CCSF wins long, hard bat­tle to stay open

‘Night­mare is over’ — col­lege fully ac­cred­ited

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Nanette Asi­mov

SACRA­MENTO — City Col­lege of San Fran­cisco will stay in busi­ness and its five-year fight to re­main ac­cred­ited is over, col­lege of­fi­cials learned Fri­day.

The pri­vate com­mis­sion that threat­ened to re­voke the school’s ac­cred­i­ta­tion — stun­ning the col­lege by declar­ing it so poorly run that it should be shut down — de­lighted ad­min­is­tra­tors Fri­day with news that it had voted to ex­tend the school’s all-im­por­tant seal of ap­proval for a full term of seven years.

“I feel great. City Col­lege’s ac­cred­i­ta­tion night­mare is over,” said Rafael Man­del­man, pres­i­dent of the col­lege’s Board of Trustees.

City Col­lege Chan­cel­lor Su­san Lamb an­nounced the com­mis­sion’s de­ci­sion to stu­dents and em­ploy­ees in a tri­umphant email that capped an ex­haust­ing, years-long pe­riod of nail­bit­ing in which the threat of clo­sure cost the pub­lic mil­lions of dol­lars in le­gal fees and state sub­si­dies, led the city into court to de­fend its

name­sake col­lege, and sent hun­dreds of fac­ulty mem­bers and stu­dents to demon­strate in de­fense of their beloved school.

“This con­fir­ma­tion is a ma­jor ac­com­plish­ment. It is a tes­ta­ment to the ded­i­ca­tion and hard work of the en­tire City Col­lege com­mu­nity who came to­gether to meet — and even ex­ceed — the stan­dards of our ac­cred­i­tors. Con­grat­u­la­tions!” Lamb wrote.

Bouchra Sim­mons, the stu­dent mem­ber of the col­lege’s Board of Trustees, said: “I am be­yond ex­cited, happy, and re­lieved that City Col­lege is go­ing to stay open. City Col­lege is here to serve ev­ery­one that needs it. It’s a school of pos­si­bil­i­ties in life.”

Cal­i­for­nia Com­mu­nity Col­lege Chan­cel­lor Eloy Oakley called the an­nounce­ment “a new be­gin­ning for City Col­lege of San Fran­cisco and its stu­dents,” and said the col­lege has been strength­ened by “years of in­sti­tu­tional im­prove­ment.”

The 19 mem­bers of the Ac­cred­it­ing Com­mis­sion for Com­mu­nity and Ju­nior Col­leges made the de­ci­sion be­hind closed doors dur­ing their semi­an­nual, three-day meet­ing at a cap­i­tal ho­tel this week, as they also con­sid­ered ac­cred­i­ta­tion ques­tions for 33 other col­leges from the re­gion it cov­ers: Cal­i­for­nia, Hawaii and the Pa­cific Is­lands.

Man­del­man said he was highly en­cour­aged about City Col­lege’s prospects af­ter he and Lamb made their case to the com­mis­sion on Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

Re­ly­ing on an ex­ten­sive self-eval­u­a­tion re­port, Lamb and Man­del­man hoped to show that City Col­lege has sat­is­fied all 14 ac­cred­it­ing stan­dards and nu­mer­ous sub­stan­dards in full — con­cern­ing fis­cal man­age­ment, cam­pus de­ci­sion-mak­ing, tech­nol­ogy, li­brary ser­vices and more. Fail­ure would mean the com­mis­sion could re­voke the school’s ac­cred­i­ta­tion and pro­hibit any ap­peal.

In 2012, City Col­lege — con­sid­ered one of the largest col­leges in the coun­try with a re­ported 90,000 stu­dents — re­ceived the most se­vere sanc­tion, “show cause,” re­quir­ing it to show why it should re­main ac­cred­ited and not be shut down. Only one Cal­i­for­nia com­mu­nity col­lege has had its ac­cred­i­ta­tion re­voked: Comp­ton Col­lege, near Los Angeles, which closed in 2005.

Over the years, the com­mis­sion had ar­gued that City Col­lege’s gov­er­nance and fis­cal man­age­ment prob­lems were so se­vere that it had no choice but to vote to re­voke ac­cred­i­ta­tion. Fi­nan­cial plan­ning was in dis­ar­ray and of­fi­cials were un­able to make ac­cu­rate fi­nan­cial pro­jec­tions, in­de­pen­dent au­dits found. Nor could the col­lege rec­on­cile its rev­enue and spend­ing with the num­ber of stu­dents en­rolled and their aca­demic needs, among other prob­lems.

But the promised re­vo­ca­tion of the col­lege’s ac­cred­i­ta­tion was re­peat­edly held at bay. A le­gal chal­lenge from San Fran­cisco City At­tor­ney Den­nis Her­rera bought the school more time in 2014. Then, a 2015 deal with the col­lege gave it two more years — un­til now — to fully com­ply with all ac­cred­it­ing stan­dards.

On Thurs­day, col­lege of­fi­cials per­suaded the com­mis­sion that City Col­lege is now able to ac­cu­rately fore­cast and mon­i­tor its bud­gets, a ba­sic yet crit­i­cal task for run­ning a col­lege.

To­day, their re­port prom­ises, City Col­lege “an­nu­ally up­dates its multi-year fi­nan­cial pro­jec­tions” as re­quired, has re­built its fi­nan­cial re­serves and has “placed a high pri­or­ity” on fund­ing long-term obli­ga­tions like re­tiree health costs.

The fa­mously se­cre­tive and by-the-books com­mis­sion had in­di­cated through a spokes­woman ear­lier this week that it would sit on its ver­dict for up to 30 days and dis­close it only when it an­nounced ac­cred­it­ing de­ci­sions for the other 33 schools. But the fact that it re­vealed the news right away in­di­cates that the once hard-nosed com­mis­sion also has been trans­formed by its bat­tle with City Col­lege.

State col­lege of­fi­cials ini­tially sup­ported the com­mis­sion’s crack­down on City Col­lege. But as the com­mis­sion re­vealed that its in­ten­tion was less about help­ing the col­lege im­prove and more about shut­ting it down, state of­fi­cials be­gan to share the alarm shown all along by col­lege fac­ulty. Soon the com­mis­sion was the sub­ject of two law­suits, a state au­dit and a rep­ri­mand from the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, which over­sees it.

To­day, only five of the orig­i­nal 19 com­mis­sion­ers who sought to re­voke the col­lege’s ac­cred­i­ta­tion re­main on the panel. Also gone is the in­flu­en­tial pres­i­dent of the agency, Bar­bara Beno, who strongly sup­ported re­vok­ing the school’s ac­cred­i­ta­tion. She was placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave in De­cem­ber for undis­closed rea­sons.

Fac­ulty, who for five years bat­tled Beno and the com­mis­sion in court and on the streets, are ec­static at the news.

“All of us at the col­lege are so ex­cited and re­lieved that the ac­cred­i­ta­tion cri­sis is over,” said Tim Kil­likelly, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers Lo­cal 2121, which rep­re­sents fac­ulty.

In a ref­er­ence to the en­roll­ment de­cline of nearly 30,000 full- and part-time stu­dents since the cri­sis be­gan — a cri­sis in it­self that is cost­ing the col­lege mil­lions of dol­lars in state fund­ing — Kil­likelly said: “Sign up and take a class!”

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