Unions target CCSF’s accreditor in expanded lawsuit

Faculty unions for community colleges across the state filed an amended complaint in San Francisco Superior Court Thursday against the accrediting commission that almost forced the closure of City College of San Francisco in 2014.

The lawsuit alleges the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges has engaged in unfair business practices and interfered with collective bargaining agreements between faculty unions and their respective colleges.

In addition to the latest accusations from unions including the California Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, the ACCJC has also been scrutinized by state agencies, elected officials and the U.S. Department of Education.

The intent of the lawsuit is to show the ACCJC needs to be replaced with another accreditor, CFT President Joshua Pechthalt said in a statement.

“Despite the wide and growing consensus that the ACCJC no longer meets the needs of California’s community colleges, the agency continues to inflict damage on the ability of students to pursue accessible and affordable higher education, and on the ability of faculty and staff to deliver quality education,” Pechthalt said.

ACCJC President Barbara Beno said through a spokesperson that the commission will review the complaint, but a judge will decide if it is heard.

While AFT Local 2121 has been vocal in recent years about the negative effects the ACCJC reportedly caused when it decided to revoke the accreditation of CCSF in 2013, this amended complaint includes allegations from faculty unions for Palomar College in San Diego, Mendocino College and San Jose Evergreen Community College District.

The ACCJC decision would have shut down CCSF in 2014 had a judge not temporarily blocked its closure in response to a lawsuit by the City Attorney’s Office. The college remains open and fully accredited today.

While still open, enrollment began to fall at CCSF, which affects the state dollars it receives per student. (The state gave the college stabilization funding for three years in response.) CCSF was also placed on restoration status in 2015, meaning it has until next January to meet all accreditation standards.

At Palomar College, the faculty union was reportedly told it could not be given more than a 0.85 percent raise “because, according to the ACCJC, to do so would jeopardize our accreditation status,” Shannon Lienhart, president of the Palomar Faculty Federation, said in a statement.

The lawsuit also alleges the ACCJC skirts the rights of colleges by not allowing them to appeal the decisions made by the commission, and that the commission should have open meetings under state law.

The complaint calls for the ACCJC to revoke its decision to terminate the accreditation of CCSF, stop engaging in the alleged unlawful behavior and unfair business practices, and pay for the unions’ costs related to the suit.

“The relief that the lawsuit requests, if granted by a court, would have very harmful consequences for the quality of education for our students at community colleges in California,” said Beno, the head of the commission.

The first version of the complaint was filed in 2013 alongside the city attorney’s lawsuit in an attempt to block CCSF’s closure. That version focused solely on San Francisco.

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