As Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges President Barbara Beno took the witness stand Tuesday in the trial for City College of San Francisco's future, city attorneys accused her of unfairly editing the school's accreditation evaluation, condemning CCSF to shutter.
“I'm not going to be happy until Barbara Beno is in an orange jumpsuit,” one CCSF teacher, who did not want to be identified, told The San Francisco Examiner.
While some have blasted Beno's role in the accrediting commission's decision to revoke CCSF's accreditation, others say she simply did her job.
Last year, ACCJC visiting team leader Sandra Serrano was tasked with writing CCSF's accreditation evaluation draft report. City attorneys presented evidence in court Tuesday that they said shows Beno wrote edits into Serrano's draft, advising Serrano to toughen two sanctions against CCSF.
Those sanctions were responsible for the college's effective closure, the attorneys said, and were edits the commission's own bylaws state Beno was not allowed to make. A judge has previously issued an injunction blocking the ACCJC from revoking CCSF's accreditation until the trial's conclusion. The school remains open and accredited.
“You asked Dr. Serrano to not send the draft report until you could comment on it?” Deputy City Attorney Ronald Flynn asked Beno, who answered “Correct.”
“And it included your intended edits?” he asked. “It seems to, yes,” Beno said, looking down at a copy of the draft.
Such an exchange goes to the heart of the City Attorney's Office's allegations that the ACCJC gave CCSF an unfair evaluation.
Commission rules for “good practice” with member institutions also outline a requirement that colleges be allowed to respond to new draft changes in accreditation evaluations, which Flynn alleged the ACCJC did not adequately do.
“[The ACCJC] did not afford City College additional time to appeal the deficiencies before finalizing its determination, did it?” Flynn asked.
Beno began to read from the draft document. Judge Curtis Karnow interrupted her, saying “That's not the question.”
“He's not asking about the text, he's asking about what happened in the real world,” Karnow said.
Flynn repeated the question, to which Beno replied, “No.”
The ACCJC's attorneys did not have an opportunity to cross-examine Beno, as the court adjourned after her first round of testimony.
Earlier, the City Attorney's Office called an expert witness to the stand: David Bergeron, vice president of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Deputy City Attorney Tom Lakritz asked Bergeron if, hypothetically, an accreditation staffer with a spouse on a school's evaluation team would create the appearance of conflict of interest. The City Attorney's Office, as part of its lawsuit, also alleges that a conflict of interest arose because Beno's husband was part of the team that examined the school.
“I believe it does create an appearance of conflict of interest,” Bergeron responded. “The point is to create high public confidence.”
ACCJC attorney Andrew Sclar contested that Bergeron was not qualified to be an expert witness.
When asked if she thought her husband serving on an evaluation team for CCSF gave the appearance of conflict of interest, Beno replied “He's an active education professional … I didn't believe at the time it was [a conflict], I don't believe it is now.”
Whether Karnow decides CCSF was fairly evaluated may rest largely on whether or not he believes Beno had strong political disagreements with the school.
The City Attorney's Office entered several letters into evidence at Tuesday's trial. Written by Beno, the letters strongly support and sometimes endorse the Student Success Task Force, a group convened in 2011 to find ways to refocus the 112 California community colleges toward certificate-earning students and students intending to transfer to four-year colleges. They were sent to sitting state senators and to the Student Success Task Force itself.
“The [ACCJC] in fact voted unanimously to support the SSTF, correct?” Flynn asked Beno, to which she replied, “My notes say they did.”