City Attorney Files Suit Against ACCJC

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City College SF

SAN FRANCISCO—San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed suit against the accreditation agency, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), in order to help City College of San Francisco remain open as the school contends with the possibility of losing its accreditation.

In July, the ACCJC announced its intention to revoke City College’s accreditation effective on July 31, 2014. As reason for its decision, the Commission referred to 14 recommendations it provided to City College the previous year. According to the ACCJC, 11 of the 14 recommendations were not adequately addressed by the school, and thus, the school was found non-compliant. The areas of contention between the Commission and City College touch upon numerous issues, including governing structures, finances and changes in classes.

Without accreditation, City College of San Francisco would lose its eligibility in receiving state and federal funding, raising the possibility of its closure. Estimates place the number of students enrolled in City College at 85,000.

The city attorney, however, has now brought the dispute before the San Francisco Superior Court. In prepared remarks announcing his legal actions, Herrera says that he engaged in legitimate contention against the ACCJC and the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges to prevent the closure of City College and to force the Board of Governors to reclaim its evaluating duties, which he argues have been “improperly ceded” to the ACCJC.

Herrera’s lawsuit against the commission “charges the private agency with unlawfully allowing its advocacy and bias to prejudice its evaluation of college accreditation standards.” According to the city attorney, the ACCJC’s polices on City College are detrimental to the school’s original intention, which is to provide services to a broader spectrum of underrepresented students. The civil suit states that the ACCJC acted “in retaliation for City College having embraced and advocated a different vision for California’s community colleges than the ACCJC itself.”

The Board of Governors is seen by Herrera as a key figure in passively facilitating the ACCJC’s actions against City College. The city attorney did not file a lawsuit against the Board. He opted to file a legal challenge and rulemaking petition.

The ACCJC was taken aback to hear about the city attorney’s dual legal actions. In a statement released on the same day as the legal filings, the Commission stated, “While the ACCJC has not had a chance to fully review the City Attorney’s allegations, these actions appear to be without merit and an attempt to politicize and interfere with the ongoing accreditation review process with respect to the City College of San Francisco. The ACCJC will respond to the City Attorney’s allegations in a court of law.”

City College, meanwhile, has continued its efforts to address the Commission’s recommendations delivered the year prior. The school remains open, though it has filed a request for review in regards to the Commission’s decision. In July, California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris announced that he would appoint a special trustee to help City College.

Earlier in August the United States Department of Education delivered a letter to the ACCJC addressing complaints lobbied against the Commission. In the letter, the USDE charged the Commission with not being in compliance with federal criteria. The Department’s assertion has little effect on City College’s accreditation woes.

By Alex Mazariegos