S.F. college supporters hope new policy will extend accreditation

Supporters of San Francisco’s embattled community college are waiting to learn if a proposed policy change will keep the school from being stripped of accreditation next month.

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges approved an initial measure to change its policy on terminating accreditation at a public meeting Friday in Sacramento.

But the private panel did not provide details of the change or say whether it would relent in its intention to pull accreditation from the 80,000-student college as of July 31.

Instead, the proposed new policy will be publicly posted Wednesday and will be followed by a two-week comment period to allow member colleges to comment on the changes, said commission spokesman Dave Hyams.

The commission will then schedule a final vote, Hyams said.

The Novato-based accrediting panel, which oversees California’s 112 community colleges, moved last year to revoke the City College of San Francisco's accreditation, citing long-running financial and governance problems. But it has come under intense pressure from many educators and lawmakers to grant an extension and a new review of the institution.

During a presentation behind closed doors this week, systemwide Chancellor Brice Harris and City College Chancellor Arthur Q. Tyler, among others, told commission members that the college has addressed 95% of the deficiencies cited by the panel and argued for more time to meet all standards.

Harris has not been told whether the proposed policy change is in response to that presentation, said spokesman Paul Feist.

“We are eager to learn what the policy change does and whether it provides the time that the college has earned to complete its recovery,” Feist said.

About 200 faculty members, students, community leaders and others from around the state held a rally outside the hotel where the commission was holding it semiannual meeting to protest the panel’s actions and call for accreditation reform.

“What’s clear to everyone is that this is not just about City College of San Francisco, it’s a statewide issue and there is worry about who will be next,” said City College English instructor Alisa Messer, past president of the school’s faculty union.

Meanwhile, San Francisco lawmakers, including House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), have suggested that the panel’s current leadership may need to go.

Last week, both houses of the California Legislature passed resolutions appealing for an extension.

The panel has argued that it can't rescind its decision without flouting federal requirements that colleges be given no more than two years to comply with standards or lose accreditation.

But an opinion from the U.S. Department of Education obtained by Pelosi suggested that the commission could change its policies to grant a “good cause” extension.

If the accreditation is revoked, the college will lose state and federal funding and will have to close.

Whatever the policy change turns out to be, the July termination is on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by San Francisco's city attorney questioning the panel's political motives and procedures.

The trial is scheduled to start in October.