Two lawsuits and a trial move forward; governor signs CFT transparency bill

The trial to determine if the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges acted unfairly when it pulled City College of San Francisco’s accreditation will go ahead on October 27. In the meantime, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera won a victory when the trial judge ruled on September 19 that accreditors “violated controlling federal regulations” by having an unbalanced evaluation team, with only one academic representative to evaluate the college in 2013.

Herrera’s office has filed a lawsuit ­— one of three, including one by the CFT — against the accreditation commission, charging that the attempt to revoke accreditation was politically motivated, didn’t respect due process, and was riddled with conflicts of interest.

The judge granted an injunction last January, meaning CCSF can’t lose accreditation until the conclusion of the trial. In September, the ACCJC’s lawyers argued they cannot have committed unfair business practices as charged because they are not a business.

The CFT’s attorney, Robert Bezemek, calls that absurd. “Their argument that they’re not involved in commerce is just nonsense,” Bezemek said. “By discrediting CCSF, they would be eliminating an inexpensive high-quality learning option, and they have a huge effect on the education marketplace.”

On September 19, the judge agreed, ruling that the commission is subject to the laws that govern businesses.

On the same day, Gov. Brown signed the CFT-sponsored Fair Accreditation for California Community Colleges Act, designed to make the accreditation process more transparent. (See story page 4)

In June, a month before accreditation was scheduled to be revoked, ACCJC officials announced they would change their rules and allow CCSF to apply for “restoration status,” giving the college two more years to meet the accreditation standards. To some, it seemed like a victory.
But Tim Killikelly, president of AFT Local 2121, says it was just more of the same unfair treatment from the agency.

“Everybody was saying congratulations and focusing on the idea we had two more years, but as we looked at the details of what restoration involved, it was unbelievably outrageous,” he said. “They created a way to apply for restoration before they created a manual for the process. It doesn’t apply to other colleges, and even if CCSF were to meet ‘substantial compliance’ it would be disaccredited with no option to appeal.”

CCSF library department chair Karen Saginor calls restoration a setup.

“To say to a college, ‘You have to be perfect,’ reminds me of the story of Rumplestiltskin,” she said. “You’ll be allowed to live if you take a pile of straw and weave it into gold — you’re given a task, so it seems like a good thing, but there’s not a chance that it can be done.”

The ACCJC’s actions have meant a severe drop in enrollment at CCSF, leading to class cancellations. In August, AFT Local 2121 led a demonstration to protest these cancellations, delivering about 2,000 petitions in the shape of bricks to CCSF’s vice chancellor, asking her to rebuild rather than make cuts, especially in light of a successful CFT legislative effort, SB860, which extends CCSF’s stabilization funding for three years.

Class cancellations have caused lots of frustration and disappointment, says Susana Mayorga, a counselor with Latino Services Network. In her 12 years at the college, she says this has been the worst in terms of having students unable to transfer because they can’t get the classes they need.

Saginor attended the protest. “The ACCJC has damaged the college’s reputation,” she said. “It keeps away some students who worry that it will close or think it has closed already. 
— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter