Three distinct players with three distinct strategies for saving City College of San Francisco showed their hands last week, all centered around the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, which plans to revoke City College's accreditation in less than a year.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against the ACCJC, state lawmakers are revving up to investigate it, and City College Super Trustee Bob Agrella is doing his best to quietly meet the accreditor's standards.
Whether any of the approaches will save the school is anyone's guess, but one thing's for sure: In the process of saving City College, its accreditation agency has gone from an unknown bureaucracy to a polarizing political punching bag.
HERRERA FILES SUIT
Herrera threw a right hook at the ACCJC on Aug. 22, announcing his lawsuit to stop them from closing City College. It offers a scathing critique of the accreditation agency and those whose agenda it is pushing.
The ACCJC said City College failed to meet certain standards by its deadline last July, leading the agency to order its closure in exactly one year. Since then, enrollment at the college of 85,000 students plummeted and the school is fighting for its very existence. Now Herrera is saying that closure action was improper, unwarranted, and out of line with the agency's prior actions.
Herrera's suit alleges the ACCJC unlawfully allowed its advocacy and political bias to prejudice its evaluation of college accreditation standards. "It is a matter of public record that the ACCJC has been an advocate to reshape the mission of California community colleges," Herrera said at a press conference.
The agenda he said it was advocating for is the completion agenda, which was the focus of our July 9 cover story, "Who Killed City College?" Essentially, it's the move to force community colleges to focus on only two-year transfer students at the expense of so-called "non-credit" classes, which can be lifelong learning skills or English as Second Language classes.
"There's a reason judges aren't advocates and advocates aren't judges," Herrera said. "We should have a problem when an entity charged with evaluation engages in political advocacy."
City College avoided those reform efforts from the state for years, and Herrera alleges that the ACCJC tried to sanction City College because of that resistance.
ACCJC President Barbara Beno was not available for comment. In a statement, the agency said it was surprised to learn Herrera filed a suit against the ACCJC, and that the suit appears to be "without merit" and an attempt to "politicize and interfere with the ongoing accreditation review process."
Herrera may be playing cowboy, guns aimed right at the ACCJC, but he also said he doesn't want the agency to close, just to clean up its act and be accountable. But on the other side of the OK Corral, an investigation by the California Legislature is under way — and it may be sizing up a coffin for the ACCJC.
JLAC VS. ACCJC
Just a day before Herrera announced his lawsuit, the California Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted to investigate the accrediting commission. The audit committee is a legislative fact-finding body usually staffed by former investigative journalists, and the senators who asked for the hearing were out for the ACCJC's blood.
"The stakes are high and the commission's power is absolute," Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, told the audit committee. He then outlined the danger of losing community colleges that faced closure at the hand of the ACCJC.