Ruling gives reprieve to City College of San Francisco

January 3, 2014

Updated Jan. 5 to correct Brice Harris’ opinion

A judge gave City College of San Francisco a break in it efforts to remain open, ruling that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges cannot revoke the school’s accreditation without a trial or further court order.

The consequences of closing City College, which serves nearly 80,000 students, would be “catastrophic,” San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow wrote in a 53-page ruling issued Thursday. “The impact cannot be calculated and it would be extreme,” Karnow wrote. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera requested the injunction in an August lawsuit.

Last June, the accrediting commission voted to revoke the school’s accreditation on July 31 unless it fixed a number of ongoing financial and management violations of standards. Since then, the college has been under the administration of a special trustee.

The City Attorney accused the commission of violating the state’s unfair competition law and creating a conflict of interest by stacking the evaluation team that reviewed City College with people predisposed to supporting the commission’s action, not including enough college professors on the team, and placing the commission president’s husband on the evaluation team.

The suit also accused the commission of failing to give the college a clear and detailed report indicating where it was out of compliance with standards and didn’t give the school enough time to make the improvements.

Although the judge indicated that no one claimed that the commission would have reached a different decision with a different evaluation team, he suggested that in a trial the City Attorney would be able to prove that some of the commission’s practices were unfair or illegal. A spokesman for Herrera’s office said a trial date could be set this month.

In the same ruling, Karnow rejected a motion by Herrera to halt the commission from sanctioning any of the state’s 112 community colleges. He also denied a motion by the teacher’s union to reinstate City College’s accreditation.

The judge also rejected a pre-trial request for a stay of his ruling by the commission, which argued that it was premature since the college still has time to make the needed changes and to appeal the commission’s action through administrative procedures.

State community college Chancellor Brice Harris took no position on the City Attorney’s lawsuit but, in a letter to Herrera, wrote that he’s concerned that characterizing the court cases as “a “last-ditch” effort to “save” City College are inaccurate and will do additional damage to the college’s enrollment.” Between 2012 and 2013, City College’s enrollment dropped by nearly 13 percent. Harris outlined all the progress that City College has made toward retaining its accreditation and wrote that “court intervention is not necessary to keep City College open.”

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