CCSF special trustee steps into retirement

The statewide community college system hopes to have a new special trustee in place for San Francisco City College by the end of February, according to a system spokeswoman.

Paige Dorr, a spokeswoman for statewide Chancellor Brice Harris, said today that the retirement of Special Trustee Robert Agrella, 71, will take effect when Harris names a replacement later this month.

Agrella was appointed “special trustee with extraordinary powers” by the California Community Colleges Board of Governors in July 2013 to help keep the college open while it appealed the revocation of its accreditation by a regional accrediting agency. His retirement was announced by Harris on Friday via Twitter:

“Heartfelt thanks to Dr. Robert Agrella for all he has done to support CCSF in its recovery and best wishes for a well deserved retirement.”

The extraordinary powers granted to Agrella, a former superintendent of Santa Rosa Junior College, took decision-making authority away from the college’s elected trustees and gave that power to Agrella instead. Dorr said the Board of Governors plans to return full authority to the college’s elected trustees by July 2016.

The western regional branch of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges cited problems with financial accountability and institutional governance when it announced in 2013 that it planned to revoke the college’s accreditation.

Last month, two developments improved the outlook for the college. On Jan. 14, the commission announced it was allowing City College to participate in a newly created process called restoration, in which the college will have two years to achieve full compliance with accrediting standards.

Two days later, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow issued a tentative ruling that would allow a reconsideration of the accreditation revocation. Karnow concluded that the commission violated federal regulations and the college’s due process rights in four ways.

If left in place, his decision will require the commission to give the college a written list of the bases for its findings of deficiencies, if the college decides to opt in to a reconsideration process. The commission would have to give CCSF an opportunity to respond and then would reconsider the revocation decision.

The ruling was made in a lawsuit filed against the commission by City Attorney Dennis Herrera on behalf of the people of California. The college was not a party in the case. Karnow has given Herrera and the commission until Tuesday to file responses to the tentative ruling. He will issue a final decision at a later date.

City College spokesman Jeff Hamilton said the timing of Agrella’s departure seemed appropriate because Agrella had delayed his retirement to help the college reach its current point in recovery:

“He’s delayed his retirement for some time to address the challenges the college has faced. … When he assumed the full responsibility, City College of San Francisco was on the brink of failing. It’s now in restoration for two more years and we have 90 percent compliance with the accrediting standards. . … We are very grateful to him and we wish him well in his well-earned retirement.”

City College faculty union president Tim Killikelly said Agrella’s retirement should be used as the opportunity to restore the authority of the elected trustees:

“This is the perfect time to get the board of trustees back to governing.”

Killikelly said Karnow’s tentative ruling “undercuts the whole logic of having a special trustee.” Killikelly, a political science professor, presides over American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, which represents teachers, counselors and librarians at the college.

He said faculty members are pleased with Karnow’s ruling, but “we are not happy with the restoration process because it holds City College to a higher standard than other colleges.” Successful restoration, according to commission rules, would require “full compliance” with accrediting standards, compared with the “substantial compliance” normally expected of community colleges.