Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The Northwest Vista College (NVC) chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is renewing its 2010 no-confidence petition against Chancellor Bruce Leslie. The petition has been signed by 107 permanent faculty members, approximately 65% of the school’s faculty.
According to NVC AAUP spokesperson Craig Coroneos, the petition is a response to the impending accreditation investigation by the Executive Board of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC).
The SACS-COC has deferred the reaffirmation of accreditation for three members of the Alamo Colleges District – NVC, St. Philips College, and San Antonio College (SAC) – for six months, while they investigate whether the colleges should be considered autonomous colleges, or campuses of one central entity, The Alamo Colleges.
According to Coroneos, the third of the faculty who had been reluctant to sign were primarily those who had been hired after Alamo Colleges eliminated the tenure track for new hires in 2012.
“That’s had a chilling effect,” Coroneos said.
This particular debate over single versus separate accreditation status reaches back six years, when the faculty first filed a no-confidence petition. They did so when Leslie voiced his intent to bring all of the district colleges under one accreditation to reduce what he called “isolated fiefdoms,” Coroneos said.
“We applaud the chancellor and the board for bringing down some of those administrative and tech hurdles,” Coroneos said.
While the spirit of greater cooperation and more streamlined transfers between the schools was needed, he admitted, Coroneos said the administration took the initiative too far.
“The effect of unintended consequences is often not even noticed by those making decisions,” he added.
One of those consequences may be the loss of independent accreditation status for the colleges, if they fail to prove to the SACS-COC that they are autonomous institutions.
In 2010, the Alamo Colleges board voted to keep the colleges separate. An 2009 internal study by the Accreditation Review Committee found that while going to one accreditation would save the district $235,000 annually, it would risk losing up to $7 million in grants.
St. Philips has a federal designation as a historically Black college or university (HBCU). The report states that, “Based on the written information the Accreditation Review Committee has been able to gather from the Department of Education and from the federal Higher Education Codes, it appears that under a Single Accreditation model, St. Philip’s College will lose its current Title III(B) funding as an HBCU … The loss of HBCU status and funding eligibility will cost St. Philip’s College $5,000,000 to $7,000,000 annually. St. Philip’s College has, since receiving HBCU designation in 1987, received an annual allocation … This would be a huge loss for the College.”
St. Philips could appeal its status, but considering the benefits that come from the designation, the board felt that the risk was too great for the college and the community.
Likewise, all of the colleges receive money under Title V as Hispanic serving institutions. Currently, each college can use that money to serve the unique community in which it is placed. This would change if they went to a single accreditation.
“San Antonio is a pretty diverse place. It’s where the deep south meets Mexico meets the great plains, meets the West,” Coroneos said. “We don’t think all our students are the same.”
Coroneos feels that NWV’s success has come with the freedom to tailor curriculum to the needs of their particular student body. For example, to help ease the burden of college algebra, the college created three math 'pathways' that replace algebra with statistics or liberal arts math. These classes help students succeed by giving them a math class that is more germane to their area of study.
Under a centralized course catalogue, Coroneos said, statistics disappeared, making NVC’s math pathways impossible to implement.
The district’s interference with curriculum is one of the main reasons for the SACS-COC’s accreditation deferral. Another example is the mandated use of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People curriculum across all campuses.
According to the NVC-AAUP website, the curriculum mandate is a direct result of Leslie’s stated philosophy in the wake of the board vote to maintain each college’s autonomy:
“In his council leading up to that vote, Chancellor Leslie advised the ACCD Board that, 'There are those who continue to use the label of independently accredited colleges as justification to behave separately and this cannot continue,'" the website states. "Therefore, if the Board retains the current model of accreditation, it should consider adopting new policies that stipulate that the operating principles of the district should be based not on separateness but on… alignment…”
The chancellor’s office has put out a statement standing by the board’s strategic plan, “The Alamo Way.” The statement touts the successes of the plan as a “students first” initiative and it highlights the 224% increase in degrees awarded annually over the course of Leslie’s tenure, along with other data supporting improved student performance.
“The very nature of accreditation is to promote student learning and achievement. To that end, the policies, procedures, and initiatives adopted by the faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees have been purposefully focused on the advancement of students and the communities we serve,” the statement reads.
The statement expressed confidence that the SACS-COC’s visit two weeks from now will be constructive.
“This will not, as has been suggested, result in the loss of accreditation, and we will have ample time to make any adjustments recommended by the visiting team,” the statement reads.
The NVC AAUP will hold a press conference Thursday at the Mission Branch Library at 3:30 p.m. The petition, with its 107 signatures, will be available for viewing, but no photos or copy transmission will be allowed, as Coroneos said that he and his colleagues fear retaliation similar to what they said they experienced after the 2010 petition.
Top Image: Alamo Colleges Chancellor Dr. Bruce Leslie. File photo by Scott Ball.