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article imageOp-Ed: City Attorney files injunction on Accreditation board's sanctions Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Dec 13, 2013 in Lifestyle
San Francisco - City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a preliminary injunction upon the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) on Nov. 25 in an effort to stop the shut-down of City College of San Francisco.
For almost two years the ACCJC and City College of San Francisco have been in a struggle over maintaining accreditation standards at one of the nation's largest community colleges. When the story first came to light, administrators told the press, initially it was not as bad as it seemed. Yet as time passed more problems within the CCSF structure were placed in the spotlight.
Since that time it has been hard to clearly discern what is actually going on between the ACCJC and City College of San Francisco itself.
In addition to the main campus on Phelan Ave, in the City's Ingleside District, CCSF has 11 satellite campuses that serves from 80 to 110 thousand students throughout the City and surrounding areas. For more than 75 years since its founding in 1935, City College has played an important role in the educational resources for the entire San Francisco Bay Area region.
It serves as an educational, career and vocational life-line to thousands and has been the "backbone" of educational advancement and opportunity for many communities. The injunction City Attorney Herrera is pushing is part of a civil law suit action he filed this past August.
He explained that "this complaint, which follows many weeks of investigation by my office, charges the private accrediting agency with unlawfully allowing its advocacy and bias to prejudice its evaluation of college accreditation standards."
"It is a matter of public record, noted Herrera that the ACCJC has been a leading advocate to dramatically reshape the mission of California’s community colleges." Herrera further noted that what is actually going on is more of a policy shift on the part of the ACCJC than one of upholding standards regarding college accreditation. "The ACCJC favors more restrictive policies that focus on degree completion, a 'junior college' model, to the detriment of the abiding 'open access' mission pursued by California’s Community College system for decades."
Herrera noted even further by saying, "'Open Access' has also long been embraced by San Francisco voters and, by extension, our own Community College District, since it was first established," he said.
The vision of 'open access,' said Herrera is to make sure education serves those who intend to pursue four- year degrees." But also under-served and disadvantaged students who would benefit from remedial coursework under-employed and unemployed adults who seek new job skills," these too as Herrera points out are part of that vision. "Seniors, disabled students, new parents, Immigrants learning English as a second language and non-traditional learners" are also part of the 'open access' vision.
At a critical time when the recession economy has impacted people's lives, resulting in many hardships, it would seem the accreditation board would understand this vision.
City Attorney Herrera is not alone in his effort to stop the ACCJC from closing down City College of San Francisco. The California Federation of Teachers, The SF Democratic Party and even the U.S. Department of Education have all voiced concerns.
Yet, according to ACCJC president Barbara Beno, "The ACCJC continues to believe that this lawsuit (and efforts at an injunction) is merit-less." The ACCJC "has confidence in our judiciary to rule appropriately on the City Attorney's motion," said Beno. "The ACCJC will resist any efforts by any third party including the City Attorney of San Francisco."
Speaking on behalf of The California Federation of Teachers, press rep Fred Glass told this reporter by phone that, "the ACCJC re-characterized its previous review back in 2006." Glass explained that back in 2006 the ACCJC made "recommendations" for change. "But then in 2012, placed sanctions on City College. Glass said he has reason to believe it is because City College was lobbying against State Bill 1456. Set forth by the Governor, part of SB 1456 would require an educational institution like CCSF to be in compliance with the Student Success and Support Program. As Glass noted, "what SB 1456 means is that if City College does not embrace the 'Junior College' - attaining a degree model, etc. then State funds will be withheld."
The ACCJC is lobbying for SB 1456 and according to Glass, "the ACCJC is not supposed to be lobbying," he said. Lobbying is a clear violation.
While many on the side of City College understand that there are many things the school must change and adapt to, Glass said that ACCJC has been ignoring the criticisms about its own flaws. For example as Glass pointed out, if these "sanctions" were so serious back in 2006, why didn't the ACCJC clarify it as such and not as simply "recommendations?"
The Department of Education (U.S. DOE) agreed that ACCJC had not distinguished clearly between recommendations to improve, and the need to cure deficiencies. Glass and others see a bias on the part of the ACCJC.
CFT president Joshua Pechthalt (at mic) announces the filing of a suit seeking an injunction to stop...
CFT president Joshua Pechthalt (at mic) announces the filing of a suit seeking an injunction to stop the closure of City College San Francisco. The suit was filed against the ACCJC. Behind Pechthalt, from left, Student Trustee Shanell Williams, SF Supervisor David Campos, AFT 2121 president Alisa Messer, and Supervisor Scott Weiner
Chris Hanzo
As Herrera said, "we should have no problem with the right of others to advocate an agenda at odds with the “open access” vision (of public education) as conservative advocates have done. And, as interests representing for-profit colleges and student lenders have also done," added Herrera.
'But we should have a problem when an entity charged with impartial evaluation engages in political advocacy; this is what the ACCJC has done." "There are very good reasons why judges should not be advocates," said Herrera. "And why advocates should not be judges." "The evidence is compelling in the civil complaint I filed in San Francisco Superior Court," said Herrera. "ACCJC did both," he said, acting as judges and advocates.
"In doing so, the ACCJC acted improperly to withdraw accreditation in retaliation for City College having embraced and advocated a different vision for California’s community colleges than the ACCJC itself.”
According to Herrera and his team, "taken together with multiple conflicts of interest, improper evaluation processes, and politically motivated decision-making, the accrediting commission’s actions constitute illegal business practices under California law."
Regardless of Herrera's seriousness and also that of the CFT legal action filed this past September, the ACCJC is holding ground. 'Similarly, noted Beno, the ACCJC believes allegations by the California Federation of Teachers are without merit." "It is important to note, said Beno, that the City College of San Francisco itself is not involved in the CFT lawsuit."
Beno went on to say in a statement sent to this reporter that, "The College has stated that it subscribes to ACCJC standards, and is working to come into compliance with standards." This motion by the CFT does not align with the real efforts to assure CCSF's future accreditation, but rather distracts from those efforts," she said.
The ACCJC was established in 1962 as part of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. It operates on a voluntary system of self-regulation and peer review. Its 133-member colleges in California, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands in fact create the Accreditation Standards. Colleges voluntarily join the membership and agree to be self-regulating by adhering to ACCJC Standards and correcting course quickly, undergoing regular evaluation, participating on teams and in ACCJC events and processes such as review of standards and policies.
Beno also noted, "It is important to understand that the Commission is a private, not a public, organization and it is regional, operating in several states." "ACCJC is required by federal regulations to be 'separate and independent' from other organizations such as state government, trade associations, and professional organizations." "One could imagine that across the region colleges in one state would not accept a Commission controlled by agencies in another state," said Beno.
Glass believes that because the ACCJC wields such power and influence that it is able to "rule with a reign of terror," as he put it. He explained, "when an accrediting agency such as the ACCJC 'sanctions' a college that college is at a loss for admissions." Even the threat of a loss of accreditation causes fear in students, said Glass; especially those dependent upon financial aid.
Herrera's action was also aimed at calling into account the governing entities above the ACCJC. He explained, the civil suit he filed "is a legal challenge and rule-making petition with the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges." "The Board of Governors is the public agency charged by statute with overseeing our state’s 112 community colleges, and 72 community college districts. Its public duties include setting accreditation standards, and determining eligibility for public funding," said Herrera.
"Yet despite the legislature’s intent, said Herrera as clearly evidenced by California statute, the Board of Governors improperly ceded its public duties to a wholly unaccountable private entity in the ACCJC." "In doing so, said Herrera, the state board gave rise to the unlawful actions detailed in both the legal challenges that I filed."
Beno in the response to this reporter's inquiry said that, "ACCJC Chair Sherrill Amador states, 'the best way forward is for the institution, its staff and faculty, to join the college leaders in making needed changes to improve the quality and secure the future accreditation of the college.' 'The Commission is confident that all CCSF supporters share the belief that the students and residents of San Francisco deserve an institution that meets standards of quality met by 111 other public community colleges in California.'”
Reiterating that the allegations and mentioned injunction and law suits are weak and without merit Beno maintains the ACCJC's integrity. "City College of San Francisco itself is not involved in these suits." "The College has stated that it subscribes to ACCJC standards, and is working to come into compliance with standards." Beno holds that "these lawsuits are politically motivated and do not align with the real efforts to assure CCSF's future accreditation."
Glass in his comments sees the ACCJC actions as inappropriate given the responsibility of its power. And, that its members are "a toxic combination of authoritarian personalities filled with bias."
Meanwhile as the struggle continues and CCSF's future hangs in the balance, CIty Attorney Herrera believes he is doing the right thing. "I want to be absolutely unequivocal. Nothing about the actions I’ve filed should distract or delay City College of San Francisco from doing everything in its power to solve the problems threatening its survival." But neither should these steps tempt the ACCJC to consider; for even one moment, retaliating against City College for legitimate challenges to accreditors’ conduct and authority under the law."
"I’m not City College’s lawyer," said Herrera. "I am acting in my independent authority as City Attorney, and also as a public prosecutor empowered to act on behalf of the People of the State of California in these kinds of cases."
"The evidence is clear, Herrera said, that the ACCJC ignored multiple conflicts of interest, flouted state and federal laws, and allowed its political advocacy to color public responsibilities it should frankly never have been given."
For this, the State Board of Governors is also to blame, he said, for unlawfully ceding its public duties to a private entity wholly beyond the reach of public accountability.
Though, said Herrera, I seek to enjoin the ACCJC from improperly terminating City College’s accreditation, the issues raised by both actions go far beyond any single college alone."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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