It's a trap

City College's accreditors offer the school a way out, but their past actions raise doubts whether they can be trusted

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Four ways to save CCSF: Guess which one is a trap?
Brooke Ginnard

joe@sfbg.com

As City College of San Francisco struggles to loosen the noose around its neck, this week its accreditors are slated to offer the college a new way out. But some skeptics are sounding the alarm: it's a trap.

The Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges is scheduled to vote on and announce a newly revised version of its "restoration policy," which some journalists have called City College's salvation.

"Huge CCSF Win: College Won't Close," one San Francisco Chronicle headline read. Bay Area TV stations and others echoed the jubilant headline, saying City College was saved. Chancellor Art Tyler told the Chronicle he would "absolutely" apply for restoration status. But many are calling the restoration policy a poor choice for the college's future.

"Rumors of City College being saved are premature," Alisa Messer, political director for the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, told us.

The college's faculty union isn't the only one worried. A report released this month by the California State Auditor shows ACCJC has operated against its own bylaws and without full transparency in threatening CCSF's accreditation.

"To allow community colleges flexibility in choosing an accreditor," the state auditor's report wrote, "the chancellor's office should remove language from its regulations naming the commission as the sole accreditor of California community colleges while maintaining the requirement that community colleges be accredited."

In the staid and stuffy bureaucratic language, the auditor essentially wrote the accreditor group was so dysfunctional it should be closed. The 75-plus page report scathingly tears down ACCJC staff, board selection, decisions, and policies. There are few areas in which they did not find fault.

"The report draws conclusions about accreditation without the necessary context and facts related to institutional evaluations," ACCJC President Barbara Beno told the Guardian via email. "ACCJC is reviewed and approved by the United States Department of Education and its recognition was renewed in January 2014. That is the appropriate body to review the ACCJC's practices."

The DOE found many faults with the accreditors as well, but the scope of its review was limited to complaints made by the unions. The auditor viewed the accreditors in a fuller context, alleging the ACCJC decided to terminate CCSF's accreditation "after allowing only one year to come into compliance," while simultaneously allowing 15 other colleges two years and another six institutions to up to five years to reach compliance.

Such accusations of bias are also alleged in City Attorney Dennis Herrera's lawsuit against ACCJC, charging CCSF was targeted with harsher penalties due to its political views.

Meanwhile, a closer look at restoration status shows it's less like a lifeline and more like a tightrope suspended over flames.

The policy would give CCSF two years to come into compliance with all of the so-called "defects" ACCJC identified. If the college addresses these issues in two years, the commission would rescind the notice to terminate the college's accreditation.