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Calif. accreditor won't budge on City College decision

When it holds its semiannual meeting in Sacramento June 4-6, the California-based Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges is determined not to reconsider its decision to revoke the accreditation of the 85,000-student City College of San Francisco.

The meeting is closed to the public except for a few hours on the last day, when the doors will be opened to 20 people. Last year, the secretive body of 19 commissioners barred a reporter, City College students and faculty—including members of AFT Local 2121, which represents 1,550 full- and part-time faculty, librarians and counselors—from entering the proceedings. This year, concerned faculty and citizens will arrive from all over the state to rally outside on June 6. "While City College is an extreme example," says AFT 2121 President Tim Killikelly, "the outrageous and arbitrary behavior of the ACCJC is a problem for all of California."

In April, the U.S. Department of Education advised California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris that the ACCJC could extend the July 31 deadline it gave the college to come into compliance with recommendations the accrediting agency laid out when it put the college on "show cause" sanction in June 2012.

In May, ACCJC President Barbara Beno told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter that the Department of Education's view was "gibberish."

Legislators and community supporters of City College were hoping that the progress the college has made in the past two years would clear it from the threat of losing its accreditation. A "Roadmap to Success" website created by City College and the California Community Colleges to document progress on operations, governance and academic goals shows that the college has completed 95 percent of 350 tasks. The ACCJC has not sent a team to do a new evaluation of the college since March 2013. Yet the commission seemingly is not interested in the herculean efforts of faculty and staff to respond to commission recommendations.

What's more, according to data released in April by the California Community Colleges chancellor, the City College of San Francisco's academic success ranked higher than the statewide average in 10 of 13 metrics. Often lost in the shuffle of this battle is the fact that the college's education quality has never been at issue.

AFT 2121 has worked with student organizations and community groups to make public the broad support the college has in the city. In November 2012, that support led to the passage of a parcel tax ballot initiative dedicated to generating millions annually to support the college, which, like all of public higher education, has not recovered funding losses since the recession of 2008, yet has served more students.

The city's Board of Supervisors and state legislators have been passing resolutions and speaking out in support of the college. San Francisco-area members of Congress have aggressively entered into the defense. U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi has visited City College and demanded transparency from the accrediting agency. U.S. Reps. Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo have held hearings on campus. After the ACCJC rejected the Education Department's advice, Pelosi, Speier and Eshoo released a statement, saying:

"It is outrageous that the ACCJC continues with its incorrect interpretation of Department of Education policy, even in the face of a clear, unambiguous statement from the Department that clearly confirms that the ACCJC has the legal flexibility to offer a good-cause extension. … The commission's letter raises serious questions about its ability to properly execute the law and make informed decisions based in ensuring high-quality institutions of learning that benefit our students, our community and our state. Should this failure of leadership persist, new leadership is needed at ACCJC."

Speier put the matter even more bluntly in speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle: "They're a rogue operation," she said. "They have dug in their heels like some totalitarian regime. I think the time has come for the Secretary of Education to dismantle them."

Last year, the Department of Education found the ACCJC to be out of compliance itself on a number of federal requirements, including conflicts of interest. It gave the commission a year to correct its problems or lose federal recognition. Colleges across the state are watching closely, facing their own encounters with a peer review process for ensuring quality, in the hands of a commission that fails to be transparent.

In a letter to Pelosi, Speier and Eshoo, California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt thanked the representatives and laid out the case for why the ACCJC's 2013 decision should be rescinded and a new review undertaken. "ACCJC manipulates the facts, disregards the truth and ignores those (elected and administrative federal and state officials, community college administrators, union organizations, media, academics, the courts—you name it) who dare to call them to account for their actions," wrote Pechthalt, an AFT vice president. "The San Francisco City Attorney agrees; he is in fact charging retaliation and bias in the people's suit against the ACCJC."

As a result of San Francisco Attorney Dennis Herrera's lawsuit, a Superior Court judge has granted an injunction preventing the college's loss of accreditation until after the case is tried in October. [Barbara McKenna]

June 4, 2014