CCSF braces for ultimate accreditation battle

The chancellor of City College of San Francisco said tonight that the college will take up the opportunity provided by a court injunction to seek reconsideration of a regional commission’s decision to revoke its accreditation.

Chancellor Art Tyler said in a statement:

“We plan to avail ourselves of the remedy afforded by Judge Karnow and look forward to a fair hearing where we can present our case.”

The final injunction was issued by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow on Tuesday together with a 73-page final ruling in a lawsuit filed in 2013 by City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

The injunction requires the Novato-based western regional branch of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges to give the college a new opportunity to defend itself against the commission’s 2013 decision to revoke its accreditation.

The college was not a party in the lawsuit, which was filed by Herrera on behalf of the people of California. Thus Karnow’s decision could not order the college to seek reconsideration, but rather, gave it the chance to opt into the reconsideration process outlined in the injunction. Tyler’s statement affirms that the college will take that opportunity.

Tyler said:

“We are grateful for the ruling Judge Karnow has provided. We appreciate that we now have a timeline for the reconsideration of the ACCJC’s 2013 termination decision. … We want to thank City Attorney Dennis Herrera and his staff for conscientiously pursuing the due process rights of the college. And we are grateful for the extraordinary support we’ve received from the community of San Francisco throughout this process.”

Karnow’s final injunction and statement of decision finalize a Jan. 16 tentative ruling in which he concluded the commission violated the college’s due process rights when it decided in 2013 to revoke the accreditation. The termination was to have gone into effect on July 31, 2014, but was halted by a preliminary injunction handed down by Karnow.

In the meantime, in a separate action, the commission decided last month to allow the college to participate in a newly created process called restoration, in which it will have two years to achieve full compliance with accrediting standards.

Karnow’s final injunction gives the college a separate right to have the commission reconsider the termination. It also orders the commission not to take away the college’s restoration status or subject it to any adverse consequences in retaliation for opting to follow the reconsideration procedures in addition to the restoration process.

Lawyers from Herrera’s office have argued the reconsideration process is a better opportunity for the college than the restoration effort, because under commission rules, successful restoration would require “full compliance” with accrediting standards, compared with the “substantial compliance” normally expected of community colleges.

Herrera called the order:

“… a tough and thorough injunction that assures City College of its right to a fair and open reconsideration process, and shields the college from further unlawful acts by the accreditors. … I’m optimistic that these court-ordered protections will enable City College to secure its accreditation and finally put the threats of closure to rest.”

California Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Freitas said:

“This ruling is a vindication of the efforts made to defend City College against the commission’s inconsistent and unfair actions in handling the school’s accreditation review.”

A commission representative was not available for comment. The injunction requires the commission to inform the college within 10 days that it has a right to reconsideration. It gives the college 15 days to respond as to whether it will opt in to the process.

If the college decides to seek reconsideration, as Tyler has now said it will, the commission “must prepare a written report that clearly identifies any deficiencies in City College’s compliance with accreditation standards as of June 2013,” Karnow wrote.

The college can then submit a written response and the commission must hold a meeting at which college representatives can speak. The commission must then issue a written, publicly available decision on reconsideration.

The injunction does not require the commission to reinstate the accreditation, but it provides the college “the chance it never had to respond to the findings of deficiencies,” the judge wrote.

In the statement of decision accompanying the injunction, Karnow said the commission violated the college’s rights by failing to provide a detailed written report on its alleged deficiencies, and failing to give the college sufficient opportunity to respond in writing and at a hearing:

“The reporting and notice violations do undermine the fairness of the process within the meaning of the common law fair procedure doctrine. … We do not know whether, if City College had its rights observed in 2013, it would have made an difference, but we can find out – from the commission.”

The commission cited problems with financial accountability and institutional governance when it announced in 2013 that it planned to revoke the college’s accreditation.