CCSF was right all along about accreditors

On Guard column header Joe

Oh, what a difference three years can make.

In that blink of an eye, the public went from telling City College of San Francisco to shut up and take its medicine, to rallying at its side and calling out its accreditors as bad actors.

The newest calls against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, the group that almost closed CCSF, are doozies.

Written by the state community college chancellor’s office’s Task Force on Accreditation, the report says the accreditation process that almost killed CCSF was riddled with problems.

“In private, most of the things in that task force’s report were under discussion long before 2012 and 2013,” said Alisa Messer, former head of City College’s teacher union, the AFT 2121. “People said, ‘Don’t say those things in public, or they’ll come after you.’”

Among its failings in dealing with CCSF, according to the new report, the ACCJC emphasized compliance over identifying paths to improvement, gave unclear expectations for corrections, was not transparent, provided inadequate training to its staff, and was inconsistent with federal guidelines.

“The California Community College system and its member institutions have lost confidence in the ACCJC,” wrote the report’s authors.

These are troubling allegations when the future of one of The City’s most vital and well-used education institutions was on the line.

Three years ago, it was a different story, back when City College faced a fight for survival. Few called out the ACCJC then.

The ACCJC put City College on sanction, a snooze-worthy word with dire consequences: The college’s degrees wouldn’t have been worth the paper they were printed on.

Nearly 90,000 students would have been cast away if the ACCJC shuttered the campus.

California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris led the charge to focus on fixing City College, instead of calling out the ACCJC for unfairly targeting the school.

Controversially, he replaced City College’s Board of Trustees with a “special trustee.”

In a deposition he made to Judge Curtis Karnow during City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s lawsuit against ACCJC, Harris met ACCJC’s President Barbara Beno out of public sight.

The pair made a deal: City College would survive if he whacked the board, so he did.

“He very clearly, through his testimony and deposition, thought the best course of action was to make a deal with Barbara Beno and ACCJC,” said Messer. “It became clear over the next six months that the deal he thought he struck was not upheld on her side.”

In that same deposition, Harris expressed regret, knowing now that Beno would move to close City College.

“The chancellor attributes his earlier focus on fixing City College based on the fact that it needed fixing,” Paul Feist, the chancellor’s spokesman, told me. “He felt the energies of the college would be best directed at improvement, which has happened.”

Either way, the upshot of Harris’ support of Beno was additional support from local elected officials. In August 2013, Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement giving his full support to Harris’ position, and chastised City College for not coming into compliance with the ACCJC.

Many rallies raged at City Hall’s steps in the ensuing years, demanding a tougher stance from our mayor to defend The City’s school. It never came.

The San Francisco Chronicle was next to wag its finger at City College, in 2013.

“When you have a losing argument, change the subject,” the Chron wrote. “That’s been the approach of certain City College defenders who want the attack on [the] accreditation commission instead of the serious problems it has identified.”

The Chronicle also blasted City Attorney Dennis Herrera for suing the ACCJC.

Years later, however, Herrera’s suit was successful.

“For those who battled this out-of-control agency for years over its unlawful treatment of City College, today’s report offers still more vindication,” Herrera wrote in a statement, Aug. 28. “This now-thoroughly discredited agency came within a hair’s breadth of shutting down City College of San Francisco, and it may well keep trying.”

Herrera has a point: Officials should not make the same mistake twice. As my colleague Laura Dudnick reported, the state chancellor’s office said it may take up to a decade to replace the accreditor.

It shouldn’t wait. The chancellor’s own task force said the ACCJC threatens not only City College, but all of California’s 2.1 million community college students.

“Chastised or not, criticized or not,” Messer said, “the ACCJC will remain in control until the state chancellor’s office and the state shows they’ll move on this.”

Below is the declaration from California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris, where he discusses his decision to remove the Board of Trustees with Dr. Barbara Beno, head of the ACCJC.

Brice Harris declaration in ACCJC lawsuit by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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