SFGate. November 7, 2013. Two Peninsula representatives Thursday became the first members of Congress to weigh in on the crisis facing City College of San Francisco, whose accreditation is to be revoked next summer.
"This institution cannot be shut down," Rep.Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, declared as she and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, joined hundreds of faculty, students and politicians who packed an auditorium on the Phelan Avenue campus to say the accrediting commission must be stopped.
They expressed support for a lawsuit filed Thursday against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges - the third since August - seeking to invalidate its ruling on City College.
The suit is from the "Save City College Coalition" of students and employees. The earlier suits - from the city of San Francisco and the California Federation of Teachers - are also seeking to invalidate the ruling.
"We hope that one of the three lawsuits would stop this bad dream - this nightmare that would have City College close," Speier told the crowd.
She and Eshoo criticized the commission for what they said was its record of sanctioning colleges at a far higher rate than similar commissions around the country.
They also cited an Aug. 13 reprimand by the U.S. Department of Education, which oversees the commission. It identified problems ranging from too few teachers on the commission's evaluation team for City College, to the appearance of a conflict of interest when it appointed the husband of its president, Barbara Beno, to the evaluation team.
The accrediting commission is a private, nonprofit agency that must follow federal guidelines in its role as the arbiter of quality for California's 112 community colleges.
"Reports of bad record-keeping and conflicts of interest - these have fueled my concerns," Eshoo said. "I want to hear how the system can be made better."
Beno was not at the forum, but responded by e-mail when contacted by The Chronicle.
"Attacks against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College and its work to ensure quality education are disheartening to the evaluation teams who volunteer their time for peer reviews each year," she said. "The Commission is confident that all City College of San Francisco supporters share the belief that the students and residents of San Francisco deserve an institution that meets standards of quality met by 111 other public community colleges in California."
The commission placed City College in the most severe sanction, "show cause," in July 2012, citing an array of problems in governance and finance. A year later, the commission said the college had failed to fix all of its problems and would lose its accreditation in July 2014. Without it, the college would close.
Speier said she had invited Beno to participate in Thursday's event, billed as a forum for understanding how college accreditation works in the state.
"Dr. Beno declined our request to participate," she told the booing audience. "Her lack of responsiveness is emblematic of the problem."
Among the 11 people on stage were state senators Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, andJim Beall, D-San Jose, who promised to pursue legislation to overturn a law designating the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges as the only agency able to accredit California colleges.
In August, Beall and Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber (Tehama County), persuaded a state audit committee to investigate the college accrediting system in the state.
"We need a fair and, most importantly, a transparent system," Beall said Thursday.
Chancellor speaks out
Also on stage was Ron Galatolo, chancellor of the San Mateo Community College District, the state's only college district leader to speak out against the accrediting commission, though he said many others have told him they wish they could.
"Some would say I probably should have my head examined, since I'm going through (accrediting) review right now," Galatolo said. "But this is the right thing to do."
He made the audience laugh and applaud by mocking the commission's reasons for yanking City College's accreditation.
"They say City College should be closed forever because they did not develop - and this is a quote - 'a strategy for fully implementing the existing planning process' " he said to hoots from the crowd.
In the audience, art student Rose Byers, 20, said she had come to the forum to learn more about the accreditation crisis. She's dismayed because students are no longer able to take classes more than once.
"A lot of people want to take the classes over to improve their skills," she said. "That's what I do."