Since the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges made its appalling decision to terminate City College of San Francisco’s accreditation four years ago, AFT Local 2121, the faculty union there, and the CFT have fought back through legislation, lawsuits, political pressure and protests.

In August, those years of fighting paid off when the ACCJC agreed to key policy changes in exchange for the CFT dropping its lawsuit against the agency.

The lawsuit was filed in September 2013 after the ACCJC’s decision to revoke City College’s accreditation. The CFT sought an injunction to keep the college open, which was granted through a separate lawsuit filed by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. In addition, that ruling determined that the ACCJC broke several laws by terminating the college’s accreditation.

The CFT lawsuit also sought to end the commission’s violation of its own rules and the rule of law, and stop its punitive, arbitrary, and inconsistent behavior that created fear in colleges around the state and adversely affected them — including Compton College, which remained without accreditation for more than a decade.

A significant turning point was the commission getting new leadership, with controversial President Barbara Beno being placed on leave and Richard Winn stepping in, says CFT’s Community College Council President Jim Mahler.

“Winn made a lot of public promises and the commission was able to make some dramatic changes that benefited all parties,” Mahler said. “This is more how things should be in a normal world, not the Spanish Inquisition world that Beno had created.”

Winn came to a meeting of the Community College Council in Sacramento last March where he listened to several hours of faculty members airing their frustrations with the agency and how its policies had hurt their schools and students, in what members present jovially referred to as a “piñata party.”

Mahler calls the new agreement fantastic and a huge deal, not just for the union, but for the entire community college system. 

Policy changes include the ACCJC not interfering with the collective bargaining process, recommending the elimination of student learning outcomes in evaluations, and having at least three active duty faculty members on evaluation teams. Asked what changes were particularly important to him, Mahler is succinct: “All of them.”

For attorney Eileen Goldsmith, who worked on the agreement, the ACCJC’s promise to stay out of negotiations is particularly significant.

“As anyone who’s been following this knows, the process the ACCJC used to review colleges was both very unfair to colleges and really interfering with collective bargaining,” Goldsmith said. “They’re going to take a more holistic approach to finances. It’s legitimate to raise concern in how a college manages money, but it’s up to the college how it addresses that — you can’t be told you have to put a certain amount in reserves or in a trust because that has an obvious effect on collective bargaining.”

She agrees with Mahler that the change in administration at the ACCJC had a big impact. Goldsmith credits the CFT as well as AFT Local 2121 with the agreement. 

“The union campaign on all fronts — with the public, with the state, with the litigation back in D.C. with the Department of Education — was very effective in pushing ACCJC to make reforms that should have been made a long time ago,” Goldsmith said. “The people at 2121 were tireless and incredibly dedicated and worked incredibly hard to get this. The union put a tremendous amount of effort into this campaign, and obviously it paid off.”

— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter

The best graduation gift for Compton College

Compton’s Jose Bernaudo says he’s thrilled with the changes to ACCJC policies. “We’re very pleased to see the agreement,” said the secretary for the Compton Federation of Employees. “If these policies had been in place, especially the ones about not being able to tell a college what to do with their finances and having working faculty on the team, we wouldn’t have lost accreditation in the first place.”

The ACCJC revoked Compton’s accreditation in 2005. This June Compton got it back.

“They announced it at graduation and we were ecstatic,” Bernaudo said. “It changed the environment here — it’s much more positive. We really want to thank CFT for supporting us.”

Local President Rashid Yahye is also grateful.“This was a huge victory for the community who suffered a lot of injustice because of this,” he said.

Compton stayed open by becoming a satellite campus of El Camino College in Torrance. They are glad to have their independence back, Bernaudo says.

“It’s autonomy,” he concluded. “We can make own decisions regarding curriculum and programs and finances. Because the union stood up and fought, we got our accreditation returned earlier than we would have otherwise.”