Free City! The Fight for San Francisco’s City College and
Education for All
By Marcy Rein, Mickey Ellinger and Vicki Legion
PM Press, Oakland, 2021
Reviewed by Fred Glass
Early in 2017, as City College of San Francisco’s five-year fight
for its life drew to a close, I was attempting to convince a
reporter from the Chronicle of Higher Education to write a
summing up story. He said, “Someday someone really needs to write
a book on all this.”
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.
On August 7, 2017, CFT and the Accrediting Commission for
Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which oversees
accreditation of community colleges in California, settled a
four-year lawsuit out of court.
Following on the heels of the ACCJC reaccrediting City College of
San Francisco (CCSF) for seven years last January, this
brings to a close — with a happy ending — the sorry saga of the
ACCJC’s illegal attempt to close CCSF, and the fight led by the
CFT and AFT Local 2121 to prevent that from happening.
At the end of a CFT Convention Friday night Community College
Council meeting that went over the 10 o’clock ending time,
Richard Winn said he wanted to continue being a “thinking
partner” with the CFT and thanked everyone for their honesty.
He might have preferred a little less honesty. Winn is the
interim president of the Accreditation Commission of Community
and Junior Colleges, and the assembled members of CFT had plenty
to say about the commission’s unfairness, lack of transparency,
and meddling in collective bargaining. The CFT has a federal
lawsuit against ACCJC and continues to fight for a new
The Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, a
private 19-member panel that oversees community colleges in
California and Hawaii, has been much in the news over its threat
to pull City College of San Francisco’s accreditation — a battle
the union and college recently won with the January 13 news that
its accreditation is fully restored for the next seven years.
Bay Area Congresswoman Jackie Speier convened a panel discussion
at City College of San Francisco on November 28, her third on the
topic since the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior
Colleges revoked the accreditation of City College in 2013.
Speier pointed out that the people of San Francisco love their
college, having just voted in November for a second parcel tax to
support it, and passing Proposition W to make tuition free. She
is “hopeful and optimistic” about the college’s future and
defeating the ACCJC.
One thing for certain about Congresswoman Jackie Speier: she is
consistent. On November 28 at a City College of San Francisco
(CCSF) forum that she organized and hosted, the Bay Area
congresswoman sang the praises of the largest community college
in California. She also made clear that no matter what the
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
decides in its January meeting about CCSF, she will do everything
in her power to keep the school open and serving its tens of
thousands of students.
One of the principles of our democracy is the right to elect our
representatives. In California, one of the most basic decisions
we make is about our children’s education through the election of
local school boards that govern both K-12 and community college
districts. This may not receive the same fanfare as statewide or
national elections, but in more than 1,000 K-12 and 70 community
college districts, community residents make key educational
decisions that matter to them.
San Francisco, May 19, 2016—Today the CFT filed an amended
complaint with Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow against the
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).
The complaint, delayed for more than two years by ACCJC legal
maneuvers, alleges a broad array of violations of federal laws
and regulations, as well as California common law fair procedure,
by the Commission. The plaintiffs, in addition to CFT, include
several local community college faculty unions, a number of
individual faculty members and a student.
Rain, wind, and a four-hour round trip from her home could not
keep English teacher Jessica Nelson away from City College of San
Francisco to join a one-day strike on April 27, the first strike
in the school’s history.
“I wanted to support my fellow faculty,” she said. “There’s a
lack of respect for faculty here. That’s what led to this strike
and all the time, energy and effort the union has put into it.”
March 17, 2016—“Today California moved another step closer to
reforming the broken accreditation system for California’s
community colleges. With a more than 90 percent vote earlier
this week to reform the Accrediting Commission for Community and
Junior Colleges (ACCJC), while preparing at the same time to move
to another accreditor, community college presidents struck a
decisive blow to ACCJC’s fading hopes of maintaining the
unacceptable status quo.
December 17, 2015—Yesterday CFT President Joshua Pechthalt,
former CFT President Marty Hittelman, staff member Jessica
Ulstad, and faculty, students and trustees from City College of
San Francisco spoke before the National Advisory Committee on
Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), which oversees
regional accreditors such as the Accrediting Commission for
Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).
September 22, 2015—Yesterday the California Community College
Board of Governors (BOG) directed state Community Chancellor
Brice Harris to send his Accreditation
Task Force’s Report, issued two weeks ago, to the United
States Department of Education (USDOE).
The report, citing a multitude of failures by the current
California community college accreditor, the Accrediting
Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, recommends that
California replace the ACCJC with a new agency.
State Community College Chancellor Brice Harris has released his
long-awaited Accreditation Task Force report, and the news is not
good for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior
The report, however, is good news for California, because it puts
accreditation — the process of monitoring and reporting that
provides assurance to students and taxpayers that a college
offers a quality education — on a path toward renewal.
August 28, 2015—Today the Community College Chancellor released
his long awaited Accreditation Task Force Report, and the news
was not good for the Accrediting Commission for Community and
Junior Colleges. Bottom line: The task force, a blue ribbon
group representing faculty, administrators, elected officials and
other stakeholders, is recommending that the ACCJC be replaced by
another accrediting agency.
January 16, 2015—Today the CFT hosted a press teleconference call
to discuss Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow’s ruling in “The
People vs. ACCJC.” Participating were CFT President Joshua
Pechthalt, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), AFT Local
2121 President Tim Killikelly, and Shanell Williams, student
trustee at City College of San Francisco. Here are the
The City of San Francisco went to court in October to stop
the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges from
effectively shutting its beloved City College and ending
affordable higher education for 80,000 students.
Statewide, community colleges are fighting for fair accreditation
and one college that lost its accreditation is working to get it
back. Classified staff are helping.
A guiding principle in our democracy is that the people govern by
electing their representatives to office, whether it’s the
president of the 7th grade homeroom, local school board, mayor,
president of the country or any other elected office. The
American Revolution of 1776 cast aside the authority of a
monarchy to govern and put that power in the hands of the people,
however incomplete it was at that time.
San Francisco—After kicking off the day with a spirited early
morning demonstration outside the San Francisco Superior Court
building, about a hundred City College of San Francisco faculty,
students and community supporters moved en masse into the
courthouse to attend the opening day of the trial to keep the
A bipartisan, unanimous vote in the Legislature doesn’t happen
every day. So it’s worth noting that Assembly
Bill 1942, for fair community college accreditation
practices, recently passed 36-0 in the Senate and 74-0 in the
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.
September 30, 2014—Over the past two years AFT Local 2121,
representing faculty at City College of San Francisco (CCSF), and
the California Federation of Teachers, representing 25,000
community college faculty around the state, have been embroiled
in a life and death battle to save CCSF from disaccreditation at
the hands of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior
The expensive and exhausting effort has taken place in the
courts, the legislature, the state budget process, at the
bargaining table, in the news, and in the streets.
Sacramento—Today the California State Auditor issued a stinging
critique of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior
Colleges (ACCJC) in a Report on California Community College
The report confirms numerous problems first articulated by the
CFT in its complaint to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE)
in spring 2013, and validated by the USDOE in August, with
On June 13, 2014 the Accrediting Commission for Community and
Junior Colleges (ACCJC) released the “decision” of its own
handpicked Appeals Panel on the appeal filed by City College of
San Francisco (CCSF) on March 4, 2014.
CCSF’s appeal argued that it should not be disaccredited, but the
decision of ACCJC’s Appeal Panel rejected that argument, while at
the same time offering the College further “review” of evidence
provided to the Appeals Panel.
I am writing you regarding the recent decision of the Appeals
Panel of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior
Colleges (“ACCJC”) rejecting City College of San
Francisco’s argument that it should not be
disaccredited, while at the same time offering the college
further “review” of evidence provided to the Appeals Panel.
May 29, 2014—In recent weeks the Accrediting Commission for
Community and Junior College (ACCJC) leadership has claimed
in a number of public settings that City College of San
Francisco can withdraw its own accreditation and reapply for
“candidacy status” and keep its federal and state funding,
including student financial aid. It has also claimed repeatedly
that it has no authority to give the college more time to address
accreditation issues, and the commission’s July 2014 closure
order for the college will stand.
The CFT is in a pitched battle to repair our broken accrediting
system for our public community colleges. The battle is being
played out at City College of San Francisco, where 80,000
students and more than 2,000 faculty and classified members are
at the mercy of a single agency that instead of ensuring quality
education for all, has displayed manipulative practices, policy
violations and illegal conduct.
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
Sacramento—In front of a packed room of supporters at the State
Capitol, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, announced the
introduction of the Fair Accreditation for California
Community Colleges Act, which would reform the accreditation
system for California Community Colleges.
CFT President Joshua Pechthalt (left) talks with media outside
San Francisco Superior Court on December 26. In the
courtroom that day, Judge Curtis Karnow listened to arguments for
a preliminary injunction to keep City College of San Francisco
December 13, 2013—CFT Secretary Treasurer Jeff Freitas (right)
and AFT 2121 President Alisa Messer (shaking hands with
Congressman George Miller) met with Miller while in Washington
D.C. to attend the hearing at which the Accrediting
Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) was given a
year to come into compliance with 15 standards it has violated.
Cañada College alumnus and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo called
community colleges lifeboats and springboards for Californians.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier said they keep our workforce vibrant.
And state Sen. Jim Beall said seven of his nine siblings went to
community colleges, the only way they could afford higher
During the Vietnam War an American officer famously explained,
“We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” Apparently
this was the approach embraced by the Accrediting Commission for
Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) in its shocking decision in
July to terminate the accreditation of City College of San
August 22, 2013, San Francisco—Today the city attorney in San
Francisco filed suit
against the ACCJC, charging, among other things, that “the
private agency unlawfully allowed its advocacy and political bias
to prejudice its evaluation of college accreditation standards,”
and termed the ACCJC “a wholly unaccountable private
August 13, 2013—Today the U.S. Department of Education sent
notice to the ACCJC that three elements of the CFT’s complaint
needed to be addressed or the accrediting agency’s
reauthorization will be in jeopardy.
The American Federation of Teachers has reaffirmed its support
for the faculty of City College of San
Francisco, represented by AFT Local 2121, and the entire
CCSF community in their effort to restore accreditation. The
resolution was adopted at the July 20 AFT Executive Council
The AFT recognizes the important educational role CCSF has played
in the Bay Area and decries the irresponsible actions of the
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
in revoking City College’s accreditation.
April 30, 2013, Novato—Today the CFT and its City College of
San Francisco affiliate, AFT Local 2121, filed a complaint
or “third party comment” with the Accrediting Commission for
Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), and sent a copy to the
United States Department of Education (USDOE).
CFT President Joshua Pechthalt speaks at a rally in front of San
Francisco City Hall with Assemblymember Paul Fong, D-San Jose,
who introduced AB 1199. The much-needed legislation will
provide community colleges under accreditation sanction breathing
Alisa Messer, president of AFT Local 2121 at City College of San
Francisco, speaks to a crowd of several hundred faculty and
students outside Diego Rivera Theater. The rally was held at the
same time as the interim chancellor was delivering her remarks on
Flex Day to a nearly empty auditorium.
AFT Local 2121 continues the fight to save City College of San
Francisco after the Accrediting Commission for Community and
Junior Colleges labeled the college with its most severe
accreditation sanction, “show cause.”
In early July, more than 300 people packed a San Francisco
meeting hall to express their outrage over a letter from the
Accrediting Commission for Community & Junior Colleges saying
City College of San Francisco must prove its fiscal stability by
March 15 to remain accredited.
Though faculty and students at San Francisco City College
are fighting to keep their college open following a report from
the Accrediting Commission for Community & Junior Colleges, Local
2121 says changes such as reducing health benefits for part-time
faculty are off-limits.