The Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges turns out to have some explaining of its own to do.
In response to a complaint filed by teachers, the agency that revoked the accreditation of City College of San Francisco has been warned by the U.S. Department of Education that it will lose its own accreditation in 12 months unless it reforms its operations.
It remains unclear what this means for CCSF's fate. School spokeswoman Jennifer Aries said college administrators are aware of the warning but remain focused on addressing the reforms that they need to implement to meet the commission's standards and retain accreditation.
But critics of the school's plight were hopeful Tuesday.
"We think this means the accrediting decisions particularly around CCSF are totally in question," said Alessa Messer, president of American Federation of Teachers Local 2121. "They need to rescind the ... accreditation decision and start over."
Rafael Mandelman, a member of CCSF's elected but currently powerless board of trustees, called it a step in the right direction.
"CCSF is on the path to fixing the real problems in administration and finance, but the extent that this casts doubt on the ACCJC it can be helpful and give us time to solve those problems," Mandelman said.
In an Aug. 13 letter, the Department of Education cited the commission's failure to meet its own standards regarding the time frame for making schools correct their deficiencies and the composition of its on-site evaluation teams.
The letter was in response to a 300-page complaint highlighting many of these issues that was filed in May by the American Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association.
The Department of Education chided the commission for documenting several deficiencies at CCSF in 2006 but failing to hold the school accountable for correcting them. The federal government requires an accrediting agency to ensure any institution comes into compliance within two years.
"Allowing an institution to be out-of-compliance for more than two years is not permissible," the letter stated.
City College received the commission's worst possible sanction last year. Then, last month, the commission said it would revoke CCSF's accreditation in July 2014 because the school had failed during the intervening year to correct the deficiencies from 2006 and 2012.
The composition of the on-site investigation team at CCSF also was criticized in the letter. Although the federal government requires such teams to be comprised of faculty, administrators, trustees, CEOs and business officers, it appears as though the teams had more administrators than faculty in the last two visits to CCSF.
The letter also faulted the commission for lacking a clear policy to address apparent conflicts of interest such as occurred when the husband of the commission's president was named to the on-site team that evaluated CCSF.
The commission now has 12 months of its own to come in to compliance with federal standards.