"No more of this bullshit, that we turn the other way and say it's fine. We're going to concentrate the money on the students," Griffin said at a December 2011 board meeting. "You guys are talking about cutting classes, we don't believe in that. Cut the other stuff first, cut it until it hurts, and then talk about cutting classes."
So he slashed his own salary and lost staff through attrition and other means. The college had more than 70 administrators before 2008, and it now has fewer than 40.
"Since the recession in 2009, we've been seen as the rebels," said Jeffrey Fang, a former student trustee on City College's board. "When most of the colleges went and made cuts in light of the recession, we decided to find ways to keep everything open while doing what we could to eliminate spending."
But those successes in saving classes put City College on a collision course with its accreditor.
LOSING THE WAR
Seven years ago, the ACCJC found six deficiencies that it asked City College to fix, finding it had too many campuses serving too many students, fiscal troubles, and hadn't enforced measurement standards. Last year, it faulted City College for resisting those changes and tacked on eight additional demands, threatening to revoke its accreditation.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official who worked closely with ACCJC as a member of one of the visiting accreditation teams told us there was pressure to crack down on all the Western colleges.
"The message they're hearing from (ACCJC President) Barbara Beno is that Washington is demanding, 'Why are you not being more strict with institutions with deficiencies that have lasted more than two years [and taking action] to revoke their accreditation?'" the source said.
This official said this may soon ripple to other accreditation agencies. "What's anomalous about California is we're getting to where everyone will be in a few years."
The ACCJC's next evaluation is this December, where it will be reviewed by the Department of Education. It wants to be ready, says Paul Fain, a reporter for Inside Higher Ed, a national trade publication.
"Washington writ large ... is pushing very hard on accreditors to drive a harder line," Fain told us. "There's a criticism out there that accreditation is weak and toothless."
The U.S. Department of Education declined to comment on the issue, saying only that it will formally respond to all officially filed complaints about ACCJC.
But the numbers speak volumes. As an ACCJC newsletter first described federal pressure back in 2006, seven community colleges in California were on probation or warning by the ACCJC. By 2012 that number leapt to 28.
But the California Federation of Teachers is fighting back, and recently filed a 280-page complaint about the ACCJC with the Department of Education.
The allegations were many: Business conflict of interest from a commission member, failure to adhere to its own policies and bylaws, and even the commission President Beno's husband having served on City College's visiting team, which the unions said is a clear conflict of interest.
Some people think it's a waste of time, that City College has already lost.
"That process of fighting accreditation won't succeed, it just forestalls the problem," said Bill McGinnis, a trustee on Butte College's board for over 20 years. He's also served on many ACCJC visiting teams.
But the unions are making some headway. The Department of Education wrote a letter to the ACCJC telling them to respond in full to the complaints by July 8, as this article goes to press. The accreditor will soon be the one evaluated.