Judge Sides with CCSF in Accreditation Dispute
City College of San Francisco Could Retain its Accreditation After Judge's Ruling
A judge has issued a tentative ruling that could roll back an accrediting commission’s 2013 decision to revoke the accreditation of City College of San Francisco and gives the college another chance to argue that it should stay open.
San Francisco Superior Court judge Curtis Karnow ruled that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges violated California's Unfair Competition Law when it decided to revoke the college’s accreditation.
In his 70-page ruling, Karnow wrote that the violations meant that CCSF was denied a fair hearing prior to the commission's 2013 decision to revoke the college’s accreditation.
Both sides claimed victory in the long-running dispute.
“It’s an important victory for the City College of San Francisco,” Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said in a conference call with reporters. “This sets the stage for a redo of the accreditation process. We look forward to having accreditation restored at the City College of San Francisco.”
In a statement, ACCJC said the judge's decision is notable because it did not overturn the commission's decision to revoke the college's accreditation, as the lawsuit against it had asked.
ACCJC was always confident that once all the evidence was brought to light that the accusations against it would be found without merit, the statement said. Now that the trial is over, the focus can hopefully return to the restoration of CCSF's accreditation status.
The judge proposed an injunction against ACCJC that would require the commission to identify, in writing, all of the reasons that led it to decide to revoke CCSF’s accreditation. The commission must then consider the responses from City College before it considers terminating CCSF’s accreditation anew.Both sides have until Feb. 3 to respond to the judge's ruling and suggest changes before he issues a final decision.
The decision from Karnow comes just two days after the ACCJC granted City College restoration status, giving the school another two years to fight for its accreditation. But many in the college community, including Chancellor Art Tyler, complained that restoration status is new and untested and created specifically for CCSF. It is seen less as a way out of the accreditation morass and more as another step toward the possible closure of the state’s largest community college, which enrolls more than 70,000 students.
The restoration process, created by the commission last year, was criticized as unfair because there is no appeal process after the final outcome and because restoration would require 100 percent compliance with all standards, instead of the “substantial compliance” normally expected of community colleges.
The judge’s ruling came on a lawsuit filed by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, He filed suit seeking to block the ACCJC’s decision to revoke the school’s accreditation.
Herrera contended the commission had a conflict of interest because Beno’s husband, a dean at Laney College in Oakland, served on an evaluation committee; that the committee had too few academic members on its review panel; and that the commission failed to give the college adequate notice and opportunity to respond to the alleged deficiencies. Herrera alleged that the ACCJC unfairly sought to remove City College’s accreditation.
The judge rejected assertions that having Peter Crabtree, the husband of ACCJC President Barbara Beno, on the evaluation team created a conflict of interest. He also disagreed with allegations that ACCJC engaged in unfair practices through its political lobbying.
But Karnow ruled that ACCJC violated the law in critical ways, particularly because it did not provide the college with a detailed written report on its alleged deficiencies and did not give the college the chance to address them. He also ruled a 2013 evaluation panel did not include enough academics.
“It’s clear that the commission broke the law,” said Phil Ting, a member of the California Assembly.
The ACCJC planned to revoke CCSF’s accreditation in 2013 because of a long list of financial deficiencies. But the termination was suspended and the college remained open because Karnow issued a preliminary injunction pending a resolution to the lawsuit. The loss of accreditation likely would force the college to close, since it would no longer be eligible for the Title IV federal aid program.