Free City! The Fight for San Francisco’s City College and
Education for All
By Marcy Rein, Mickey Ellinger and Vicki Legion
PM Press, 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 accreditor.
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.
By Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President
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.”
Statement from CFT President Joshua Pechthalt
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.
By Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President
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 Colleges.
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 highlights.
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.
By Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President
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 college open.
By CFT President Joshua Pechthalt
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 Assembly.
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 Colleges (ACCJC).
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 Accreditation.
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 ACCJC’s operations.
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.
Dear Chancellor Harris and President Baca:
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.
Editor’s note: The following is a letter written to Congressional Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo
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.
Neither claim is true.
By Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President
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 be “catastrophic.”
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 open.
The judge issued the injunction on January 3.
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 education.
As City College of San Francisco struggles to remain accredited, part-timers have played pivotal roles in maintaining the quality of instruction and services on which so many students depend.
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 Francisco (CCSF).
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 entity.”
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 meeting.
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 room.
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.