San Francisco city attorney sues over City College accreditation fight

August 22, 2013

San Francisco’s city attorney has sued the state accrediting commission to block attempts to revoke City College of San Francisco’s accreditation.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, represents yet another pressure point on the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, following the U.S. Department of Education’s criticism of the commission last week for failing to follow federal regulations in its recommendation to withdraw City College’s accreditation. State lawmakers on Wednesday requested an audit of the agency over the letter and other concerns.

In the lawsuit, City Attorney Dennis Herrera says the commission’s vote was motivated by political bias against City College, which has advocated different views than the commission. He also cited conflict of interest concerns, noting that the husband of commission president Barbara Beno served on the accrediting panel that visited City College.

“The evidence is clear that the ACCJC ignored multiple conflicts of interest, flouted laws and allowed its political advocacy to color public responsibilities it should frankly have never been given,” Herrera said in a statement. The lawsuit seeks an injunction vacating the commission’s decision.

Herrera also filed a separate petition against the Board of Governors, accusing the statewide governing body of delegating “its statutory obligations to set standards and determine eligibility for public funding to a wholly unaccountable private entity” – the accrediting commission. That petition asks the board to take a more active role in the accreditation process and requests a response within 45 days; Herrera can sue if he is not satisfied with the response, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In an emailed statement, the commission said it was “surprised to learn” of the filings.

“While the ACCJC has not had a chance to fully review the city attorney’s allegations, these actions appear to be without merit and an attempt to politicize and interfere with the ongoing accreditation review process with respect to the City College of San Francisco,” said the unsigned statement. “The ACCJC will respond to the City Attorney’s allegations in a court of law.”

The commission voted last month to revoke City College’s accreditation in July 2014 if it did not address a series of fiscal and management deficiencies dating back several years. The campus, the largest in the state with 85,000 students, would no longer qualify for federal financial aid if it loses accreditation and would be forced to close unless it is taken over by another college.

California community colleges spokesman Paul Feist said state officials are “focused on supporting” City College as it works to address issues flagged by accreditors.

“Regardless of one’s views about the ACCJC, by its own admission City College did not meet the standards that all 112 community colleges in California have agreed to meet,” Feist said in an emailed statement. “The ACCJC was not alone in its identification of problems. Other agencies, including the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team – an independent and public body – have identified serious fiscal and operational deficiencies as well as excessively high labor costs that pose a very real threat to the college’s ability to serve its diverse community. Our office has said before – and we reiterate it today – that City College cannot become the battleground in the fight concerning accreditation without sustaining further damage to this important institution.”

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