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Judge gives City College of San Francisco a temporary reprieve -- cheers follow

City College of San Francisco is the largest community college in California.
City College of San Francisco is the largest community college in California.
Melanie Graysmith

Good news, though temporary, for the future of City College of San Francisco prevailed Thursday when the college won a temporary reprieve in its mission to avert losing its accreditation in July.

San Francisco Superior Court judge Curtis E.A. Karnow granted a partial injunction blocking the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) from pulling CCSF’s accreditation, at least until after a lawsuit filed by city attorney Dennis Herrera that challenges the accreditor can be resolved.

Herrera’s suit against the accreditor claims political bias, improper procedures and conflicts of interest that were core to improperly influencing the commission’s scrutiny of CCSF, which has been financially mismanaged for quite some time. Supporters of the college including faculty unions, students, and many city residents have definitely been vocal and active in rallying to the school’s defense. In fact, faculty unions filed a separate lawsuit to halt and undo the accreditor’s actions.

All of these lawsuits include motions for injunctions, which might offer legal relief before a trial, as an injunction requires the plaintiff to show proof that serious damage will occur before a lawsuit is decided. The accrediting commission has called all the lawsuits filed “meritless,” continuing its tough stand against the college.

While Judge Karnow rejected the faculty unions’ motions, he did partially accept city attorney Herrera’s argument. The judge ruled that Herrera has a chance of winning his lawsuit in court, which will not conclude until after July.

The judge wrote, “There is some possibility that the city attorney will ultimately prevail on the merits because there is some possibility that he will establish some commission practices have zero utility and so demonstrating their unfairness, or others are illegal.”

If CCSF lost its accreditation it would have to close. Judge Karnow cited that the college’s closure would be “catastrophic,” and would have an “incalculable” impact on the college’s 80,000 students, faculty, staff, and the city’s economy. He noted that CCSF enrollment has already dropped 20 percent during the accreditation crisis, which confirmed the immense harm the city attorney referred to in his lawsuit.

“Given the fact that the balance of harm tips sharply, strikingly, indeed overwhelmingly, in favor of the interests represented by the City Attorney, this is enough to authorize preliminary relief,” the judge wrote.

But Judge Karnow also rejected Herrera’s request for the court to block the accrediting commission from sanctioning other community colleges. In light of the hot water the accrediting commission has recently been in, and how highly politicized the CCSF wrangle has become, Herrera likely felt other colleges might not be evaluated fairly.

As an example of recent ACCJC's troubles, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to the accrediting commission last year severely criticizing it for the way it handled the CCSF review. Following that critique college faculty and students called for the commission to lose its federal recognition. Two members of the U.S House of Representatives, Reps. Jackie Spear and Anna Shoo, both Democrats, joined in on those sentiments. In spite of those efforts last month a federal panel gave the accrediting commission a year to come into compliance with the Education Department’s standards.

City College supporters cheered following this week’s courtroom victories. In a written statement Herrera showed appreciation. “I’m grateful to the court for acknowledging what accreditors have so far refused to: that the educational aspirations of tens of thousands of City College students matter.” Herrera continued, “Given the ACCJC’s dubious evaluation process, it makes no sense for us to race the clock to accommodate ACCJC’s equally dubious deadline to terminate City College’s accreditation.”

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