CFT lawsuit advances significant step toward fair accreditation in community colleges

City College of San Francisco started 2014 with some much-needed good news. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow ruled that the school’s accreditation cannot be revoked until a trial determines whether the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, or ACCJC, acted unlawfully in sanctioning the college. Karnow said in his ruling that closing the college would be “catastrophic.”

It’s a huge win, says Robert Bezemek, attorney for the CFT. Bezemek, along with San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, filed suit against the accreditation agency and won a partial injunction based on the ACCJC violating federal regulations, having very few faculty members on evaluation teams for CCSF, and conflicts of interest. Although the judge didn’t stop the ACCJC from sanctioning the state’s other 111 community colleges, which Herrera sought, Bezemek was delighted with Karnow’s decision.

Bezemek says the judge asked both sides tough questions at the hearing on December 26, and agreed closing the college — or the threat of closure hanging over it — would cause enormous harm.

“We were overjoyed to know we could not be disaccredited,” Bezemek said. “Although the students and faculty won, several of the big issues are left to be decided at the trial. We feel confident we can answer the judge’s questions.” The trial is expected to take place later this year.

Meanwhile, CCSF continues to gain support. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held a press conference at the school’s Chinatown campus, praising Karnow’s decision and saying she and other members of Congress want to subject the 
ACCJC to harsher scrutiny.

Another local politician, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos introduced a resolution to reinstate local control to CCSF’s elected Board of Trustees. California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris removed the school’s trustees last July and installed a Special Trustee in their place.

The attention from public leaders is starting to have an effect on the ACCJC says Jaime Borrazas, who retired from teaching English as a Second Language at CCSF last spring. “People are opposing them, and some punitive measures are being set,” he said. “They’re a little bit on the run and not so happy.”

Borrazas is a participant on panels comprising CCSF students, faculty members and trustees that the CFT has organized to visit community colleges and inform them about the accreditation fight.

Although retired, Borrazas says he wants to be involved in outreach about CCSF and its battle with the ACCJC. “It’s important for faculty to understand what their union is doing to defend them from a predatory accreditation commission,” he said.

Several locals and Academic Senates have passed resolutions condemning the ACCJC and supporting CCSF. One of those resolutions came from the Cabrillo College Federation of Teachers where Executive Director Maya Bendotoff wants people to know the ACCJC’s actions don’t affect only San Francisco.

“I want to share with everyone else something that’s completely insane,” she said. “What’s happening at CCSF is important to the rest of the state.”

— Maya Bendotoff, Executive Director, Cabrillo College Federation of Teachers


Shannon Lienhart is president of the Palomar Faculty Federation, where students, teachers, staff and administrators packed an auditorium to support CCSF.

“There’s something really wrong with the ACCJC,” she said. “People were stunned that after the ACCJC made this decision, the campus passed a parcel tax and rose to meet the conditions the ACCJC wanted, and the ACCJC just said, ‘Too bad.’ I don’t think people understand this group has the power to shut down a community college. We want to build political awareness around this situation.” 
— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter
 

Rob Bonta introduces fair accreditation bill

With CFT leaders at his side on February 19, Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced the Fair Accreditation for California Community Colleges Act, legislation that will reform the accreditation system.

“While California community colleges are widely recognized as a model of higher education excellence and access for low-income students,” said Assemblyman Bonta, “current actions by the ACCJC have compromised and unfairly singled out community colleges in an inconsistent manner.” His bill, AB1942, will:

Introduce competition to the accreditation process by allowing community college districts to choose their accreditation agency.

Restore transparency and accountability by requiring an accreditor to make decisions at a public hearing and disclose income and expenditures of accreditors’ employees and contractors.

Restore fairness by requiring an accreditor to provide due process and notice about evaluations, and allow colleges to appeal decisions.

Maintain the integrity of accreditation by eliminating potential conflicts of interest by accreditors by requiring annual public disclosure of charges to member institutions, fiscal data for accreditor’s employees and contractors, and all income and expenditures.