The private panel that moved last year to revoke the accreditation of City College of San Francisco has admitted in a court filing that all 15 members of its evaluation team recommended a less punitive sanction.
In the document, filed earlier this month in connection with a lawsuit against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, attorneys for the regional body confirmed that "fifteen members of the evaluation team recommended to the Commission that it impose probation … with a follow-up report and a visit in one year."
FOR THE RECORD
Aug. 23, 11:24 a.m.: A headline on an earlier version of this online article indicated that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges recommended probation, rather than revocation of accreditation, for City College of San Francisco. The recommendation came from the commission's evaluation team.
The panel, which wields enormous power over all community and junior colleges in California, has come under increasing scrutiny from educators, teachers unions and state and federal lawmakers who contend that it lacks transparency, operates with little oversight and relies too little on students' academic progress when meting out sanctions
Colleges that lose accreditation can no longer offer financial aid, which can ruin a school's reputation and even force it to shutter. City College of San Francisco has lost enrollment – and public dollars – since the commission placed the school on "show cause" status in 2012.
A step above probation, the sanction required the school to justify why it should remain accredited. The commission last year deemed the school's progress inadequate and moved to revoke, a decision it reiterated last month in response to an appeal.
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) has criticized the panel for "potential intimidation and overzealousness," and a state bill is pending that would require more "transparency, accountability and due process" in accreditation reviews.
The California Federation of Teachers and San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera, meanwhile, have separately filed suit against the commission alleging political bias and conflict of interest.
The document revealing the evaluators' recommendation was filed in connection with the latter case, scheduled for trial in San Francisco Superior Court in October.
In it, attorneys for the accrediting agency confirm as "undisputed" the fact that "nobody on the 2012 evaluation team suggested that the recommendation to the Commission should be to place City College on Show Cause status."
Also undisputed: "On or around June 6, 2012, the ACCJC Commissioners voted in a closed session to place City College on Show Cause."
A spokeswoman for the agency said Friday that she would review the document but provided no comment by early evening.
Critics responded with anger and vindication.
City College of San Francisco Trustee Rafael Mandelman called the revelation "completely outrageous and unforgivable." While the panel points to its evaluation teams "to justify the fairness of their process," he said, it now appears that they "don't even listen....This should remove any doubt that this is an irresponsible group of people who cannot be trusted to accredit our community colleges."
Earlier court documents that make reference to the evaluators' recommendations have been redacted, presumably at the request of agency attorneys.
A spokesman for the city attorney's office declined comment Friday.
California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt said the disclosure "validates what we've been asking for ... which is transparency in their decision-making."
Some administrators and educators who have previously served as accrediting evaluators had expressed concerns even before the City College action that their assessments had been disregarded, said faculty union political director Alisa Messer.
Still, she said, "it's shocking to finally have this admitted this way and in this context."
Though ACCJC last month deemed the college's progress inadequate to alter its decision, the panel seemingly has offered City College an out, adopting a new policy that would allow the school to apply to restore its accreditation and be given up to an additional two years to fix problems.
Vice Chancellor Paul Feist, spokesman for the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, said his office is confident of a turnaround. "We continue to believe that City College has made tremendous progress in a short amount of time and needs additional time to complete its recovery," he said.
As for the court filing, Feist said a document recently provided by City College to ACCJC contrasted evaluators' findings with the commission's recommendations.
"Based on the variance of the two sets of conclusions in many instances the disclosure in the court filing is not surprising," he said.