Today's Law As Amended

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AB-1397 Community colleges: California Community Colleges Fair Accreditation Act of 2015.(2015-2016)



SECTION 1.

 Article 8 (commencing with Section 72800) is added to Chapter 6 of Part 45 of Division 7 of Title 3 of the Education Code, to read:

Article  8. Accreditation
72800.
 (a) This article shall be known, and may be cited, as the California Community Colleges Fair Accreditation Act of 2015.
(b) The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(1) The goal of accreditation is to promote and ensure higher education quality through peer evaluation and review.
(2) The community college accrediting agency should be a nonprofit, private educational association of regional scope, responsible for developing evaluation criteria, conducting peer evaluations, assessing whether criteria are met, and supporting institutional development and improvement.
(3) The community college accrediting agency should have a comprehensive and nondiscriminatory accreditation process that is in compliance with the requirements of applicable federal and state laws and regulations.
(c) This article shall apply only to accrediting procedures regarding institutions located in California.
72801.
 (a) As used in this article:
(1) “Academic” means a person who is currently, or has recently, directly engaged in a significant manner in postsecondary teaching or research.
(2) “Agency” means the accrediting agency for the California Community Colleges.
(3) “Near relative” means a spouse, including a registered domestic partner, child, parent, sibling, person in an in-law relationship, or a step relative in one of the relationships referenced in this subparagraph.
(b) It is the intent of the Legislature that the provisions of this article shall be implemented in a manner that complies with pertinent federal statutes and regulations.
(c) (1) Each visiting accreditation team sent out by the agency shall be composed of an appropriate percentage of academics.
(2) The agency shall establish and enforce procedures to ensure that persons serving on visiting accreditation teams do not have conflicts of interest. No person may serve on a visiting accreditation team who has a conflict of interest. For the purposes of this paragraph, a conflict of interest is determined by any circumstance in which an individual’s capacity to make an impartial or unbiased accreditation recommendation may be affected, including, but not necessarily limited to, any of the following:
(A) Paid service in any capacity to the institution under review.
(B) Serving as, or having a near relative serving as, a current member, staff member, or consultant of the agency’s decisionmaking body.
(C) Serving as, or having a near relative serving as, a current member, staff member, or consultant of the institution’s governing body.
(D) Candidacy for employment at the institution being evaluated.
(E) A written agreement with an institution that may create a conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict of interest with the institution being evaluated.
(F) Having a personal or financial interest in the ownership or operation of the institution being evaluated.
(G) Receipt of honoraria, honors, or awards from the institution being evaluated.
(H) Other personal or professional connections that would create a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.
(3) A prospective member of a visiting accreditation team shall submit an appropriate disclosure form to the agency, declaring that he or she does not violate the visiting team conflict-of-interest criteria in paragraph (2). Copies of these forms shall be provided to the institution under review.
(d) (1) The agency shall conduct the meetings of its decisionmaking body so as to ensure that those members of the public who desire to appear at open sessions of those meetings have an opportunity to attend those portions of the meetings. No less than 30 days before each meeting of the decisionmaking body of the agency, the agency shall make an agenda for that meeting available to the public by posting the agenda on its Internet Web site and by other appropriate means. This agenda shall include the street address of the meeting site. The agenda shall be mailed, no less than 30 days before each meeting, to the chief executive officer and the accreditation liaison officer of any applicant, candidate, or accredited institution that is listed on the agenda in connection with any matter to be considered at the meeting.
(2) A sufficient length of time shall be allowed for public comment at meetings of the agency’s decisionmaking body, and no agency action related to an institution’s accreditation shall be made prior to the decisionmaking body’s taking of public comment.
(3) The agency shall make an accreditation decision by a vote of its decisionmaking body. The outcome of the vote shall be recorded and posted to the agency’s Internet Web site. Minutes from all open session portions of the meetings of the decisionmaking body of the agency shall be recorded and posted to the agency’s Internet Web site.
(4) Any officer, employee, representative, or consultant of the agency with an actual or appearance of a conflict of interest shall be disqualified from participating in discussion and voting by the agency’s decisionmaking body. For purposes of this clause, a conflict of interest is defined as any circumstance in which an individual’s capacity to make an impartial or unbiased recommendation or decision may be affected, including by any of the following:
(A) Paid service in any capacity to the institution under review.
(B) Serving as, or having a near relative serving as, a current member, staff member, or consultant of the institution’s governing body.
(C) Having served on the most recent evaluation team of an institution being considered.
(D) Candidacy for employment at the institution being evaluated.
(E) A written agreement with an institution that may create a conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict of interest with the institution being evaluated.
(F) Having a personal or financial interest in the ownership or operation of the institution being evaluated.
(G) Receipt of honoraria, honors, or awards from the institution being evaluated.
(H) Other personal or professional connections that would create a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.
(I) Any other relationship that would impede an individual’s objectivity.
(e) The agency shall preserve all documents generated during an accreditation-related review, including, but not necessarily limited to, email correspondence, for no less than 36 months after the completion of an accreditation-related review. All reports, evaluations, recommendations, and decision documents generated during an accreditation-related review shall be retained for two full accreditation cycles, for 14 years, or for the retention period required for that document by the federal government, whichever period is longest.
(f) No revision shall be made by the agency to a proposed visiting accreditation team report unless the revision is shared with the members of the visiting accreditation team and with the institution under review, and each is afforded an opportunity to comment on the revision.
(g) (1) A community college or a community college district shall be given advance notice of proposed visiting accreditation team reports, so that the college or district may respond to correct factual errors or dissent from conclusions. The institution under review shall be afforded adequate time to review the reports before a meeting of the agency’s decisionmaking body at which a decision relating to the institution’s accreditation is to be made, which shall be no less than six weeks before the meeting. The institution under review may respond to these reports in writing, orally at the meeting, or in both of those ways.
(2) Any visiting accrediting team recommendation for action shall be shared with the institution under review at least six weeks before a meeting of the agency’s decisionmaking body, so that the institution may decide whether and how to respond to the recommendation. Any recommendation for action made to the agency’s decisionmaking body by a person employed by or representing the agency, including its staff, agents, and employees, shall be shared with the institution subject to the recommendation at least six weeks before a meeting of the agency’s decisionmaking body relating to the recommendation.
(3) The time periods for advance notice established pursuant to paragraph (1) and for the review period established pursuant to paragraph (2) may be shortened only pursuant to a declaration made by the chief executive officer of the agency. This declaration shall include, but not be limited to, a statement that exigent circumstances exist and the time periods established by law impair the agency’s ability to act swiftly in taking action for the preservation of the public good. This declaration shall be in writing, signed under penalty of perjury, and shall specify the exigent circumstances necessitating expedited action by the agency. The declaration shall be posted on the agency’s Internet Web site, and, as soon as is practicable, a copy of the declaration shall be delivered to the affected institution.
(i) (1) The agency shall have a written policy, consistent with federal law, that does both of the following:
(A) Identifies a period for an institution to correct any deficiencies that have prevented the institution from receiving full accreditation.
(B) Provides criteria for altering that period.
(2) The policy adopted under paragraph (1) shall be published, and shall provide a process through which an institution may submit applications for an extension, even if a decision has expressly denied such an extension. An application for an extension, and the decision of the agency as to the application, shall be made publicly available.
(j) (1) Whenever the agency’s decisionmaking body issues a sanction of probation or a more serious sanction, the institution subject to the sanction shall be given written notice of the alleged sanctionable offenses or deficiencies. The institution shall be afforded an opportunity to submit an appeal of the decision to issue the sanction.
(2) A member of an appeal panel with an actual conflict of interest, or the appearance of a conflict of interest, shall be disqualified from participating in an appeal submitted pursuant to paragraph (1). For purposes of this paragraph, a conflict of interest shall be defined as any circumstance in which an individual’s capacity to make an impartial or unbiased recommendation or decision may be affected, including by any of the following:
(A) Paid service in any capacity to the institution under review.
(B) Serving as, or having a near relative serving as, a current member, staff member, or consultant of the institution’s governing body.
(C) Having voted or had the opportunity to vote, as a member of the agency’s decisionmaking body, on the sanction being appealed.
(D) Having served on any team, review committee, or body on behalf of the commission that was involved with the action of the commission being appealed.
(E) Current service on the commission.
(3) A prospective member of an appeal panel shall submit an appropriate disclosure form, signed under penalty of perjury, to the agency, declaring that he or she does not violate the conflict-of-interest criteria listed in subparagraphs (A) to (D), inclusive, of paragraph (2). Copies of these forms shall be provided to the institution that is making the appeal.
(k) The provisions of this section are severable. If any provision of this section or its application is held invalid, that invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications that can be given effect without the invalid provision or application.
SEC. 2.
 No reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution because the only costs that may be incurred by a local agency or school district will be incurred because this act creates a new crime or infraction, eliminates a crime or infraction, or changes the penalty for a crime or infraction, within the meaning of Section 17556 of the Government Code, or changes the definition of a crime within the meaning of Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution.