relies on either reaching consensus among seven trustees or at least on unanimous support for decisions reached by a majority of them.  I trust that the bluntness of the commission’s statement will encourage the board, in short order, to reach a common understanding of its crucial role in protecting the accreditation of Lassen College.”