One Problem Leads to Another?

City College of San Francisco for years has been facing an accreditation crisis linked to its finances, and the accreditation woes may have contributed to a new fiscal management problem.

January 14, 2016

Once again City College of San Francisco is facing scrutiny over how it handles finances.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that two administrators who were hired to handle the college's accreditation crisis could not explain thousands of dollars spent on restaurants and cross-country travel. City College's accreditation crisis began in 2012 over compliance and financial problems the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges identified.

According to the college's faculty union leadership, the accreditor's involvement has made the financial situation at the college worse. But the ACCJC said the college's problems predate the commission's sanctions. City College's chancellor, meanwhile, defended the college's current financial controls and said they are improving.

The faculty union has been in an ongoing fight with ACCJC and believes the commission encouraged more administrative spending instead of allocating dollars to programs and faculty.

"It's actually the actions of the commission, by overstepping and making incredibly poor judgment about what they've done to our college, that led to a series of cascading events that led to an environment where a guy comes in and there's no one there to oversee what's going on," said Tim Killikelly said, president of the faculty union and a professor of political science.

Former Chancellor Art Tyler was brought in to manage the college by the state after ACCJC found compliance and financial problems and then, in 2013, moved to revoke CCSF's accreditation. The college managed to avoid losing its accreditation after a judge blocked the commission's decision. Tyler was reassigned from the chancellor's position to run the college's facilities department last summer. He announced his resignation to college officials days before the news report was published about the lack of documentation surrounding his travel.

The news of the administrative spending on travel comes at a time when the college is undergoing budget cuts. As one of the largest community colleges in the country, CCSF in 2012 boasted an enrollment of about 90,000 students. But in the midst of a growing economy and the issues surrounding the school's accreditation and finances, enrollment has decreased to about 79,000 students.

As a result, the administration has begun to reduce programs and faculty positions by 26 percent over the next six years, Killikelly said, which has led to faculty protests in the past few months.

"The assumption behind those cuts are that the college will not grow at all from what it is now and those assumptions really make no sense," he said, adding that the decision to make cuts has been attributed to a continuing accreditation crisis and a booming San Francisco economy.

The relationship between the faculty and the administration has deteriorated, especially as they proceed with negotiations.

"Right now negotiations have been going very poorly and we have been preparing, if we need to, to go on strike, but we don't want to go on strike," Killikelly said. "We've never had a faculty strike and we would hope to avoid that, but the situation is really bad."

Next year City College and its operations will be back under review by ACCJC. Despite the court battles and issues the commission currently has with the U.S. Department of Education and the California community college system, CCSF remains accredited by ACCJC under so-called restoration status. The state system's Board of Governors has requested a plan of action for replacing ACCJC as the accrediting agency of the state's 113 community colleges.

Whatever plan the state's chancellor recommends for replacing ACCJC, it will take a number of years for that action to take place and be approved, said Ralph Wolff, who formerly served as president of the WASC Senior College and University Commission and is an expert on accreditation.

"There's no short-term solution other than CCSF getting its act together and getting accredited by ACCJC, and it appears the commission is hanging tough and not changing its position," he said.

City College, for its part, says they're improving the institution's finances and controls.

"Regardless of whether the accreditation body overseeing City College disappears or stays, the fiscal and operational control issues they raised are legitimate and must be addressed," said CCSF Chancellor Susan Lamb in an email. "We are in the midst of tackling these challenges while trying to maintain the highest standards of education for our students. It's a daunting responsibility that we are committed to completing so that the college can celebrate another 80 years of serving San Francisco."

But Lamb also said the expenditures brought to light last month were legal, related to the college's operations and were subject to review and approval.

"Contrary to the San Francisco Chronicle's recent coverage, City College of San Francisco and its current administration are committed to sound fiscal policies that will allow the college to stay open and serve this community for years to come. The most recent article focuses on a few expenditures out of thousands of such expenditures each year. The article reminds us of the need to better document the purposes of travel and related expenditures so that answers are readily available when these expenditures are questioned," she said.

ACCJC President Barbara Beno said she doesn't believe the commission's decision in 2013 led to the college's current problems.

"The 2012 evaluation team identified fiscal trends and conditions that were already causing difficulties for the City College. CCSF's financial problems preceded the commission action," she said in an email.

Those problems included deficient students services, outdated instruction guides, antiquated computer systems and a lack of fiscal controls, Beno said.

The commission will re-evaluate CCSF's accreditation this fall.


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