Today, City College of San Francisco goes to trial for its very existence.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera's lawsuit against CCSF's accreditors, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, will be heard by Judge Curtis Karnow of San Francisco Superior Court in a trial that is scheduled to end Friday.
The suit, which alleges that the commission treated CCSF unfairly in its review process, calls for the court to overturn the ACCJC's decision in July 2013 to revoke the college's accreditation, which would essentially close CCSF.
“At the heart of this case,” Herrera told The San Francisco Examiner on Sunday, “is the principle that our higher educational institutions deserve fairness in the accreditation process.”
The city attorney's case accuses the commission of bias, alleging it petitioned state government in a pitched political battle defending statewide education policy changes that the college resisted. The city attorney further alleges
that political conflict influenced the ACCJC's decision to strip CCSF of its accreditation.
“They have a really different vision of what they think our college and community colleges in general should be doing,” said Tim Killikelly, CCSF's faculty union president. “When the accrediting crisis happened, they said City College was trying to do too much for too many people and we needed to narrow what our mission was.”
In early 2012, the ACCJC voiced support for the Student Success Initiative, a statewide policy intending to task community colleges with focusing resources only on students transferring to four-year universities.
CCSF, which remains open and accredited, is unique in the state for educating many adults who do not necessarily pursue degrees, detractors of the Student Success Initiative countered.
But despite the legal tussle, the college has implemented many of the accrediting commission's recommendations. Among those, the college has narrowed its mission statement, which many in the community worry will disenfranchise immigrants and other English-language learners, the elderly, and students from low-income communities.
The City Attorney's Office, as part of its lawsuit, also alleges that a conflict of interest arose because commission President Barbara Beno's husband was part of the team that examined the school. As a result of the trial, an injunction has suspended the ACCJC's decision to rescind the accreditation, which had been scheduled to take effect in July.
Beno has denied any wrongdoing on the part of the accreditation agency.
“As ACCJC president, I seek to support all member institutions,” she wrote in a declaration to the court, under penalty of perjury. “I never at any time, had a desire that any member institution fail to comply with accreditation standards… so as to cause the commission to decide to terminate the institution's accreditation.”
The stakes for San Francisco in the trial are high. At its peak, City College has trained more than 100,000 students at any one time, with more than eight campuses strewn throughout The City. If it were to close, 2,500 Bay Area employees would be jobless and more than $300 million in local economic activity would be lost annually, according to the Budget Analyst's Office.