The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges had fought to close City College of San Francisco, only to find its own policies come under harsh public scrutiny.
“It is too far gone, let’s start over again.” That is the growing consensus of opinion after years of rising tensions and escalating concerns about the methods and practices of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC). The organization has accredited California’s community colleges for more than 50 years, but now faces losing the authority to put its stamp of approval on the two-year colleges.
In a major policy shift, California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris and a task force of administrators, faculty, trustees and accreditation liaisons have called for “the investigation of all available avenues for establishing a new model for accreditation.” In other words: Find a new commission. The recommendation is contained in the Chancellor’s Report on Accreditation, released in August.
“The time has come,” the report pointedly concluded,
If it becomes law, a reform bill now in the state legislature will mark a milestone in the two-year effort to rein in the secretive but powerful private organization responsible for accrediting California’s 112 public community colleges. The target of Assembly Bill 1397 is the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which was recently thwarted from terminating the accreditation of the City College of San Francisco (CCSF), mostly for issues stemming from the academically high-rated school’s Great Recession-battered finances.
The political firestorm sparked by the unelected commission’s effort to effectively close CCSF turned a spotlight of publicity on the darker policy corners of the commission, revealing an almost comically rogue culture of nepotism, free-market radicalism and mandarin indifference to the lives of students and teachers. But now the commission finds itself caught in that light once more,
The long-anticipated trial pitting the City of San Francisco against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges — and its efforts to shut down the city’s storied City College — began Monday. The opening statements in San Francisco Superior Court revealed the stark difference in the way the two sides view the role of public education in society.
“This case is about fairness,” Deputy City Attorney Yvonne Mere said in her remarks, explaining that the ACCJC had far overstepped its authority by trying to revoke the school’s accreditation – and in the process deny a college education to nearly 80,000 students, many of whom come from low income backgrounds.
For its defense, ACCJC announced it had to destroy CCSF in order to save it from the ruin of pension health-care costs generated by union contracts with the school. This alarm had first been sounded by ACCJC in 2006, although it had since been muted.
Take the state law on fair competition. Add the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges‘ actions to shut down City College of San Francisco (CCSF). What will these ingredients amount to in a court of law?
That will be determined by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow following a non-jury trial that begins October 27. Last year San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit on behalf of the people of the state of California (not CCSF) alleging the ACCJC’s evaluation of CCSF was unfair and unlawful under the state law for business competition.
“We have alleged that the ACCJC’s actions, specifically with respect to the evaluation of CCSF, were both unlawful and unfair,” Sara Eisenberg, a San Francisco Deputy City Attorney, told Capital & Main by phone. The ACCJC is subject to California’s Unfair Competition Law which prohibits any business from engaging in unfair,
Throughout the two-year debate over a plan by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to shut down San Francisco’s nine-campus City College, the school’s supporters held their tongues on one key belief. Namely, that the commission had long ago made up its mind to shut down the college and no amount of restructuring could change the ACCJC’s mind. A recently filed court document, however, has confirmed this widespread suspicion.
The San Francisco Superior Court filing, first revealed in a Los Angeles Times story, disclosed that not one of the ACCJC’s own 15-member evaluation team ever suggested that CCSF’s accreditation be revoked; instead, the commission admitted, its panel merely recommended a form of academic probation that would allow the school to fix some administrative and accounting bugs in its system. Despite that, the ACCJC’s executive committee voted in 2012 to ignore the evaluators’ recommendations and threatened the school with the loss of its accreditation.
“Truthfully, I’m burned out,” Wendy Kaufmyn sighs over the phone. “And frankly we’re all just really tired. We’re having a meeting next week to try and revitalize ourselves.”
Kaufmyn, a tenured engineering instructor at the embattled City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and a cofounder of the Save CCSF Coalition, is speaking about the 21-month fight for survival of California’s largest community college. The strain and weariness are evident in her quivering voice.
“I’ve been here 31 years,” she tells Capital & Main. “I love City College and I’m just heartsick at what’s going on. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Kaufmyn is not alone. Since January, when San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily barred the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) from pulling CCSF’s academic accreditation, a cloud of uncertainty has hung over the 79-year-old institution and the future of its 80,000 students.
The battle to keep City College of San Francisco open and accredited took a dramatic turn late Thursday afternoon. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow temporarily barred the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) from revoking accreditation for the 79-year-old school that serves about 80,000 students at 11 San Francisco campuses. The ACCJC, the agency charged with evaluating California’s 112 community colleges, had sought to revoke CCSF’s accreditation by July 31; it was challenged by several lawsuits filed by San Francisco’s City Attorney and a pair of teachers unions.
Judge Karnow, while dismissing the unions’ suits, ruled in favor of the city attorney’s request for a temporary injunction against the accreditation revocation, declaring that CCSF’s shutdown would be too extreme a response to the ACCJC’s findings of administrative deficiencies at CCSF. “Those consequences would be catastrophic,” Karnow said of a shutdown.
Lawyers for the ACCJC unsuccessfully argued for a dismissal of all challenges to its institutional authority and expertise in determining accreditation standards.