A private commission cannot revoke the accreditation of City College of San Francisco until a trial is held to determine if the action is lawful, a judge ruled Thursday.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges had moved to strip official certification from City College effective July 2014, citing a failure to improve serious financial and governance problems.
If the 80,000-student multi-campus institution loses accreditation, it could also lose state aid and could close.
San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera filed a civil suit in August, charging that the accrediting panel acted with unlawful conflict-of-interest and political bias because City College leaders expressed a philosophy over the mission of community colleges that differed from the commission's.
Herrera and a group representing teachers' unions and students filed preliminary injunctions in November, alleging that the commission was using stalling tactics and that a trial might be delayed until after the July revocation deadline, irreparably harming the college.
In granting a partial injunction, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow agreed with Herrera, writing that losing accreditation would be "catastrophic" for the school.
"Without accreditation, the college would almost certainly close and about 80,000 students would either lose their educational opportunities or hope to transfer elsewhere; and for many of them the transfer option is not realistic," Karnow said.
"The impact on teachers, faculty and the city would be incalculable, in both senses of the term," he said. "The impact cannot be calculated and it would be extreme."
But Karnow denied the city attorney's motion to block the commission from taking adverse action against other colleges in the state, as well as a motion by the faculty unions to rescind the commission's action against City College.
He also denied motions by the commission to dismiss the lawsuits. In his opinion, Karnow indicated that Herrera had shown "some possibility" that he would prevail at trial. A representative for the commission could not be reached for comment.
"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 said in a statement. "Judge Karnow reached a wise and thorough decision that vindicates our contention that accreditors engaged in unfair and unlawful conduct."
Even though their motion did not prevail, faculty representatives called Thursday's ruling a victory.
"This is a tremendous win for every community college student in the state," said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers.
"It sends a clear message that community colleges play a vital role in helping people educate themselves to achieve a better future, and that we must and will fight to protect this system…. Now, with a preliminary injunction granted to keep the college open as the case moves forward, students can rest assured that the quality education offered at CCSF will continue to count for credits, transfer and financial aid," he said.
The accrediting commission -- a private, nonprofit agency that is part of the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges -- has come under fire for some of its procedures, which are currently under review by the state auditor.
Federal officials, which grant the commission authority to evaluate colleges, cited the commission in August for violating regulations in its review of City College.
But the accrediting panel received good news recently when the