U.S. faults accreditation panel in City College of San Francisco ruling

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In a significant win for City College of San Francisco, the U.S. Department of Education issued a letter, Aug. 13, which could turn the tables on the accrediting agency - citing the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) for being out of compliance with a number of education codes.

The letter was a response to the 300-page complaint filed by American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 and California Federation of Teachers documenting the many irregularities in the review panel and the overall process which eventually led accrediting group to place City College on sanction and one year later to revoke its accreditation.

The ACCJC, which had been labeled a "rogue" accrediting agency by the California teachers union, was found to be lacking in these key areas:

1. The panel that was enjoined to report findings from City College was made up almost entirely of administrators, with only one instructor.

2. One of the panelists, Peter Crabtree, is the husband of the ACCJC's president Barbara Beno, resulting in a conflict of interest.

3. A lack of clarity in terminology from past accreditation reports on San Francisco's city college, which did not make clear that "recommendations" would be turned into violations that would threaten to close the school in the future if not rectified.

Education union leaders hailed these findings as a vindication of their claims of irregularities within the commission. Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers said, "Today the U.S. Department of Education found sufficient problems with the accreditation process that the decision to strip the college's accreditation should be set aside."

President of AFT 2121 Alisa Messer said, "It's a clear justification for reversing the decision."

The U.S. Department of Education has stated that it has no authority to reverse the commission's decision, although if these problems are not addressed the accrediting panel could lose its standing to accredit colleges in the future.

Community leaders in the fight to save CCSF say that this development does not mean a total victory for the future of the school, but these findings bolster the argument in favor of reversing the decision to close the school in the ongoing legal battles.

Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, concluded that the finding "confirms what we have known for some time, that the commission has operated as a rogue agency."

The ACCJC is not presently backing down from its decision, and will be issuing its own response to the Education Department's findings in December.

Recently the Commission has also come under fire for excessive secrecy and for shredding documents pertaining to its review process in advance of the review of its decision to yank CCSF's accreditation.

On Aug. 20, CCSF is due to submit its appeal request to the accrediting commission.

A student rally will also be held in support on Aug. 20, in conjunction with the Save CCSF coalition, at the San Francisco Civic Center.

Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW

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