The Real Scandal
As a former member of the New College of California Board of Trustees, I was scandalized by your article (“,” March 5). The real scandal is that the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) has all but destroyed a unique college that has provided high-quality educational programs at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels for thousands of students, many from underserved and under-respected communities who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to get a college degree. The majority of those graduates now serve those same communities.
New College was judged to be in satisfactory compliance with all WASC standards in 2006. Two weeks ago, WASC voted to strip New College of its accreditation. This action came about as a result of an internal struggle that led a subgroup (including former employees) to secretly go to WASC with allegations of accreditation violations. WASC chose to deal with the situation by utilizing an extraordinary provision in its regulations that allowed them to send in an investigative “swat” team with one week’s notice to New College, while refusing to inform the college of the allegations against it or allowing the college any opportunity to prepare an explanation or defense for whatever allegations had been made. This three-person team appeared on campus, conducted a two-hour review of specified students’ files and then spent five hours at an off-campus location interrogating administrators and faculty.
The team then produced a condemnatory report containing some legitimate criticisms of college administrative and academic practices but many sweeping judgments that were exaggerated or false. A good example of that, repeated in the article, is the report’s accusation that former president Martin Hamilton showed favoritism toward a student and authorized a change in his transcript in exchange for the student’s promise to donate a million dollars to the college. This attempt at a grade change by president Hamilton never took place. Hamilton was never given an opportunity to prove his innocence to WASC, despite prior investigations by both the college’s academic vice-presidents and the Board of Trustees that found the accusation to be untrue. Martin Hamilton did not resign as a result of these allegations; he resigned because Ralph Wolf made it clear that New College would lose its accreditation if he did not.
As a result of this report, the WASC commission took a highly public punitive action placing New College on probation in July 2007. Because of this action, the college’s enrollment plummeted by 41 percent, actually creating a financial crisis that did not previously exist. Because of WASC’s action, the Department of Education immediately restricted the college’s access to federal financial aid funds, further crippling the college financially. Because WASC forced the resignation of Martin Hamilton and stigmatized those with significant past involvement in the administration, a new administration with little or no experience was forced to try to cope with the financial and political crisis, while maintaining timely responses to WASC demands that they knew New College would not be able to meet.
I would appreciate it if the Bohemian did a more thorough job of investigating all sides of the issue. I know for a fact that writer Leilani Clark did not talk to Martin Hamilton before accusing him of taking a bribe. Martin has lived in this community for many years and was instrumental in starting the Santa Rosa New College campus, which has provided a forum for numerous groups and issues. I’d think you would want to treat him fairly.
Leilani Clark replies: While I respect your assertions concerning New College’s unique and important contribution to the education community, it is a grand oversight to put the blame for the demise of the school squarely in the hands of WASC. In terms of Martin Hamilton, I reported that he had resigned amid accusations of bribe-taking. Whether he took it or not has yet to be proven, but the allegations themselves have been documented as a matter of public record.
On the Other Hand
Great story (“School for Scandal”). Research and quotes finely balanced. Taut, efficient prose. Could actually feel the heartbreak of students and staff alike. So sorry for them. Well done, Ms. Clark!