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CCSF keeps accreditation, ending years of uncertainty

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City College of San Francisco Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb and Board of Trustees President Rafael Mandelman share a hug on Friday during a news conference at Diego Rivera Theater to announce the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College’s decision to keep CCSF open and accredited. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Friday the 13th was an unusually lucky day for City College of San Francisco.

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges announced its decision Friday to reaffirm the college’s accreditation for seven years, marking an end to the accreditation crisis that has cast a shadow over the college’s enrollment and funding for at least half a decade.

SEE RELATED: A timeline of CCSF’s accreditation battle

The ACCJC could have stripped the college of its accreditation — either shutting the college down or at least prompting a vicious legal battle to keep it open.

In a letter to the campus community, Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb called the decision to keep the college accredited a “major accomplishment.”

“It is a testament to the dedication and hard work of the entire City College community who came together to meet – and even exceed – the standards of our accreditors,” Lamb said.

The ACCJC heard the testimony of college officials Thursday during its three-day meeting in Sacramento. The commission had 30 days to notify the college and public of its decision, but unexpectedly announced the good news for the college Friday morning.

“It is a very good thing, City College has had this shadow over it for way too long,” said CCSF Board of Trustees President Rafael Mandelman. “This is as good as it gets.”

Faculty union President Tim Killikelly, an outspoken critic of the ACCJC who claims the commission treated the college unfairly, said he was “excited and relieved that the accreditation crisis is over.”

“But we mustn’t forget that the accreditation crisis at CCSF should never have occurred,” Killikelly said in a text message. “The commission clearly lost its way. The quality of City College’s education was never in doubt.”

The ACCJC is viewed by many as the bane of CCSF.

The college has lost about a third of its student population since the accreditation crisis began to take shape in 2013, when the ACCJC announced that it would revoke CCSF’s accreditation the following year.

However, a lawsuit by the City Attorney’s Office blocked that from happening.

“I’m thrilled this vital institution will now be able to serve its students and our city for generations to come,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who sued the ACCJC in 2013 for unlawful business practices, said in a statement.

Prepared for the commission to make the worst decision possible for the college this time around, Mandelman said CCSF had lawyers ready to fight the ACCJC if it had decided to terminate the college’s accreditation.

“We would have litigated but it would have been horrible,” Mandelman said.

Instead, the commission appeared to be impressed with the college’s work.

ACCJC Interim President Richard Winn wrote in a letter to the college Friday that he appreciated “the significant scope and quality of the work that City College of San Francisco undertook to meet the requirements of accreditation.”

Winn, who just last month replaced former President Barbara Beno, a controversial figure in the accreditation crisis, heard the testimony of CCSF administrators and trustees at a commission meeting in Sacramento on Thursday.

Lamb made a case for the college to remain accredited while Mandelman, Board of Trustees Vice President Thea Selby, Accreditation Liaison Officer Kristin Charles and Academic Senate President Mandy Liang answered questions.

The college also prepared a lengthy self-evaluation to prove it met the standards and greeted a visiting team in October that reviewed the college for the ACCJC. The college had to prove that it could manage its finances, for example.

Supervisor Jane Kim, who laid down the legislative framework to make CCSF tuition free for all city residents, said in a statement that now “there is no excuse not to make a full Free City College program happen now.”

The program is awaiting funding from the mayor, who has declined to spend all of the millions needed to roll out free tuition for all next semester.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said the decision by the ACCJC to reaffirm CCSF’s accreditation gives the college a fresh start.

“San Francisco has a tremendous asset in City College, which provides quality teaching and learning for students who want to improve their lives and their community,” Oakley said in a statement.

Meanwhile last year, both the California Community Colleges Board of Governors as well as superintendents and chancellors from across the state voted to find a new model for accrediting community colleges in California.

While satisfied with the latest decision, CCSF Trustee Alex Randolph said there is still work to be done to improve the college.

The ACCJC appears to have played a large part in the decline of student enrollment — and as a result funding — at CCSF, but it also identified problems within the institution.

“Now we just have to continue to clean up the shambles,” Randolph said.

(Mike Koozmin/2014 S.F. Examiner)

(Mike Koozmin/2014 S.F. Examiner)

Here’s a timeline of CCSF’s accreditation battle:

July 2, 2012: The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges places City College of San Francisco in “show cause” status, which happens when the commission finds that an institution is in “substantial non-compliance” with the commission’s eligibility requirements, accreditation standards or policies, or when the institution has not responded to imposed conditions.

July 3, 2013: The ACCJC announces it will revoke CCSF’s accreditation in 2014.

July 8, 2013: The California Community Colleges Board of Governors puts CCSF’s special trustee Robert Agrella in charge of all decision-making at the school, stripping CCSF’s elected Board of Trustees of power.

Aug. 22, 2013: The City Attorney’s Office files a lawsuit against the ACCJC, contending the commission was motivated by politics when it announced CCSF’s loss of accreditation.

Oct. 17, 2013: Art Tyler, the former head of Compton College, is named chancellor of CCSF.

Jan. 2, 2014: San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow rules CCSF cannot be stripped of its accreditation until the outcome of the lawsuit between the ACCJC and City Attorney’s Office.

March 25, 2014: The Board of Supervisors unanimously approves a resolution calling on then-State Community College Chancellor Brice Harris to restore power to CCSF’s elected Board of Trustees.

June 11, 2014: The ACCJC announces a new policy called “restoration status” that would give CCSF more time to meet accrediting requirements. CCSF was required to apply for this status, which it was ultimately granted.

July 21, 2014: The ACCJC confirms its 2013 decision to terminate CCSF’s accreditation.

Oct. 27, 2014: Trial begins between the ACCJC and City Attorney’s Office in the lawsuit claiming the commission treated CCSF unfairly in its review process. The suit also called for the court to overturn the ACCJC’s decision in July 2013 to revoke the college’s accreditation.

Oct. 31, 2014: Live testimony ends in the trial between the ACCJC and City Attorney’s Office over whether the accrediting commission unfairly evaluated CCSF.

Jan. 14, 2015: CCSF is granted restoration status, allowing the school two more years to meet all of its accrediting requirements.

Feb. 17, 2015: Judge Curtis Karnow orders the ACCJC to reconsider its 2013 decision to revoke CCSF’s accreditation. That decision marked the final ruling in the lawsuit between the commission and City Attorney’s Office.

June 5, 2015: Art Tyler steps down as chancellor of CCSF. Susan Lamb is named interim chancellor.

July 2015: CCSF elected trustees regain authority over all aspects of the school.

July 29, 2016: CCSF submits its self-evaluation report to the ACCJC, providing evidence as to how the school has met its accreditation requirements.

Oct. 10-14, 2016: An accrediting team visits CCSF ahead of its decision on whether the school will retain its accreditation.

Jan. 13, 2017: The ACCJC announces that CCSF will retain its accreditation for another seven years.

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