Live testimony came to an end Friday in the trial that could save City College of San Francisco from closure by its accreditors.
Now, the college waits.
It's no overstatement to say Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow holds CCSF's fate in his hands. With Friday's conclusion of live testimony, Karnow will now consider written and physical evidence concerning the school's accreditation status.
The ACCJC notified CCSF last year that its accreditation would be revoked in July this year, effectively closing the school.
The City Attorney's Office filed suit against the accrediting commission, alleging CCSF was unfairly evaluated, a move that temporarily stayed the commission's efforts to revoke the school's accreditation. CCSF remains open and accredited.
On Dec. 9, the City Attorney's Office and the ACCJC's attorneys will deliver their closing arguments.
The crux of the City Attorney's Office arguments are the alleged biases and unfair manner in which CCSF was evaluated. City attorneys have argued that ACCJC's evaluation team lacked enough teachers, and itself allegedly had biased members, including commission President Barbara Beno. In Beno's testimony last week, city attorneys questioned edits she made in CCSF's evaluation report that led to the decision to revoke the accreditation.
The allegation of Beno's bias stems from her public, written support of statewide college reforms which CCSF representatives actively protested at the state Capitol.
Beno's husband also served on a team sent to evaluate CCSF, another alleged source of bias.
Friday's trial saw fresh arguments by the City Attorney's Office alleging the purported “independent” panel tasked with reviewing CCSF's appeal was actually stacked with people favorable to the ACCJC.
Deputy City Attorney Yvonne R. Mere asked the ACCJC's policy staffer, Krista Johns, “[CCSF's appeal] was required to be heard by an independent panel correct?”
Johns answered yes.
But that panel was hand-picked by the ACCJC's president, Mere countered, which seemingly called its independence into question.
Johns looked skeptically at Mere, answering “It was chosen from a pool, but Beno chose them, yes.”
One of those panelists, William McGinnis, ran college trustee training sessions alongside Beno and publicly expressed that democratically elected school governing boards often disagree far too much.
Three other panelists had strong ties to the ACCJC as well, Johns revealed in Friday's testimony.
The ACCJC's attorneys additionally brought witnesses who testified that CCSF was and is in financial shambles: the college had unpaid retiree obligations, tried to offer classes to “everyone” though it could not afford to, did not make “hard choices” in the face of dwindling state funding, and had a governance structure which strongly resisted change.
ACCJC commissioners said Friday that the college was given a day to argue for its life. But no CCSF Board of Trustees members came to give the college a final defense, they said.
The only CCSF representatives to defend the college were then-Interim Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman and Special Trustee Robert Agrella.
“They painted a picture for us that was a college in significant disarray in a number of areas,” ACCJC Commissioner Frank Gornick said of Scott-Skillman and Agrella's presentation on CCSF. “Based on what they provided to me that day it was sufficient evidence to vote [to close CCSF].”
ACCJC Commissioner Timothy Brown said he asked Agrella if CCSF's Board of Trustees was competent enough to fix the college.
“He said no,” Brown said.
On the witness stand, ACCJC commissioners said CCSF's finances would've led to ruin of the school within years. But, they added, San Francisco's Proposition A or California's Proposition 30 did not change this bleak financial future.
Combined, both measures would bring millions of dollars in new annual revenue to CCSF. Deputy City Attorney Ronald Flynn asked ACCJC Commissioner Steve Kinsella, a financial expert, to justify this contradiction.
Despite over $15 million in new annual revenue, Flynn asked, “You still voted to close them?”
Kinsella answered, “Yes.”
Figures show CCSF student enrollment has dropped by thousands in recent years. Last week Assemblyman Phil Ting announced a plan to stop the ACCJC from using state funds to pay for legal fees.
Some in the higher education community said they worry if the City Attorney's Office wins this case, it could ripple across the college world for the worse.
Bob Shireman, executive director of California Competes, and U.S. education undersecretary, said he worries that a successful lawsuit would create case law creating loopholes for for-profit colleges with low job-placement rates to combat their own accreditors.
“The big winners in that situation would be owners of predatory for-profit colleges,” he said.
But the stakes are also high for San Francisco, as CCSF has over 70,000 students enrolled.
Former CCSF government liaison Leslie Smith said in trial testimony, “Community college is in many ways the first chance and the last chance [for people] to achieve a sustainable income.”
And CCSF's last chance may rest in the hands of Karnow.