Dennis Herrera at a City Hall press conference

Citing ACCJC’s ‘significant unlawful practices,’ court gives City College new accreditation option

Tough, enforceable proposed injunction to protect City College’s due process rights in reconsideration ‘directly accounts’ for accreditors’ unlawful conduct, judge holds

Dennis Herrera at a City Hall press conferenceSAN FRANCISCO (Jan. 16, 2015) — A San Francisco Superior Court judge has found that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges engaged in “significant unlawful practices” in reaching its controversial 2013 decision to terminate City College of San Francisco’s accreditation, according to a tentative ruling issued this morning. If finalized as expected, a significant feature of Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow’s 72-page proposed decision would offer the college of some 80,000 students a new option to pursue to secure its accreditation and finally put threats of closure to rest. Herrera at the Jan. 16, 2015 news conference on the trial court ruling in People v. ACCJCKarnow’s proposed injunction would require a full, fair reconsideration of City College by the Novato, Calif.-based accrediting panel, assuring due process rights that Karnow found accreditors denied the college in 2013. Karnow’s injunction would require accreditors to rectify multiple deficiencies in their 2013 evaluation by engaging in a thorough reconsideration process, while prohibiting ACCJC from taking any action to finalize a termination decision until the process is complete. Karnow directed City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office to take the lead in drafting a detailed injunction that reflects the terms outlined by Karnow. ACCJC will be entitled to make objections to the injunction, but Karnow himself would make all final decisions on the court order. The contemplated injunction would allow City College to opt into a reconsideration process issued by the court, or opt out of the process by continuing with the “restoration process” accreditors created and approved for City College for yesterday.

“I’m grateful for a tentative ruling that vindicates our view of the accrediting commission’s unlawful conduct in evaluating City College,” said Herrera. “This should serve as a loud, unequivocal wake-up call to accreditors — that they are subject to laws, and will face consequences for breaking them. Though Judge Karnow didn’t go as far as we asked in terms of his proposed remedy, I am impressed with his thoughtful proposal for a tough, enforceable injunction that forces ACCJC to correct its violations and assures City College its due process rights. City College has been a cornerstone of educational promise for generations of San Franciscans, and Judge Karnow has proposed a thorough, novel and influential ruling that powerfully affirms the importance of a fair and lawful accreditation process — not just for City College of San Francisco, but for all educational institutions in California. While I’m grateful for this proposed ruling, I’d reiterate a point I made when I first filed suit: nothing about our case should distract or delay City College from doing all it can to solve problems that potentially threaten its existence. Should this decision stand, as we expect, it will offer City College another option for a life-saving reprieve. We will have affirmed the college’s right to a fair and lawful accreditation process. But City College’s future is in City College’s hands. And we must be vigilant to ensure that our cherished college isn’t vulnerable to similar injustices in the future.”

The ACCJC took its first public step to terminate City College’s accreditation in June 2012, when the private commission unexpectedly issued the harshest sanction an accreditation process can produce: a “show cause” letter, placing the burden on the college to prove why its accreditation should not be terminated. A year later, in June 2013, despite significant progress to address the deficiencies identified by accreditors, the commission announced its intention to terminate City College’s accreditation effective July 31, 2014. Such a termination would have made City College’s closure a virtual certainty. Herrera filed his civil action against the ACCJC in San Francisco Superior Court on Aug. 22, 2013. Three months later, Herrera moved for a preliminary injunction to block the ACCJC from terminating City College’s accreditation, citing a series of procedural delays that Herrera said evidenced accreditors’ legal strategy “to run out the clock.” Judge Karnow granted the major portion of Herrera’s motion on Jan. 2, 2014, preliminarily enjoining the commission from finalizing its planned termination of City College’s accreditation during the course of the litigation. That injunction remains in place. The case is: People of the State of California ex rel. Dennis Herrera v. Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges et al., San Francisco Superior Court No. 13-533693, filed Aug. 22, 2013. Additional information on the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office is available at: Related Documents

PDF icon PDF of the People v. ACCJC Trial Court Tentative Ruling Presskit (January 16, 2015)