San Francisco Tries to Save City College

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – San Francisco on Thursday sued the state’s Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges to keep the City College of San Francisco – one of the largest community colleges in the country – from losing its accreditation.
     Political bias was behind the decision to strip City College of San Francisco of its accreditation, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in his lawsuit in Superior Court.
     On behalf of the people of California, Herrera asks a judge to vacate the commission’s decision.
     The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, based in Novato, is charged with evaluating California’s 112 community colleges.
     Herrera accuses the commission of acting on a political agenda that violates the school’s stated mission of open access. The school serves about 100,000 students a year on nine campuses, according to its website.
     “For many years, City College of San Francisco has embraced this open access mission, providing access to educational and vocational training for diverse ethnic and socio-economic communities in San Francisco. Without City College, tens of thousands of students would have no viable option for higher education or vocational training,” Herrera says in the complaint.
     In July 2012, the commission put the school on notice to show marked improvement in its staffing decisions and financial management, or prepare for closure.
     In July this year, saying it was dissatisfied with the school’s progress, the commission decided to terminate the college’s accreditation.
     Herrera claims that decision was made “despite the fact that City College made significant efforts to improve its financial, administrative, and educational policies.”
     The school will remain open during a one-year review and appeal period, which ends July 31, 2014.
     The consequences of losing accreditation would be dire for the school and its students, depriving both of state and federal funds.
     Herrera claims the commission, which is part of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of several accrediting agencies in the country, was swayed by politics and money.
     In 2011, the Lumina Foundation, which Herrera says has ties to the student loan and for-profit college industries and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, gave $1.5 million to WASC.
     “For the last two years, there has been a heated discussion (in the Legislature and the Board of Governors of California Community Colleges) about the future of California’s community colleges, with City College faculty and staff taking the lead as vocal advocates in the fight to maintain community colleges for anyone seeking educational and vocational training opportunities,” the lawsuit states. “Others, however, are pushing an agenda that would fundamentally change and limit the mission of community colleges in California.
     “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.”
     For example, Herrera says in the complaint, the commission was behind legislation intended to allow fee waivers only for students who could indentify their education and career goals at enrollment.
     City College and other open-access advocates found law SB 1456, the Seymour-Campbell Student Success Act of 2012, “highly objectionable,” Herrera says in the complaint.
     Herrera claims that pressure by students, the school’s board of trustees and the Guardsman, the school newspaper, forced significant changes that were a “vast improvement over the initially introduced bill.”
     The commission was evaluating the City College’s accreditation even as it fought the school over public policy, Herrera says.
     Commission President Barbara A. Beno hired her own husband to serve on the evaluation team whose report led to the decision, according to the lawsuit.
     “While publically opposing City College’s open access mission, the ACCJC was in the
     midst of evaluating City College for reaffirmation of its accreditation,” the complaint states. “As evidenced by the ACCJC’s evaluation and sanction of City College, the ACCJC – a private entity with no public accountability and unfettered discretion to set accreditation standards and evaluate colleges’ compliance with those standards – has used the accreditation process to squelch public debate on the breadth of the mission to be served by community colleges in California.
     “To this date, the ACCJC refuses to acknowledge the conflict of interest it created by evaluating City College while actively lobbying the BOG [Board of Governors] and the California Legislature to end the open access policy for which City College has strenuously advocated.
     “By ignoring the conflict created by its actions, undertaking an evaluation process that violated several provisions of federal law, and ultimately voting to terminate City College’s accreditation in retaliation for City College having embraced and advocated a different vision for California’s community colleges than the ACCJC itself, the ACCJC violated California’s Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code Section 17200 et seq.”
     Herrera asks the court “to vacate the improper Show Cause and Termination decisions against City College,” to “(e)njoin the ACCJC from engaging in accreditation evaluations of any of California’s 112 community colleges in a manner that violates applicable federal or state law,” and to fine the commission $2,500 for each “unlawful or unfair act” that violated the Business and Professions Code, plus costs.

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