CFT files amended lawsuit against Accrediting Commission

Broader in scope than the S.F. City Attorney's

San Francisco, May 19, 2016—Today the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) filed an amended complaint with Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC). The complaint, delayed for more than two years by ACCJC legal maneuvers, alleges a broad array of violations of federal laws and regulations, as well as California common law fair procedure, by the Commission. The plaintiffs, in addition to CFT, include several local community college faculty unions, a number of individual faculty members and a student.

Find the complaint here.

Two years ago Judge Karnow, responding to a suit filed by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, found the ACCJC had violated four laws in its attempt to disaccredit City College of San Francisco. In the intervening time the agency has also been under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Education, the state Joint Legislative Audit Committee, a task force formed by the State Chancellor of Community Colleges, and the California Community College Board of Governors. None of these studies and actions have turned out favorably for the ACCJC, but none have prevented the agency from continuing to violate fair and lawful accreditation policies.

The chief difference between the San Francisco City Attorney's suit and the CFT's—originally filed at the same time—is the wider breadth of the CFT complaint. Judge Karnow's decision reflected the San Francisco violations, but did not examine many other problems the ACCJC has created for college districts across the state.

Said CFT president Joshua Pechthalt, "Despite the wide and growing consensus that the ACCJC no longer meets the needs of California's community colleges, the agency continues to inflict damage on the ability of students to pursue accessible and affordable higher education, and on the ability of faculty and staff to deliver quality education. The ACCJC also harms taxpayers, whose money is wasted by the ACCJC's unfair and illegal practices. It is past time for the ACCJC to be replaced by a responsible accreditor, and it is the intent of this lawsuit to spell out the reasons why."

The plaintiffs allege that the ACCJC unlawfully and unfairly impinges on collective bargaining negotiations authorized by state law by demanding that colleges disregard their duty to negotiate over subjects such as wage increases and faculty working conditions. The amended lawsuit also asserts that ACCJC disregards due process rights of colleges, which are governed by California’s common law fair procedure doctrine. As a result, colleges are denied an opportunity to appeal sanctions and denied written findings of fact on decisions made by the ACCJC. The suit also alleges that because ACCJC has been delegated the job of accrediting California’s community colleges, it must comply with a California open meeting law, the Bagley-Keene Act, which requires transparency, including open hearings by private organizations delegated certain state functions.

Shannon Lienhart, president of the Palomar Faculty Federation and a plaintiff in the suit, said, "The ACCJC has no place in the collective bargaining of my college, and no legal standing to pressure the district over how much of a raise to offer faculty. Nonetheless, the district administration told us that it could not offer more than a 0.85% raise because, according to the ACCJC, to do so would jeopardize our accreditation status."

"While the problems created by ACCJC in San Francisco might have been the worst, and are still reverberating in our student enrollment problems and college administration unfair labor practices, we are just the tip of the iceberg," said Tim Killikelly, president of AFT 2121, the faculty union at City College of San Francisco. "This suit aims to insure that all colleges in the state are protected going forward from what happened to us."

Jim Mahler, president of the CFT's Community College Council, commented, "We are pursuing this law suit due to the continuing unrepentant attitudes and actions of this agency. It is noteworthy that the statewide association of Community College Presidents/Superintendents/Chancellors is seeking to reform the ACCJC and seek a new accreditor for our Community Colleges. But in the meantime damage continues to be done. We hope this suit helps accelerate our progress toward fair accreditation."

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The California Federation of Teachers represents more than 25,000 faculty in California's community college system, and 120,000 employees at all levels of education in the state.

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