Accreditation should be more transparent 

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As City College of San Francisco fights to regain its accreditation, two things must occur. Chiefly, the school needs to get its house in order. But at the same time, the public deserves a much better accounting of how exactly CCSF got into such precarious shape.

In order for the first of these essential tasks to occur, the second one is becoming increasingly important.

Like nearly all West Coast community colleges, CCSF is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, a private agency granted powers by the U.S. Department of Education. In a 2012 review of CCSF, the commission issued its strongest possible sanction, subsequently removing the school's accreditation as of next July unless it can win it back.

Yet in the month since that occurred, serious accusations have been leveled against the commission itself, suggesting that it didn't follow proper procedures leading up to its removal of CCSF's accreditation. Although the commission denies the allegations, there is definitely something amiss with the agency, and no less than the Department of Education says it is failing to follow several key guidelines.

Part of the problem is that the commission is a private, nonprofit organization that insists upon operating in secrecy. For instance, the commission insists that even City College's recent efforts to request a review of its death sentence must remain private. In fact, CCSF Special Trustee Robert Agrella said the commission insists that the entire appeals process will be closed.

Such nonpublic decision-making related to a public institution goes against the democratic foundations of our system of government.

Deliberations about the fate of public agencies should be public, except when grappling with issues related to national security or the privacy of people or businesses. Even when the public is denied such information, the denying institution must explain why. Alas, not so in the case of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

The notion that a private entity could so control the fate of a public institution was rightly raised by City Attorney Dennis Herrera in one of his two recent challenges related to the CCSF affair.

Herrera sued the commission, arguing that CCSF's loss of accreditation was inappropriately related to a political fight regarding the future of community colleges.

He also filed an administrative challenge against the board of governors of the California Community Colleges system, accusing the institution of abdicating its duties to a private entity with little oversight and no public input. It's certainly hard to argue with the latter point.

Some have argued that attacking the accreditation commission, or even fighting about the process, is inappropriate at a time when City College is fighting to remain open. But without a thorough public vetting of the appeals process, it could be hard to know if the appeal is being handled in a fair manner.

City College clearly needs to be reformed. But a much more open process would make it more likely that it receives a fair chance to remain open.

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