All eyes are on City College of San Francisco as the future of the community college remains up in the air.
A tentative ruling Friday by a San Francisco Superior Court judge that could roll back a regional accrediting commission’s 2013 decision to remove the college’s accreditation has many students, faculty and staff members feeling relieved.
However, many of those same members of the CCSF community are not pleased with the college administration’s decision to abruptly close CCSF’s Civic Center campus and are pointing to it as evidence of the need to reinstate the college’s Board of Trustees.
Faculty, students and supporters of CCSF rallied outside San Francisco City Hall this afternoon following a march from the Civic Center campus at 750 Eddy St. to ask the legislature to make sure the power of the Novato-based Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges is reigned in, that a Civic Center campus remains part of CCSF and that the college’s Board of Trustees be reinstated.
Members of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 2121, the faculty union at CCSF, urged the administration to clarify why the Civic Center campus was abruptly shuttered on Friday, three days before the start of the new semester.
Ona Keller, an organizer with AFT Local 2121, said that the decision to close the CCSF building, which houses English as a Second Language and other classes, has inconvenienced many of the college’s poorest students. City College officials knew for months that the building in the Civic Center neighborhood was seismically unsafe and had to close, but failed to make an announcement until Friday.
This, Keller said, is a shining example of the administration’s inability to lead the college to success. Classes at the building have been postponed until Feb. 2 and moved to the CCSF Administration Building at 33 Gough St., according to members of the faculty and administration.
The college informed students via a Facebook post Friday and had employees standing outside the school to give instructions to students who showed up for the first day of class on Monday. The building, first constructed as an elementary school in 1910, was determined to be at risk of collapse in an August report by Concord-based TBP Architecture.
The problems identified in the report were so severe that school officials concluded in November that the building was not safe to inhabit and needed to close, CCSF spokesman Jeff Hamilton said.
The Civic Center campus, formerly Adams Elementary School, was taken over by City College for adult education programs in the 1930s and has undergone few improvements since its construction, according to the TBP report. The report recommended either renovating the building at a cost of nearly $13 million or tearing it down entirely.
While the school is in the process of securing state funding for improvements, CCSF officials have not made a decision whether it will renovate or demolish the building, Hamilton said. Aside from the seismic concerns, the report described many problems with the building, including major issues with the heating, plumbing and electrical systems.
Numerous fire hazards, asbestos and security issues were also listed in the report. American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 president Timothy Killikelly criticized the administration’s handling of the issue on Monday, saying that either the building isn’t as unsafe to inhabit as they say, or that they knowingly had faculty and students working in an unsafe environment for all of last semester.
Killikelly said numerous lapses of communication, including postponing classes and potentially changing work hours and schedules, are a violation of the faculty’s labor agreement and that the union is still figuring out what action it plans to take.
Killikelly said Friday’s ruling demonstrates that appointing a ‘special trustee with extraordinary powers,’ and displacing the democratically elected Board of Trustees was wrong:
“We call upon the State Chancellor and the state community college Board of Governors for the immediate return of the Board of Trustees.”
Keller said that since CCSF Chancellor Art Tyler appointed Special Trustee Robert Agrella and disempowered the elected Board of Trustees, the administration has been making decisions that negatively impact the college.
Martin Madregal, a former student of City College and a current student at San Jose State University, said the shuttering of the City College campus “is a blatant attack on the opportunities of the community” and said that he worries it will greatly impact student enrollment, which is already low due to the college’s accreditation issues.
San Francisco Supervisor David Campos spoke at the rally outside City Hall today and applauded the CCSF community for speaking up. Campos said that what the crowd is doing today “is not just saving City College, but the heart of San Francisco.”
Campos said The City needs a strong community college and that San Franciscans deserve to see a full restoration of the college’s Board of Trustees, which was elected by San Franciscans. Campos called for an end to the “back room deals” that leave out those who make City College what it is.
CCSF’s full Board of Trustees, which no longer possesses voting powers, will meet at 4 p.m. Thursday for the first time in two years, according to CCSF’s Office of the Chancellor.
Following the tentative decision by San Francisco Superior Court judge Curtis Karnow ruling that the ACCJC carried out unlawful business practices and “is liable for violations of the Unfair Competition Law,” CCSF Chancellor Art Tyler released a statement saying that once the ruling is finalized, the CCSF administration will ask the ACCJC to reconsider its termination decision.
Karnow’s tentative ruling stated that the ACCJC’s violations “made it impossible for City College to have a fair hearing prior to the 2013 termination decision.” The judge proposed an injunction against ACCJC to allow City College the due process it was entitled to, but did not receive, in 2013.
According to Karnow’s proposed ruling, the ACCJC must identify in writing any and all reasons the commission determined City College to be deficient in 2013. The commission must then consider the responses from City College before it reconsiders terminating CCSF’s accreditation.
The tentative decision from Karnow comes just two days after the ACCJC granted City College restoration status, bestowing the school with at least two more years to fight for its accreditation. But the fight over City College has been brewing for months: City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed the lawsuit seeking to block the ACCJC’s decision to revoke the school’s accreditation in August 2013.
The ACCJC claimed the college’s accreditation is being challenged after the college failed to address requirements first identified by the ACCJC in 2006. In 2013, the ACCJC planned to terminate CCSF’s accreditation, but the termination was suspended and the college remained open because Judge Karnow issued a preliminary injunction keeping the accreditation in place pending a resolution to the lawsuit filed by the city attorney.
Among other claims, Herrera contended that the commission failed to give the college adequate notice and opportunity to respond to the alleged deficiencies. Herrera said today that the court’s tentative ruling on the accreditors’ evaluation process for City College has found that the ACCJC engaged in “significant unlawful practices.”
The City Attorney said today that the judge’s proposed decision would offer the college and its more than 80,000 students “a life-saving reprieve” to pursue and secure its accreditation and “finally put threats of closure to rest.”
Herrera said that the tentative ruling “should serve as a loud, unequivocal wake-up call to accreditors — that they are subject to laws, and will face consequences for breaking them.”
The ACCJC contends, however, that the commission’s decision to place the college on “show cause” status and its later decision to terminate its accreditation, stemmed from issues with the school’s finances and governance structures.
ACCJC President Barbara Beno released a statement today saying that the judge’s decision “essentially found that the ACCJC did not do anything wrong” and dispels the “far-reaching accusations of the City Attorney.”
Deputy City Attorney Sara Eisenberg contended in the closing arguments of the trial that the restoration process would be an unfair remedy because there is no appeal after the final outcome of that effort and because successful restoration would require 100 percent compliance with all standards, instead of the “substantial compliance” normally expected of community colleges.
Eisenberg stated that City College’s accreditation process should be restarted, which is what today’s proposed ruling also supports. Karnow states in his proposed ruling that it appears the Unfair Competition Law has never before been used to challenge an accreditation decision.
Both sides now have 15 days to respond and suggest changes to Judge Karnow before he issues a final decision, which can be appealed to the state Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
State Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, responded to the ruling this afternoon saying that the judge’s decision holds ACCJC accountable to the people of California and state laws. Furthermore, Ting said the Legislature would discuss and determine if the ACCJC needs reform or replacement.