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City College of San Francisco Shies Away From Criticism of Accreditation Panel

| August 21, 2013
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City College of San Francisco officials on Monday submitted a formal request for review of a regional panel’s decision to revoke the school’s accreditation, but the request made no mention of recent criticism of the accreditors by the U.S. Department of Education.

City College of San Francisco (Charla Bear/KQED)

City College of San Francisco (Charla Bear/KQED)

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges announced last month that City College’s accreditation would end in July 2014 unless changes are made to the school’s governance structure and finances.

However, last week the Department of Education issued a letter finding fault with the ACCJC’s accrediting process for City College, citing vague instructions for compliance, a lack of faculty members on evaluation teams and a possible conflict of interest between the commission’s president and her husband, who was on an evaluation team.

Yet City College special trustee Robert Agrella said today that he decided not to include the federal criticism of the ACCJC in the school’s request for review because he did not want City College to take an adversarial role against the commission.

“By doing that we would be attacking the commission,” Agrella said. “That’s a call I made and we’re sticking with it.”

Agrella, who was appointed last month by California Community Colleges chancellor Brice Harris to oversee City College’s fight to maintain accreditation, expanded on his decision in an open letter posted on the school’s website on Monday.

Agrella wrote, “I strongly believe that the best path to maintaining CCSF’s accreditation is to follow the Commission’s rules, regulations, and directions and to continue to show substantial progress toward meeting the eligibility requirements and standards.”

He wrote, “If our review document joins the attack on the Commission, I believe that the review and appeals process will be unsuccessful. If this is the case, I also believe our timeframe for meeting the standards may be significantly shortened.”

City College’s faculty union last week called on the ACCJC to reverse its decision to revoke the school’s accreditation in light of the Department of Education letter, but Agrella said that was highly unlikely.

Last week, the Department of Education told KQED it did not have the authority to overturn the ACCJC’s decision.

“CCSF was unsuccessful in showing cause why its accreditation should not be removed,” DOE spokeswoman Jane Glickman wrote in an email. “The ACCJC voted to remove CCSF’s accreditation, and CCSF is involved in the processes the ACCJC has established following such a decision. The Department’s letter does not affect the decision directly; however, CCSF can and likely will appeal the AACJC decision, and the Department’s letter could become part of their appeal.”

The DOE also seemed to buttress the assertion of AACJC President Barbara Beno that it’s not uncommon for the federal government to find problems with commissions like hers.

“It is not unusual for us to find areas of non-compliance with some of the Secretary’s Criteria for Recognition through investigation of a complaint and through our reviews of agencies for renewal of recognition,” Beno wrote. “We did so within the last several months. Most often the agencies are able to come into compliance within the timeframe allowed.”

Even before the DOE finding, CCSF faculty members and San Francisco city officials accused the Accrediting Commission of overstepping its authority. San Francisco supervisors recently challenged the commission’s methods. When Supervisor David Campos asked the group’s liaison, Gojar Momjian, what standards it follows in making its accreditation decision, Momjian replied, “I can’t answer that question.”

CCSF special trustee Agrella said Tuesday that he hopes the 85,000-student school will be able to show enough progress that the commission could extend its accreditation deadline past its current date of July 31, 2014.

“I wouldn’t have taken this on if I didn’t truly think we would maintain our accreditation,” he said.

Agrella, who spoke to reporters at a panel convened in San Francisco by the group New America Media, said City College is continuing to address the commission’s recommendations during the review process. If the decision to revoke accreditation is upheld, the school plans to appeal.

Agrella said changes being made include redefining the roles of department chairs and deans and making sure the school maintains financial stability by placing at least 5 percent of its general fund in reserves.

“We want to put the pedal to the metal and work as hard as we possibly can,” he said.

The appointment of a special trustee temporarily removed any power from City College’s board of trustees, and Agrella said he does “not see a board coming back into the institution for some time to come,” with him or another special trustee likely overseeing the school for “several years.”

Agrella said City College also has to add details to a report outlining the school’s plans in the event that its accreditation is indeed revoked next year and the school has to close.

Among the options the school is looking at would be to lease space in its buildings to neighboring institutions to allow City College students to transfer there without having to commute to other destinations around the Bay Area, he said.

“It’s simply not possible to say every student at City College can just get in a car and go to another institution,” he said.

On Tuesday, 26 CCSF students and advocates were arrested after attempting to meet with Mayor Ed Lee over the accreditation issue.

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