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San Francisco sues panel over City College accreditation

San Francisco seeks to prevent a private commission from revoking college's accreditation, a move that could cause it to lose state aid and close.

August 22, 2013|By Carla Rivera

San Francisco's city attorney Thursday filed two legal challenges to block a private panel from revoking the accreditation of City College of San Francisco.

City Atty. Dennis J. Herrera is suing the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, alleging that the panel is biased against the college and its advocates because of differing agendas.

The college encourages broad access to its educational and vocational programs rather than narrowly focusing on degree completion, while the accrediting panel has supported more restrictive policies, according to the lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court.

Herrera alleged that the commission held financial and political ties with several like-minded advocacy groups.

The commission's "multiple conflicts of interest, improper evaluation process and politically motivated decision-making constitute unfair and unlawful business practices," according to the lawsuit.

Herrera is seeking an injunction to bar the accrediting panel from enforcing its decision to terminate City College's accreditation.

"They violated a myriad of federal and state laws with respect to bias and conflict of interest because they acted as advocate and accreditor and used the accreditation process to squelch debate with respect to education reform in Sacramento," said Herrera. "This is an issue that goes beyond the city of San Francisco and impacts 112 community colleges and 72 college districts throughout the state of California."

Representatives of the accrediting group did not return calls seeking comment.

In a separate action, Herrera accused the community college's Board of Governors, which oversees the state's two-year schools, of ceding its authority to set standards to an accreditation agency that is not accountable to the public. The petition to the board asks that it amend its rules.

The community colleges chancellor's office said it is focused on improving City College operations and not politics.

"Regardless of one's views about the ACCJC, by its own admission City College did not meet the standards that all 112 community colleges in California have agreed to meet," spokesman Paul Feist said in a statement. "Other agencies...have identified serious fiscal and operational deficiencies as well as excessively high labor costs that pose a very real threat to the college's ability to serve its diverse community. Our office has said before — and we reiterate it today — that City College cannot become the battleground in the fight concerning accreditation without sustaining further damage to this important institution."

The accrediting agency decided in July to end City College's official recognition next year after finding that the two year-school had failed to improve its fiscal planning, administration and student support services, among other programs.

If the college, which serves more than 80,000 students annually, loses its accreditation, it also could lose state aid and could close.

Since then though, the accrediting commission has come under fire for its procedures.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education accused the agency of violating several federal regulations in its City College review.

In Sacramento on Wednesday, the Joint Committee on Legislative Audit voted to authorize a review of the panel.

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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