01/03/2014

Court injunction blocks college accrediting agency

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A San Francisco Superior Court judge has granted a preliminary injunction to prevent the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges from terminating the accreditation of the City College of San Francisco on July 31, 2014.

On Jan. 2, Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow ruled on several motions that came before the court through lawsuits brought by the California Federation of Teachers and AFT Local 2121 (which represents faculty at City College), and by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. The judge granted Herrera's motion to stop the ACCJC from terminating City College's accreditation while a legal case against ACCJC proceeds through the court—a process that could take the parties well beyond the July 31 cutoff date. The judge found both that the city attorney's case had a chance of prevailing and that the harm done to city residents by allowing the ACCJC's ultimate sanction to go forward would be "catastrophic":

"Without accreditation the College would almost certainly close and about 80,000 students would either lose their educational opportunities or hope to transfer elsewhere; and for many of them, the transfer option is not realistic. The impact on the teachers, faculty, and the City would be incalculable, in both senses of the term: The impact cannot be calculated, and it would be extreme."

Herrera's suit alleges that the private accrediting body has violated state law by allowing political bias, improper procedures, and conflicts of interest to unlawfully influence its evaluation of City College. A statement released by Herrera's office after the decision further elaborates: "The accrediting body's political agenda—shared by conservative advocacy organizations, for-profit colleges and student lender interests—represents a significant departure from the abiding 'open access' mission repeatedly affirmed by the California legislature and pursued by San Francisco's Community College District since it was first established."

Photo by Fred Glass/CFT

The CFT and AFT 2121 lawsuit, filed on behalf of teachers and students, is based on similar allegations and also sought preliminary injunctions to block the ACCJC from withdrawing accreditation and to rescind the accrediting commission's 2012 "show cause" sanction, effectively allowing for a new accreditation evaluation. Herrera's suit included a motion to bar the ACCJC from leveling sanctions on any colleges in the state while the case goes forward. The ACCJC filed counter motions, attempting to get the lawsuits dismissed. The judge denied those motions.

The city attorney's and the CFT's suits are now to be combined, with the date for the trial to be determined.

CFT President Joshua Pechthalt, who is an AFT vice president and is one of the plaintiffs in the suit, was jubilant at the decision. (He is pictured above, speaking to press after the Dec. 26 Superior Court hearing.) "We celebrate this important step in the battle to save City College of San Francisco," he says. "As a result of Judge Karnow's decision, tens of thousands of students will continue to have access to affordable, quality higher education."

"This is a tremendous moment in the battle to save City College," says Alisa Messer, AFT Local 2121 president. "Yet another important independent voice has corroborated that the process leading up to the show cause sanction and disaccreditation was unfair and likely illegal. It should give everyone watching confidence that the court will fairly adjudicate the situation and keep City College open."

"Judge Karnow's preliminary injunction to keep City College of San Francisco operating as a fully accredited college is a huge win for students, the city and the college's teachers," notes AFT President Randi Weingarten in a statement. "They have been fighting the destructive and vindictive actions of the Western regional branch of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, whose singular purpose seems to be revocation of the school's accreditation." [Barbara McKenna, CFT and AFT press releases; photo by Fred Glass/CFT]