SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – San Francisco on Monday asked a judge to preserve accreditation for its community college until a trial is held to determine whether the school has been treated unfairly by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
The City College of San Francisco faces declining enrollment and funding, and absent relief from the Superior Court, other California colleges too will be subjected to a process that violates federal law, San Francisco says in its request for a preliminary injunction.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) decided in June to revoke City College of San Francisco’s accreditation.
The city sued in August, claiming the ACCJC was biased, and had stacked the review panel with opponents of City College.
On Monday, City Attorney Dennis Herrera asked Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow to stop the commission from going through with the revocation, scheduled for July 31, 2014, until a jury can hear allegations that the commission evaluated City College’s accreditation even as it fought the school over public policy.
Documents filed with the motion state that unless the commission is checked, 10 more California colleges will be subjected to an imperfect accreditation process in January.
The City College of San Francisco had more than 80,000 students before the commission’s revocation decision, but the threat of disaccreditation has discouraged students from enrolling. This exacerbated a budget crisis, as state funding relies on enrollment numbers.
Herrera claims the commission was driven by a legislative and philosophical debate with City College over the purpose of California community colleges. He claims in the lawsuit that the commission’s conflict of interest violated California’s Business and Professions Code, or unfair competition law (UCL).
City College faculty and staff have been “vocal advocates in the fight to maintain community colleges for anyone seeking educational and vocational training opportunities,” the city says in the complaint.
But the defendant “has been an outspoken advocate of the push to eliminate the open access mandate for California’s community colleges – actively supporting controversial task force recommendations and legislation that would eliminate the open access policy in favor of a narrower junior college model focused on degree completion.”
Two weeks ago, a federal judge rejected the commission’s attempt to have the case tried in Federal Court. Herrera’s new motion states that the Department of Education notified the commission in August that some parts of the commission’s accreditation review process did not comply with federal law.
Documents filed with the city’s motion claims the Department of Education singled out ACCJC President Barbara Beno’s decision to appoint her husband to the team evaluating City College, saying the choice “has the appearance to the public of creating a conflict of interest.”
“Nonetheless, the ACCJC has taken no action to withdraw its tainted termination sanction,” the city says. “And despite having found several significant defects in the ACCJC’s evaluation of City College, the DOE does not have the authority or ability to provide any relief to City College – but this court does.”
Before issuing a preliminary injunction, a judge must find that not doing so will result in irreparable harm, which the city spells out: “Because the ACCJC’s actions constitute unlawful and unfair business practices within the meaning of the UCL, and because City College, other California institutions, employees of City College and existing and potential students will suffer severe and irreparable harm in the absence of interim relief, this court can, and should, grant the People’s request for a preliminary injunction enjoining the ACCJC from finalizing the termination of City College’s accreditation and from taking adverse accreditation action against any institution unless and until the ACCJC revises its policies to ensure compliance with the law.”
Injunctive relief also requires a judge to find that the party requesting relief will probably win at trial.
“Specifically, based solely on publicly available and judicially noticeable documents, this court can and should find that the People are likely to succeed on two theories: that the ACCJC acted unlawfully and/or unfairly by (A) failing to include sufficient academic personnel on the teams that evaluated City College and (B) failing to have adequate clear and efficient controls to protect against conflicts of interest on those teams and appointing people to those teams that created and actual, or at least apparent, conflict.”
The request for injunction is signed by Deputy City Attorney Sara J. Eisenberg.
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