City College Trial to Begin Next Month

A San Francisco Superior Court judge decided Friday that a lawsuit over whether City College of San Francisco wrongly faced the loss of its accreditation by a regional accrediting commission will proceed to trial next month.

The lawsuit, filed in August 2013 by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, claims the Novato-based Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges treated City College unfairly during the accreditation review process.

Following a cross-motion hearing for summary judgment from Deputy City Attorney Thomas Lakritz, as well as Andrew Sclar, an attorney for ACCJC earlier this month, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow denied both motions.

The judge ruled that the ACCJC is subject to provisions of state law prohibiting unlawful and unfair acts by businesses and private associations.

Herrera’s office alleges that the ACCJC’s intention to revoke the accreditation of San Francisco City College was motivated by political bias, failed to respect the institution’s right to due process, was tainted by the commission’s conflicts of interest and was the product of failure to follow procedures required by law.

City College was initially slated to lose its accreditation on July 31, after the accrediting commission evaluated the school and cited problems with its administration, finances, governance structure and other issues.

However, since then, the U.S. Department of Education found ACCJC not to be in compliance with federal laws for an accrediting agency.

Karnow issued an injunction in January preventing the revocation of City College’s accreditation from taking effect until a trial was held.

Sclar, the ACCJC’s attorney, said students attending an accredited college, have the right to know that their institution meets a certain standard and that it is the commission’s job to judge that.

The city attorney’s office said it is challenging the procedures that led up to the decision to disaccredit the college.

In a statement released Friday, Herrera said the decision for the case to go to trial “should help disabuse accreditors of the arrogant notion that their violations are somehow beyond the reach of California law.”

Herrera went on to state that the accrediting commission’s conduct has lacked credibility thus far.

Following the hearing earlier this month, Rodger Scott, a City College of San Francisco instructor since 1972 and a member of the board of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 union, said the “authoritarian” power of the ACCJC has to be checked.

Scott said if the ACCJC can do this amount of harm to City College, which he said is a strong, well-attended college situated in a progressive city with an enlivened population, imagine “how vulnerable other colleges are that don’t have our resources.”

AFT Local 2121 attorney Robert Bezemek said the ACCJC is seeking to push students from public to private colleges. Following the hearing earlier this month, Bezemek said the commission “tried to claim they are not involved in commercial markets, that they aren’t involved in commerce, well that’s totally absurd.”

Bezemek said that if ACCJC is “unfairly evaluating a non-profit public college that will educate students for $5,000 and closes them, forcing students to go to a college that is going to charge them $40,000 or $60,000, that has a direct effect on commercial markets and on consumers.”

The trial is slated to begin on Oct. 27.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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