Los Angeles Times - S.F. city attorney seeks injunction to block accrediting panel

February 4, 2014
In The News

By Carla Rivera

San Francisco’s city attorney filed for a preliminary injunction Monday to block a private commission from revoking the accreditation of City College of San Francisco, alleging that the panel is using stalling tactics and refusing to hand over important documents.
The injunction request, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, is another arrow aimed at the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges by City Atty. Dennis Herrera.
Herrera filed a civil suit in August, charging that the Novato-based accrediting panel acted with unlawful conflict-of-interest and political bias against the San Francisco two-year college when it moved to terminate accreditation effective July 2014.
Its legal strategy since then, Herrera alleges, has been to “run out the clock,” by seeking to have the case moved to a federal court and not handing over requested information on its decision-making process.
“It's regrettable that accreditors' dilatory tactics require us to petition the court for interim relief,” Herrera said in a statement. “But the stakes are too high, and the potential for injustice too great, for the judicial process to need to race the clock to accommodate the ACCJC's dubious deadline for terminating City College's accreditation.  The facts and the law strongly support our motion for a preliminary injunction, and I think the court will agree that the imperatives of thorough judicial review demand it."
A federal district judge ruled earlier this month that the case should remain in San Francisco Superior Court rather than be moved to federal jurisdiction.
The commission released a statement saying that it "continues to believe that this lawsuit is meritless and has confidence in our judiciary to rule appropriately on the City Attorney’s motion.  ACCJC will resist any efforts by any third party, including the City Attorney of San Francisco, to interfere with its internal processes, including those processes that relate to the CCSF decision."
“The city of San Francisco deserves to have a college that meets the same accreditation standards as 111 other California Community Colleges," said commission chairwoman Sherrill Amador.
The commission decided in July to strip official certification from City College, citing a failure to improve fiscal planning, ineffective decision-making and inadequate measures of student learning.
California community colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris appointed a special trustee to govern the 85,000-student, multi-campus institution while it appealed the decision. If the college loses accreditation, it could also lose state aid and could close.
But the accrediting commission has come under fire for its procedures, which are currently under review by the U.S. Dept. of Education and the state auditor.  Groups representing faculty, staff and students have filed two separate lawsuits to keep the campus open.
And in a September letter to the U.S. Dept of Education, members of Congress Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) and Anna Eshoo (D-Menlo Park) expressed concerns about several alleged  “unusual characteristics” of the commission, including ignoring the recommendations of visiting evaluation teams and a practice of destroying the original documents of those teams.
“There are concerns about abuse of authority and about whether the ACCJC substitutes its own standards and rules for the law of California,” they wrote.
At a November forum held on the City College campus, Speier and Eshoo criticized the commission for sanctioning California community colleges at a far higher rate, compared with actions meted out by other regional accrediting groups around the country.
In response to the forum, the commission released a statement that said in part: "The accreditation process holds colleges accountable. This distresses some people. However, holding colleges to standards ensures quality, betterment and, in some cases, continued fiscal viability.”