City College of San Francisco has regained accreditation, for now. With a Jan. 2 injunction Judge Curtis Karnow blocked last summer’s action by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) stripping the college’s accreditation. Thedisaccreditation would have gone into final effect July 2014 and would have effectively shuttered the school, which has served thousands of students for decades. Karnow’s injunction delays the move pending a court decision on a lawsuit brought by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera against the disaccreditation.
After hearing two days of arguments, on Dec.. 26 and 30, Judge Karnow noted in his ruling that the “consequences would be catastrophic” if the ACCJC were allowed to finish the disaccreditation process.
The city’s lawsuit asking for the disaccreditation to be overturned cites improper procedures, conflict of interest and political bias on the part of the agency, and claims harm to the city as a result. Karnow came after Herrera filed the lawsuit for the second time, after weeks of a delaying efforts by the ACCJC in response to the first filing. The outcome of the lawsuit will be the final say on whether CCSF retains its accreditation.
American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 at CCSF, as well as the California Federation of Teachers, had also filed lawsuits, both of which Karnow dismissed.
Karnow also dismissed a request in Herrera’s lawsuit to block the ACCJC from sanctioning any of the other 111 California community colleges for the duration of the lawsuit. Meanwhile, a request from the ACCJC to drop all of the lawsuits against it was denied as well.
Prominent political allies emerged to praise the court’s decision. They included U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who noted, “We’re in a situation where it’s really important for others who are weighing different equities about City College to understand what the commitment is from this community at all levels to City College. There’s never been a complaint about the education at the school.” Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said, “Finally, a decision that makes sense: Judge Karnow sided with the students by blocking ACCJC’s misguided effort to punish City College.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement on the outcome of the hearings that Karnow “understood in no uncertain terms that closing the college – especially when the accreditation concerns are so debatable – would be catastrophic and harmful to students, teachers and the city. He recognized that the allegations brought by the city were sufficient to take the case to trial and, in the meantime, keep the school open.”
The ruling comes as the future role of the ACCJC in California is being hotly debated. The agency is currently under audit by the State Assembly Joint Legislative Audit Committee and its evaluation processes are likewiseunder review by the U.S. Department of Education.
Lawmakers like Jackie Speier have gone so far as to call for a thorough reform of the entire process of accreditation, on a national level.
In October, ACCJC President Barbara Beno was found to be soliciting letters for support of the ACCJC from members of the Association of Chief Business Officers, the business officials of the state’s community colleges. Beno requested that the letters be sent to her personally, in an effort to shore up the ACCJC’s case in the face of the review by the federal Department of Education.
As many of these colleges are themselves currently under other levels of sanction with the agency, some interpreted this move by Beno as another form of intimidation.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Steve Kinsella of Gavilan Community College in Gilroy, Calif., who is also currently serving as vice-chair of the ACCJC, issued a letter asking his fellow officers to show support for ACCJC. In his letter, entitled “Does Your Accreditation Really Matter?,” published in an email list subscribed to by college leaders, Kinsella took issue with leaders felt to not be lending sufficient support to the agency.
“Those of you who have challenged the faculty unions know the sacrifice and price of demonstrating the courage to say no when you must,” Kinsella wrote. “That is the type of leadership you now have to demonstrate to retain your accrediting commission.
“As an aside if you think this is an ACCJC issue you need to think beyond this because this is nothing more than a fight for total control, void of all but legal constraints that enrich faculty with more entitlements every year. Once they control accreditation they own you.”
In comments at a forum on ACCJC, held at the College of San Mateo in October, Rafael Mandelman, newest elected board trustee of CCSF, observed that this remark of Kinsella’s “offers an amazing insight on how ACCJC sees the world … that there’s this Manichean battle between good and evil. Faculty unions are evil and administrators … are good.”
Note: The author teaches at the College of San Mateo, one of California’s 112 community colleges.