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Supporters of City College of San Francisco have won a temporary reprieve in their quest to prevent the college from losing its accreditation in July.
A San Francisco Superior Court judge on Thursday granted a partial injunction to block the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) from yanking the college’s accreditation until after a lawsuit filed by the city attorney, Dennis Herrera, can be resolved.
Herrera last August filed a legal challenge to the accreditor, claiming that political bias, improper procedures and conflicts of interest improperly influenced its scrutiny of the financially mismanaged college. Faculty unions also filed a separate lawsuit to halt and reverse the accreditor’s actions.
Those lawsuits included motions for injunctions, which can offer legal relief in advance of a trial. An injunction requires the plaintiff to prove that serious harm will occur before the lawsuit is decided.
The commission has called the lawsuits "meritless." Its office was closed Thursday, and officials could not be reached for comment.
The judge, Curtis E.A. Karnow, rejected the unions’ motions. But he bought the city attorney’s argument, at least in part. He ruled that Herrera has a chance of winning in court, which won’t conclude until after July.
“There is some possibility that the city attorney will ultimately prevail on the merits,” he wrote, “because there is some possibility that he will establish some commission practices have zero utility and so demonstrating their unfairness, or others are illegal.”
City College would be forced to shut down if it lost its accreditation. The college’s closure would be “catastrophic,” Karnow said, and would have an “incalculable” impact on its 80,000 students, faculty, staff and the city’s economy.
In his decision, the judge noted that the college’s enrollment has dipped 20 percent during the accreditation crisis.
“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,” wrote Karnow.
Herrera had also asked the court to block the commission from sanctioning any other colleges. The judge rejected that request.
The City College tussle has become heavily politicized, and is being watched closely in Washington. The court’s ruling this week is the latest of several dramatic and unusual developments in the accreditation saga.
For example, the U.S. Department of Education last year sent a harshly critical letter to the commission for its handling of the college’s review. Faculty and students subsequently called for the commission to lose its federal recognition. They were joined in those calls by two Bay Area members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
But last month a federal panel gave the accreditor a year to come into compliance with the Education Department’s standards.
City College’s supporters were triumphant on Thursday, however.
“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 written statement. “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."