San Francisco Chronicle Education Reporter
The commission threatening to revoke City College of San Francisco’s accreditation has granted the school two additional years to bring its finances and governing structure into compliance with the group’s standards, its chairman said Wednesday. The extension lifts the immediate prospect that the community college, the largest public school in the state, will be forced to shut down. But if City College fails to satisfy all standards by January 2017, the commission could still revoke its accreditation without the possibility of an appeal. On Wednesday, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges said City College remains out of compliance with standards in 32 areas, based on an evaluation it conducted in November. The commission has never found wrongdoing or substandard instruction, but has said the college should lose accreditation because of tangled governance structures, poor fiscal controls and insufficient self-evaluation and reporting. The commission did its November evaluation to determine whether City College could be expected to come into full compliance if given a two-year extension. Its original decision in July 2013 to revoke accreditation a year later was on hold pending a legal challenge. At a meeting in early January, the 19-member commission decided that the college should be given the chance to come into compliance by 2017, Steven Kinsella, chairman of the commission, said Wednesday.
‘Important step forward’
“This is an important step forward for CCSF,” Kinsella said. “Assuming a concerted and good-faith effort, (City College) has the ability to resolve these issues within the two-year period.” City College Chancellor Art Tyler called the news “an affirmation of the dramatic progress we have made.” “We had mountains to move and we moved them,” he said in a statement, adding that he is proud of the work employees have accomplished and that he is confident that City College will “continue to serve our thousands of students well into the future.” The timing of the announcement was unusual. The commission, which oversees 112 community colleges in California and elsewhere, typically waits several weeks to announce the results of its three-day meetings. In the case of City College, the commission may have been trying to influence the thinking of Judge Curtis Karnow of San Francisco Superior Court, who is expected to rule this month on a lawsuit that City Attorney Dennis Herrera brought against the accrediting group. Herrera sued in 2013, asking the court to toss out the commission’s decision to revoke City College’s accreditation on the grounds that evaluations it conducted in 2012 and 2013 were flawed. A trial was held without a jury in the fall, and Karnow is expected to rule any day. If the judge finds for the city, it could render the two-year extension moot because the entire commission accreditation process that led up to it would be deemed invalid. But until Wednesday, a finding by Karnow for the commission would have meant the judge was helping to shut down a city institution and short-circuit the education of 80,000 full- and part-time students. Now, even if he sides with the commission, City College will have more time to fix its problems. Herrera did not comment on the development. But Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement calling City College “critically important to our city’s social and economic future” and thanking the commission for the extension.
Applied for extension
Advocates for City College have never liked the prospect of a two-year extension because of its uncertainties, including the possibility that the school could still be forced to close. In June, the commission reluctantly created the extension option, called “restoration status,” after receiving pressure from politicians and others to give City College an alternative to closure. The college had to apply for the extension. But some faculty and politicians say the commission has been too harsh. “Today’s news is another reminder that we must reform the accreditation process so that California’s students can learn from their teachers in peace,” Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, said in a statement. Others focused on the relief provided by the commission’s announcement. “Today’s decision by the accrediting commission to grant City College of San Francisco an additional two years to finalize its recovery is welcome news,” Chancellor Brice Harris of the California community college system said in a statement. “Through hard work and focused commitment by the college community, City College has entered a phase of stability and sustained improvement that will serve students well for many years to come.” As part of City College’s effort to comply with standards, Harris suspended its elected board of trustees in 2013 and installed a special trustee to make decisions unilaterally. The trustees are to be phased back in over time, and must be fully in charge for the college to comply with accrediting standards.
E-mail: nasimov@ sfchronicle.com