• July 28, 2014

City College of San Francisco Is Told It Will Lose Accreditation in 2014

A Faculty Refuge Becomes an Accreditor's Target 2

Ramin Rahimian for The Chronicle

Alisa Messer, president of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, spoke at a demonstration outside a City College of San Francisco trustees' meeting in February. The union opposes a plan for new pay cuts.

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges announced on Wednesday that it intended to formally strip the huge City College of San Francisco of accreditation next summer, prompting vows from the college and its faculty union to fight the decision as the college remains open and the state's community-college system moves to assert power over its affairs.

The regional accreditor's announcement followed a year in which the community college scrambled to stave off such a decision, and occurred as faculty-union officials are challenging the accreditor's actions in a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education.

Brice W. Harris, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, responded to Wednesday's decision by announcing plans to put the multisite college under state control, essentially relegating the college's own Board of Trustees to the sidelines until the crisis is over.

"As chancellor of the largest system of higher education in the nation, I cannot sit by and allow this institution, which serves 85,000 students, to close," he said in a written statement.

Having consulted with the city's mayor, Edwin M. Lee, Mr. Harris said, "I have determined that the best course of action to try to rescue City College is to appoint a special trustee with extraordinary powers to help right the institution and position it for long-term success."

The California Community Colleges' Board of Governors is expected to vote on the appointment of special trustee, as well as regulations to pave the way for such intervention, at its meeting next week.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Harris said the college had "worked hard" to remedy problems cited by the accrediting commission but "does not have the luxury of time" given the commission's plans to terminate its accreditation at the end of July 2014. Mayor Lee called state intervention "absolutely necessary," arguing that operating the college under its current governance structure "is not going to do it."

Mr. Harris said the state was working with surrounding community colleges to ensure that students at the City College of San Francisco can easily transfer to them without losing credits if that institution cannot be saved.

'Shocking News'

Thelma Scott-Skillman, interim chancellor of the college, said that it had made "a tremendous amount of progress" in meeting the commission's demands but that progress was "still far short of what needed to occur." She nonetheless offered assurances that the institution remained accredited for at least the coming year and would be enrolling students in the fall.

At a separate news conference, Josh Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said his union was considering a legal challenge to the commission's decision, on top of its existing complaint to the Education Department.

Alisa Messer, president of American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, which represents faculty members at the college, announced plans for a protest march next Tuesday in downtown San Francisco, and expressed fear that the commission's latest decision would hasten an enrollment decline she blamed on uncertainty over the institution's future.

She called the commission's decision "shocking news" and argued that the college never should have been punished at all, especially considering that none of its educational offerings had been found deficient.

In a statement announcing its decision, the commission, which accredits community colleges for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, said its members had voted to terminate the college's accreditation following "careful deliberation" at its semiannual meeting, on June 6.

The statement said the commission had determined that the college "has fully addressed just two of the 14 recommendations for change and corrected few of the deficiencies identified" by the commission last year in placing the college on "show cause" status, which constitutes a warning of institutional closure if the problems cited are not remedied.

In voting to close the college, the statement said, commission members had "cited the lack of financial accountability as well as institutional deficiencies in the area of leadership and governance as the main obstacles to the college's turnaround."

In addition, the statement said, the commission had determined that the City College of San Francisco remains "significantly out of compliance with many accreditation standards, including standards for instructional programs, student support services, library and learning support services, and facilities."

'Regrettable' and 'Necessary'

Sherrill Amador, the commission's chair, was quoted in its statement as saying, "While many college personnel have worked hard to correct deficiencies, CCSF would need more time and more cohesive institutional-wide effort to fully comply with accreditation requirements." She said the commission was committed to working with the college, the community-college system, and others to make whatever transitions were now necessary at the institution.

The commission's statement noted that the process now enters a 12-month period of review and appeal. The planned July 31, 2014, termination date for the City College of San Francisco's accreditation "allows the college 12 months to cease its accredited operations and take steps to ensure students can complete their certificates and degrees," the statement said.

The American Council on Education issued a statement in which its president, Molly Corbett Broad, called the accrediting commission's decision "regrettable—and absolutely necessary." She said, "An institution that does not meet accreditation standards cheats its students and its community," and added, "It is apparent that dramatic change is needed at the City College of San Francisco" so it can better serve its students.

A much different assessment was offered by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who said in a written statement that the commission's decision "shows that the accreditation system has lost its way." She said, "Massive, for-profit institutions that have irreparably harmed so many students have been given credibility by this system, while the City College of San Francisco, which has served so many, is on the verge of being unnecessarily decimated and devastated."

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