“It’s all behind a curtain”: Advocates For CCSF Castigate Accrediting Board For Secrecy

Attorneys argued in a daylong hearing today over whether a judge should block a decision made earlier this year by a regional commission to revoke the accreditation of City College of San Francisco.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow will decide at an unspecified later date whether to issue preliminary injunctions requested by City Attorney Dennis Herrera and two teachers’ unions who filed lawsuits to block the loss of the school’s accreditation.

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges in July issued an order revoking City College’s accreditation effective July 31, 2014, citing issues with the school’s finances and governance structure.

The school has requested a review of the commission’s decision, a process currently under way, ACCJC officials said.

But Robert Bezemek, an attorney representing the California Federation of Teachers and the City College teachers’ union, American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, told Karnow today that the accrediting commission did not give the school proper due process before making its decision.

Bezemek said “a significant violation” occurred when an ACCJC evaluation report found 19 deficiencies with the school and the commission then increased that number to 30 at a June meeting without notifying City College of what the additional deficiencies were.

Bezemek cited other problems with the commission’s accrediting process, including an apparent conflict of interest in having commission president Barbara Beno appoint her husband to the team that evaluated City College.

He said the ACCJC’s decision has City College students leaving in droves, with enrollment down by as much as 30 percent since this time last year.

Deputy City Attorney Sara Eisenberg said it was important for the judge to make a decision on an injunction in the next two weeks because City College has an open enrollment period that ends on Jan. 8 and students would like more certainty on the fate of the school’s accreditation.

If the judge issued an injunction, it would remain in place until a trial is held in the case.

But Andrew Sclar, an attorney for the commission, said an injunction would simply “mask the problems with CCSF.”

Sclar said blocking the commission’s decision would “wreak havoc on the accrediting process” for panels around the country.

Another attorney for the commission, Philip Ward, said the threat of loss of accreditation was necessary to bring about change at the school.

“There has to be major reorganizing decisions at City College,” Ward said.

He said, “Nobody wants to see City College disaccredited … we’re trying to make sure it gets as good as it can be.”

Sclar said it was unprecedented anywhere else in the nation to have a third party like the city or a labor union bringing a lawsuit against a commission rather than the school itself.

City College special trustee Robert Agrella, who was appointed by California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris to oversee the school after the July accreditation ruling, decided that City College would not pursue a lawsuit against the commission.

However, the attorneys for the plaintiffs said the lawsuit was necessary because the commission has been secretive about how it reached its accreditation decision as well as the process for how it will review the decision and how the school can appeal it.

“It’s all behind a curtain,” Bezemek said. “There’s no public hearings.”

He said, “They have to be subject to challenge when they’re given this much authority.”

Laurence Kessenick, an attorney for the commission, told reporters outside of court that the secrecy was “to make sure the process is fair to the institution” and “to protect the integrity of the process.”

Both sides will return to court on Monday for a hearing in which Karnow will decide whether the plaintiffs have standing to bring forward the lawsuit.

The commission’s attorneys have asked the judge to delay his decision on an injunction until after Monday’s hearing, but he did not indicate when he might issue his ruling.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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