Legal victory and congressional forum fuel fight to save City College

Photo by Mike Koozmin/SF Examiner, Illustration by SFBG

The fight against closure of City College reached a new milestone yesterday when a federal judge struck down a motion that might have placed a lawsuit challenging the closure on shaky legal ground. 

In August the San Francisco City Attorney’s office sued the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, the agency that is seeking City College’s closure, in a bid to keep the institution’s doors open. The commission evaluates community colleges in the western region, and last July promised to revoke City College’s accreditation in a year.

The allegations in the lawsuit are simple: The ACCJC moved to close City College for political reasons. City College stood up for vulnerable students being priced out of education and the ACCJC maintained an austerity regime, tainting its verdict to close the school.

Last month the ACCJC filed a motion to have that lawsuit heard in federal court, a move that could have put any ruling on shaky legal ground, the City Attorney’s office told the Guardian. But as of yesterday, Nov/5, that hurdle has been cleared. 

If their fight for survival is like chess, the accrediting commission just lost a bishop.

It’s no checkmate, but it’s an important step on the way to saving City College. 

ACCJC President Barbara Beno was traveling and unavailable for comment, a spokesperson for the commission told the Guardian. 

Deputy City Attorney Sara Eisenberg explained why it was important for the suit to be heard on the state level.

“If we won [in federal court], any time down the road someone could say, there’s no jurisdiction [in federal court] and toss out our win,” she told the Guardian. 

So a suit in federal court would be more vulnerable to dismissal, a possible reason for why ACCJC pushed to have it heard there, Eisenberg explained. Both the City Attorney and the ACCJC were slated to defend their positions on Fri/8.

The judge made a decision earlier than anticipated. The ACCJC wanted the case to be heard in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.  It will now be heard in the Sn Francisco Superior Court (the state court where we originally filed it). The case may even pick up a little speed as a result, Eisenberg said. With a deadline of July 2014 to save City College, every day counts.

Meanwhile, ACCJC is facing more scrutiny from elected officials. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, whose district covers the southern end of San Francisco (including City College’s main campus) is holding a forum tomorrow to address the question, “Is the accrediting process for California’s community colleges fair and accountable?”

Speier isn’t alone. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and State Senator Jim Beall will be on hand to shine a light on the ACCJC’s practices. Beall is a notable attendee because he called for a state level inquiry into the ACCJC, which we covered previously (Changing the Narrative, Aug. 27). 

Notably silent are Mayor Ed Lee and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Lee has so far backed the notion that City College should keep quiet about its accreditation woes and conform to the commission’s demands, following the lead of the state community college chancellor. 

And though you’d think City College is too local of an issue for Pelosi to care about, she managed to find the time to be City College’s graduation commencement speaker two years ago -- so shouldn’t she find the time to defend it from closing? 

Their silence aside, there is now a state-level audit, two lawsuits, and a cohort of state legislators and congresspeople all scrutinizing the accrediting commission that’s looking to close City College.

Look out for our live Twitter coverage of the forum tomorrow, and for coverage of it in our print edition next week.