ACCJC dismissal rebuffed, City College goes to trial for its life in 18 days


The courtroom saga between City College of San Francisco and its accreditors reached a new milestone yesterday, as Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow rejected the accreditors’ motion to dimiss the City Attorney’s Office’s case against the decision to close the college, yet again. 

Like Charlie Brown’s decades-long effort to kick the football from Lucy’s hands, the accreditors keep trying to get the case dismissed and they keep failing.

“This is the fourth time they’ve tried to say they’re immune (from a lawsuit),” Sara Eisenberg, lead prosecutor from the City Attorney’s Office told us. “It’s a running theme.”

The City Attorney’s Office is representing the People of the State of California (not the college directly), suing the ACCJC for what they say was an unfair accreditation evaluation. Accreditation is vital for degrees from colleges to be worth the paper they’re printed on, a process many schools go through. When the ACCJC evaluated City College and decided to rescind its accreditation, the City Attorney’s Office alleges, the ACCJC was “embroiled in a political dispute with the college,” and the team that evaluated the school were “individuals affiliated with districts and organizations” that shared the ACCJC’s political leanings.

In plain English, the accreditors stacked the deck with evaluators inclined to disagree with many of the funding choices, teaching choices, and other decisions City College administrators and trustees had made. There are other complaints related to the way the ACCJC conducted its evaluation, but suffice to say the case is multi-layered. 

In seeking to have the case dismissed, the ACCJC’s attorneys alleged communicating with the government was “petitioning activity,” that the only court legally able to discuss the case was at the federal level, and that the true liability for their decision to close the college lay with the state. Those were some mixed messages, and Judge Karnow rejected all of those motions yesterday.

We walked side-by-side with Dr. Barbara Beno, the head of the ACCJC, as she left the hearing. All she had for us was a terse, “no comment.” 

The ACCJC may not have had much luck in court on Tuesday, but Karnow issued a warning to the City Attorney’s Office as well. The City Attorney’s Office must prove there was true harm against City College of San Francisco, Karnow told Eisenberg, and the court.

“In this case,” he said, sternly, “you’re going to have to prove some harm. It cannot just be a technical violation.”

Eisenberg and her team at the City Attorney’s Office have a challenge. They must not only prove that the ACCJC violated its own rules and federal law, but that the People of the State of California suffered a specific and identifiable harm through the process of an unfair evaluation.

We asked Eisenberg how she would prove this. “I’m a little loathe to get into our strategy in advance of the trial,” she told the Guardian. “But when you don’t get a fair review of an institution, particularly a public community college, that in itself is a harm. These flaws in the process led to a potentially different outcome than they would have received (otherwise).”

“We don’t know for sure what the outcome would be if a fair process was followed,” she said. “We have a right to know that.”

Come Oct. 27, we’ll see exactly what her strategy is. And, in another treat, the once private documents governing the ACCJC’s secret processes and secret decisions around City College will be revealed as the City Attorney’s office demands discovery. 

We can’t wait.

It’s a trap


As City College of San Francisco struggles to loosen the noose around its neck, this week its accreditors are slated to offer the college a new way out. But some skeptics are sounding the alarm: it’s a trap.

The Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges is scheduled to vote on and announce a newly revised version of its “restoration policy,” which some journalists have called City College’s salvation.

Huge CCSF Win: College Won’t Close,” one San Francisco Chronicle headline read. Bay Area TV stations and others echoed the jubilant headline, saying City College was saved. Chancellor Art Tyler told the Chronicle he would “absolutely” apply for restoration status. But many are calling the restoration policy a poor choice for the college’s future.

“Rumors of City College being saved are premature,” Alisa Messer, political director for the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, told us.

The college’s faculty union isn’t the only one worried. A report released this month by the California State Auditor shows ACCJC has operated against its own bylaws and without full transparency in threatening CCSF’s accreditation.

“To allow community colleges flexibility in choosing an accreditor,” the state auditor’s report wrote, “the chancellor’s office should remove language from its regulations naming the commission as the sole accreditor of California community colleges while maintaining the requirement that community colleges be accredited.”

In the staid and stuffy bureaucratic language, the auditor essentially wrote the accreditor group was so dysfunctional it should be closed. The 75-plus page report scathingly tears down ACCJC staff, board selection, decisions, and policies. There are few areas in which they did not find fault.

“The report draws conclusions about accreditation without the necessary context and facts related to institutional evaluations,” ACCJC President Barbara Beno told the Guardian via email. “ACCJC is reviewed and approved by the United States Department of Education and its recognition was renewed in January 2014. That is the appropriate body to review the ACCJC’s practices.”

The DOE found many faults with the accreditors as well, but the scope of its review was limited to complaints made by the unions. The auditor viewed the accreditors in a fuller context, alleging the ACCJC decided to terminate CCSF’s accreditation “after allowing only one year to come into compliance,” while simultaneously allowing 15 other colleges two years and another six institutions to up to five years to reach compliance.

Such accusations of bias are also alleged in City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s lawsuit against ACCJC, charging CCSF was targeted with harsher penalties due to its political views.

Meanwhile, a closer look at restoration status shows it’s less like a lifeline and more like a tightrope suspended over flames.

The policy would give CCSF two years to come into compliance with all of the so-called “defects” ACCJC identified. If the college addresses these issues in two years, the commission would rescind the notice to terminate the college’s accreditation.

But buried in the legalese is a frightening clause noting that if CCSF isn’t found to comply with everything, “the termination implementation will be reactivated and the effective date will be immediate,” with “no further right to request a review or appeal in this matter.”

Beno said she heard the college community’s concerns around these clauses, during a two-week public comment period regarding the proposed policy that ended June 25.

“The Commission received a good deal of feedback,” she wrote, saying a revised “final version” of the restoration policy has been sent to the commissioners, who will vote remotely over the next week. “If it is approved, the ACCJC will post the final policy on its web page, the policy will be effective immediately.”

But the auditor found Beno hasn’t followed existing bylaws. This has long been an open secret in the community college world that’s referenced to in a 2010 public letter from the former California Community College Chancellor Jack Scott to the Department of Education. His immediate successor, Brice Harris (who also served on the ACCJC as a commissioner for seven years), did not heed this knowledge. He trusted Beno.

He met her for coffee, he talked to her on the phone. These interactions led him to believe replacing the college’s leadership would appease Beno, he said in his declaration (under penalty of perjury) in Herrera’s lawsuit against the ACCJC.

So on July 3, 2013, Harris released a video announcing he stripped the college’s elected Board of Trustees of all of its powers and promoted Special Trustee Bob Agrella to take its place. The college community was in an uproar, but Harris maintained publicly it was the right thing to do.

Privately, he received an email from Beno. “Dear Brice, Beautiful job,” she wrote to him, about his decision to whack the board. “The college may survive, with the right leadership.”

Harris wrote in his declaration: “Based on this email, which was consistent with all my prior interactions with Dr. Beno, I believed that City College could maintain its accreditation… if City College took extraordinary steps to comply with the ACCJC’s recommendations.”

But the accreditors did just the opposite. Just this month, it denied CCSF’s accreditation appeal, telling the college they it not review any evidence of progress it made after they voted to terminate its accreditation. This took Harris by surprise.

“If I had known on July 8, 2013, that the rules of the commission were later going to be interpreted to preclude any progress made by City College after June 2013,” he wrote in his declaration, “I would not have asked the Board of Governors to take the extraordinary step of setting aside the locally elected Board of Trustees.”

Harris was burned by the ACCJC. Now City College faces the choice to trust Beno and the accreditors again.


Above, California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris explains why he pushed state entities to remove the City College’s Board of Trustees and replace them with Special Trustee Bob Agrella. Should City College of San Francisco trust the ACCJC?

City College’s accreditors bow to pressure, amend rules to save CCSF


Keep City College of San Francisco open, or else.

That’s the message local and federal officials have drilled into City College’s accreditors in recent weeks. Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Jackie Speier; Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano and Phil Ting; and the state’s community college government have all publicly pressured the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges to give City College an extension to prove its worth.

Finally bowing to pressure, the ACCJC may soon chang their own rules to save City College.

Today the ACCJC announced changes in its policy exclusively for colleges with terminated accreditation, granting a chance for such colleges to request a new “accreditation restoration status.”

“This is new for the ACCJC, but I don’t know if its new for other institutions,” Dave Hyams, a spokesperson for the ACCJC told us. But this new policy may offer new hope for City College.

In 2012 the ACCJC told City College its accreditation would be terminated, putting the school in the fight of its life. A loss of accreditation would mean its degrees are worthless, and the school would lose government funding. Notably, the school has not lost its accreditation yet.

The ACCJC’s policy change is not yet final, as the agency is allowing two weeks for the public to weigh in. The changes will be finalized on June 25, the commission said.

If the policy is adopted though, it means City College would be able to apply for a lifeline.

“If this policy is adopted as expected,” the ACCJC wrote in their statement to the press, “CCSF would have the opportunity to take steps to be designated as being in restoration status.”

Hyams denied the decision has anything to do with the very recent, and very public, emails from Nancy Pelosi and other politicians to demanding the ACCJC give City College more time.

“The ACCJC was looking for a way to balance the impact of termination on students,” he said, “with the needs for the college to meet basic standards.”

The college would need to file its application for restoration status by July 2014, City College’s originally announced accreditation termination date. This may all be moot, however, as City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed for an injunction to stall the college’s closure until the conclusion of the city’s lawsuit against the ACCJC. Legal proceedings are expected to begin in October.

Sara Eisenberg, the deputy city attorney leading the case against the ACCJC, told us this doesn’t affect the case at all.

Our lawsuit is about the ACCJC’s bad acts, which go to the heart of the fairness and accuracy of the accreditation evaluation process,” she told the Guardian. “These violations of law, policy and fundamental fairness require that the ACCJC’s past decisions concerning City College be vacated and that City College be reevaluated on a clean slate using a fair process.”

Interestingly, the announcement of restoration status by the ACCJC contains a caveat: they will not extend CCSF’s appeal unless the US Department of Education gives them the go-ahead. Hyams said the ACCJC developed this plan while consulting the USDOE, so it may be a slam dunk.

Need some context on the City College fight? Check out the video above for a basic overview.

“The commission and the department had very recent meetings that have been constructive and productive, they’re fully aware of this proposal,” he told us.

One of those meetings was not so peaceful, however, as over 200 City College supporters rallied outside the ACCJC’s semi-annual meeting in Sacramento, demanding the organization rescind its decision to revoke the college’s accreditation. The protest was led by the California Federation of Teachers, the local AFT 2121 and attended by teachers and students alike.

Tim Killikelly, the president of the AFT 2121 had questions about the new policy.

“I’m not sure how this restoration status is different than what appeals already existed,” he said. “The students need to be sure about their academic future, and this doesn’t do that. The students need to breathe a sigh of relief.”

He’s referring to the college’s recent drop in enrollment. At its height City College had over 100,000 students enrolled. But, due in part to its accreditation struggles and (some have said) the economy’s mild upswing, the enrollment has recently dropped to under 80,000 students. 

Killikelly laid much of the blame for that enrollment drop at the feet of the ACCJC. “They should’ve sent a team to verify we’re in compliance,” he said. Instead of this middling compromise, if the ACCJC had instead granted full accreditation Killikelly thinks confidence in the college could be restored.

City College Trustee Rafael Mandelman was also cautious about the decision.

“Its good news,”  he said, but, “the powers that be have rallied and persuaded the ACCJC that they cannot shut City College down now. The ACCJC are not pulling their claws out of the college. We will continue this terrible dance unless the City Attorney wins his lawsuit.”

The college may already have bounced back. California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris and City College Chancellor Arthur Tyler have publicly stated the school is 95 percent done addressing all of the concerns the ACCJC wanted to see fixed.

Mandelman contends the ACCJC’s move to terminate City College’s accreditation did more harm than good. “This whole process has been incredibly and unnecessarily disruptive on City College,” he said. “It’s a horrendous way to reform an institution.”

It should be noted that City College is still open, and remains accredited. For a look at the new policy from the ACCJC, click here.

Student protesters file claim against City College and SF citing injuries, defamation


Student protesters filed a claim against City College of San Francisco and the city and county of San Francisco today, citing excessive use of force by San Francisco Police Department and City College police officers.

The claim is a first step before filing a lawsuit against San Francisco, and was announced at a press conference earlier today [Tues/27] at City College’s Ocean Campus. The two students filing the claim, Dimitrios Philliou and Otto Pippenger, may seek over $10,000 in damages, according to the claim. They allege they were physically and emotionally injured by police violence in a March 13 protest against City College’s state-appointed Special Trustee Bob Agrella, who entirely replaced City College’s elected Board of Trustees. 

The two students also asked for the college’s chancellor, Arthur Q. Tyler, to retract his public statements they say casts blame for the violence on the protesters.

“I think everyone on the City College campus and in the larger community agree that violence is not a means to solving disagreement,” Tyler wrote in an email addressed to the college’s student body, faculty and staff shortly after the protest. The two students said they were defamed publicly to students and faculty.

“The public statement blaming protesters reached tens of thousands of people at the school I go to,” Pippenger said at the press conference.

Tyler was not available for comment as he is on a business trip in Texas, his staff told us. City College spokesperson Jeff Hamilton would not comment due to the pending litigation.

The two students are represented by Rachel Lederman, the president of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area chapter.

The protest erupted in response to the special trustee allegedly curtailing democracy at City College. The school is in a fight for its life, and Agrella’s role is to see the college maintains its accreditation. But he said the urgency to save the school was sufficient reason to halt public meetings and public comments which used to be standard practice under the college’s board.


Previous coverage: Check out “Democracy For None,” recounting the March 13 City College protest and the state of democracy at the school.

That removed an important place for students to decry policy changes, such as class cuts that harm the most vulnerable, Philliou and Pippenger alleged. Eventually, the protesters’ cries reached Agrella and he partially restored public board meetings, though they are not broadcast nor recorded. 

It’s a small victory, and it took the injuries of the two students filing claims, Phillou and Pippenger, to draw media attention to their plight. Philliou said students and faculty at the protest “were met by attacks from police and were beaten, brutalized, attacked, and arrested.” 

He later experienced sleep deprivation, emotional torment, and has since felt unsafe while at school. Agrella refused to speak to him, Phillou said, and he was instead “met with brutality.”

Pippenger described how he sustained his injuries speaking slowly, and methodically.

“At the height of the violence, right there,” he said at the site of the conflict, pointing behind him to where he was beaten, “I was first struck repeatedly with fists, and then thrown to the concrete and restrained by a number of officers. I was then beaten on the pavement, insensate and unbreathing beneath five or six bodies, as one officer punched me in the back of the head and against the pavement. My fists were broken, and I sustained a concussion.” 



In the animated GIF above, student protester Otto Pippenger is held on the ground, face against the cement, while an officer throws a punch to the back of his head. The full video is at the bottom of this post.

It is SFPD policy not to comment once a claim has been filed, police spokesperson Officer Albie Esparza told the Guardian. The City Attorney’s Office, who would represent the city and the police, had not yet seen the text of the claim. 


Since the protest, Tyler convened three open meetings aimed at improving campus discourse, and to gain insight into how to handle student demonstrations in the future. A newly formed school task force on “Civil Discourse and Campus Climate” has been appointed and will soon have its first meeting.

For more background, see our previous coverage of the bloody protest in “Democracy for None [3/18].”

Rep Clock: May 21 – 27, 2014


Schedules are for Wed/21-Tue/27 except where noted. Director and year are given when available. Double and triple features marked with a •. All times pm unless otherwise specified.

ANSWER COALITION 2969 Mission, SF; $5-10. The Trials of Muhammad Ali (Siegel, 2013), Wed, 7.

ARTISTS’ TELEVISION ACCESS 992 Valencia, SF; $4-7. “Periwinkle Cinema:” Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement (Brashear, 2013) with “Prefixed: Cold Hard Facts” (Lamm, 2014), Wed, 8. “CCSF’s Directing Student Showcase,” Thu, 7. “Other Cinema:” “Live A/V Action” with Michael Gendreau, Sat, 8:30.

BALBOA THEATRE 3630 Balboa, SF; $7.50-10. “Popcorn Palace:” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Columbus, 2001), Sat, 10am. Matinee for kids.

CASTRO 429 Castro, SF; (415) 621-6120, $8.50-11. Milk (Van Sant, 2008), Wed, 5:30, 8. Grease (Kleiser, 1978), presented sing-along style, Fri-Mon, 7 (also Sat-Mon, 2:30). This event, $10-16; advance tickets at

CHRISTOPHER B. SMITH RAFAEL FILM CENTER 1118 Fourth St, San Rafael; (415) 454-1222, $6.50-$10.75. Palo Alto (Coppola, 2013), Wed-Thu, call for times. Ida (Pawlikowski, 2013), May 23-29, call for times.

CLAY 2261 Fillmore, SF; $10. “Midnight Movies:” Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Spielberg, 1984), Fri-Sun, midnight.

ROXIE 3117 and 3125 16th St, SF; (415) 863-1087, $6.50-11. Documented: A Film By An Undocumented American (Vargas, 2013), Wed-Thu, 7, 9. “I Wake Up Dreaming 2014: Dark Treasures from the Warner Archive:” •Experiment Alcatraz (Powell, 1953), Wed, 6:40, 9:45, and Split Second (Cahn, 1950), Wed, 8; •Death in Small Doses (Newman, 1957), Thu, 6:15, 9:45, and Highway 301 (Stone, 1950), Thu, 8; •Al Capone (Wilson, 1959), Fri, 6, 10:15, and The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (Boetticher, 1960), Fri, 8:15; •Miracles for Sale (Browning, 1939), Sat, 1:30; Grand Central Murder (Simon, 1942), Sat, 2:50; Bunco Squad (Leeds, 1950), Sat, 4:20; •Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (Lang, 1956), Sat, 6, 9:50, and While the City Sleeps (Lang, 1956), Sat, 7:45; •The Hypnotic Eye (Blair, 1960), Sun, 1:30, and Two on a Guillotine (Conrad, 1965), Sun, 3; •The Couch (Crump, 1962), Sun, 5:30, 10, and Brainstorm (Conrad, 1965), Sun, 7:45. Breastmilk (Ben-Ari, 2014), May 23-29, call for times. Frequencies (Fischer, 2013), Mon, 7, 9. Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders (Garcia, 2014), Tue, 7:15, 9:30.

YERBA BUENA CENTER FOR THE ARTS 701 Mission, SF; $8-10. “Astonishing Animation: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli:” Grave of the Fireflies (Takahata, 1988), Thu, 7:30 and Sat, 5:30; Only Yesterday (Takahata, 1991), Sat, 7:30 and Sun, 3:30; Howl’s Moving Castle (Miyazaki, 2005), Sun, 1. *


Rep Clock: May 14 – 20, 2014


Schedules are for Wed/14-Tue/20 except where noted. Director and year are given when available. Double and triple features marked with a •. All times pm unless otherwise specified.

ARTISTS’ TELEVISION ACCESS 992 Valencia, SF; $6-10. Films by SF State University’s experimental documentary class, Thu, 7:30. “Other Cinema,” contemporary sound and video art works by Derek G, Tommy Becker, and others, Sat, 8:30.

BALBOA THEATRE 3630 Balboa, SF; $7.50-10. “Popcorn Palace:” Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Box and Park, 2005), Sat, 10am. Matinee for kids.

CASTRO 429 Castro, SF; (415) 621-6120, $8.50-11. “KQED presents: An Evening with Ken Burns:” The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (Burns, 2014), Wed, 7:30. Sneak preview of new miniseries to air in September on PBS; this event, $20-25 at •Drugstore Cowboy (Van Sant, 1989), Thu, 7, and Trainspotting (Boyle, 1996), Thu, 8:55. “Epidemic Film Festival,” works by Academy of Art University students, with a speech by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, Fri, 4-8. •Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981), Sat, 2:30, 7, and Romancing the Stone (Zemeckis, 1984), Sat, 4:45, 9:15. •A Streetcar Named Desire (Kazan, 1951), Sun, 2:15, 7, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Nichols, 1966), Sun, 4:35, 9:15.

CHRISTOPHER B. SMITH RAFAEL FILM CENTER 1118 Fourth St, San Rafael; (415) 454-1222, $6.50-$10.75. Palo Alto (Coppola, 2013), May 16-22, call for times. “Mark Cantor Presents Jazz at the Movies,” Sun, 6. This event, $15-25.

CITY COLLEGE OF SAN FRANCISCO Diego Rivera Theatre, 50 Phelan, SF; Free. “CCSF City Shorts Student Film Festival,” Thu, 7.

CLAY 2261 Fillmore, SF; $10. “Midnight Movies:” Dirty Harry (Siegel, 1971), Sat, midnight.

“HIMALAYAN FILM FESTIVAL” Ninth Street Independent Film Center, 145 Ninth St, Suite 250, SF; and Himalayan Fair Grounds, Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck, Berk; $10-20 (festival pass, $40). Documentary and narrative films from Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. Fri-Sat.

MECHANICS’ INSTITUTE 57 Post, SF; $10. “CinemaLit Film Series: Comedy Tonight:” Stir Crazy (Poitier, 1980), Fri, 6.

ROXIE 3117 and 3125 16th St, SF; (415) 863-1087, $6.50-11. Documented: A Film By An Undocumented American (Vargas, 2013), May 15-21, 7, 9. Director Jose Vargas in person at Thu-Fri shows. NOW: In the Wings on the World Stage (Whelehan, 2014), Wed-Thu, 7, 9. “I Wake Up Dreaming 2014: Dark Treasures from the Warner Archive:” •Stranger on the Third Floor (Ingster, 1940), Fri, 6:30, 9:30, and The Unsuspected (Curtiz, 1947), Fri, 8; •Love is a Racket (Wellman, 1932), Sat, 2, and Ladies They Talk About (Bretherton and Keighley, 1933), Sat, 3:30; •Nora Prentiss (Sherman, 1947), Sat, 7:30, and The Unfaithful (Sherman, 1947), Sat, 5:15, 9:45; •Angels in Disguise (Yarbrough, 1948), Sun, 2, and Fall Guy (Le Borg, 1947), Sun, 3:15, and When Strangers Marry (Castle, 1944), Sun, 4:30; •The Window (Tetzlaff, 1949), Sun, 6:30, 9:45, and The Locket (Brahm, 1946), Sun, 8; •Two Seconds (Le Roy, 1932), Mon, 6:30, 9:40, and 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (Curtiz, 1932), Mon, 8; •A Woman’s Secret (Ray, 1949), Tue, 6:15, 9:45, and Tomorrow is Another Day (Feist, 1951), Tue, 8.

YERBA BUENA CENTER FOR THE ARTS 701 Mission, SF; $8-10. “Astonishing Animation: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli:” Pom Poko (Takahata, 1994), Thu, 7:30 and Sat, 5; Castle in the Sky (Miyazaki, 1986), Sat, 7:30 and Sun, 3; My Neighbor Totoro (Miyazaki, 1988), Sun, 1. *


City College special trustee restores public comments, meetings


Protests against City College of San Francisco’s leadership trumpeted grave concerns in the college community over the lack of public voice at the school. Now, some of those concerns have been resolved, and the beleagured CCSF is taking baby steps towards restoring democracy.

Special Trustee Robert Agrella announced via mass email today the return of public comment to City College board meetings, and, well, actual meetings. Local college officials praised the move as a step in the right direction.

“Perhaps the restoration of some level of openness will make people feel their voices are being heard,” said Fred Teti, the college’s Academic Senate president. The school’s senate only yesterday passed a resolution urging Agrella to restore public comment, Teti said, and with good reason.

Though the mention of board meetings may be elicit a shrug or a snooze for some, for City College students the right to speak out publicly to school leaders was important enough to be jailed over. Only last month, hundreds of student and faculty protesters stormed the school’s administrative building, and in the violent clash with SFPD and City College Police, one student was pepper-sprayed and another punched in the face.

Both were jailed afterward, and one of the students said all he wanted was a dialogue.

“We just want to have a conversation with Bob Agrella,” Dimitrious Phillou said in a video interview with the college’s newspaper, The Guardsman. “It’d be nice if he would talk to us, like a real human.”

And changes to City College are coming spitfire-fast. After they got word from their accreditors that they may close in July of this year, the school has scrambled to reshape classes offered at the school to meet the requirements, and vision, of their accreditors. Agrella was appointed by the state to take the place of the college’s duly-elected Board of Trustees — and therein lies the issue.

Not everyone agreed with the board, and many members through the years have been accused of laziness, incompetence, and worse. But at the very least, the college community had a monthly opportunity at public meetings to tell the board what was right and what was wrong, leading to many decisive turnarounds: budgets amended, classes saved, services restored or cut.

It was an imperfect process, but at least a forum existed to give the public the right to address their officials in full view of the public. Under Agrella, no such forum existed.

Student and faculty shout “let them speak!” at a City College board meeting.

When Agrella took over the powers of the board, the idea was to expedite decision-making in order to save the college. But this meant an end to the meetings. Though he posts the agendas for his decisions online, he held no public meetings, and only solicited “public comment” via email, which many rightly noted were not public at all.

Apparently these meetings are happening in the special trustee’s head,” Alisa Messer, the City College faculty union president told the Guardian in our story, “Democracy for None [3/18].” “No one agrees that [email] comment is public.”

That will change April 24. Agrella will hear public comments at 4pm at City College’s main campus in the Multi Use Building, Room 140. Unlike meetings of City College’s full board, Agrella’s public comment session will not be televised or audio recorded. When we asked why, college spokesperson Peter Anning said he would look into it. 

Anning added that Agrella did issue one warning. He was very clear that this was going to follow board policy which will require civil discourse,” Anning said in a phone interview. “That’s been an experience in the past, where people have gotten belligerent. He said he won’t tolerate that.” 

California Community College Chancellor’s Office spokesperson Larry Kamer said Agrella’s decision to restore public comment was a practical one.

I think Bob is a problem solver, he’s a practical guy,” Kamer said. “If there was concern and discontent about public comment, I think he just wanted to deal with it before it became a problem.”

Messer applauded the decision as a step in the right direction, but cautioned that it was a small step in terms of restoring City College’s democracy. 

“Of course, at any moment Dr. Agrella could — and should — restore actual board meetings,” she told us. “He could even include the voice of the voters by convening our publicly elected Board of Trustees.”

The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution last month urging Agrella to do exactly that. 

The resolution sends a very clear message about the importance of restoring democratic decision making at City College,” Sup. David Campos told the SF Examiner.

But, as Teti told the Guardian, sometimes you need to recognize that victories come incrementally. 

Thinking Agrella would restore the Board of Trustees, video airing of public comment and full meetings all at once is perhaps a stretch, he said, “That’s the pie in the sky idea.”

Accreditors ask City College to voluntarily terminate its own accreditation


Should City College commit educational seppuku?

That seems to be the idea the accrediting commission vying to close City College of San Francisco floated in a San Francisco Chronicle editorial Sunday, outlining a “new way out.”

To save itself, they wrote, the college must terminate its own accreditation and apply for “candidacy” status, essentially applying to be accredited as if it were a brand-new school.

Candidacy would allow City College a fresh start,” wrote Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Chair Sherill Amador, and Steven Kinsella, the co-chair. “It would have two to four years to complete its recovery and to ensure that it meets all accreditation standards.”

The recommendation is the latest twist in a long saga over the fate of City College of San Francisco.

Last July, the ACCJC told City College its degree accreditation would be revoked in a year, which would force the college to close. When the news first hit City College saw its enrollment drop by the thousands. The school served as many as 100,000 students at its highest enrollment, but now has a student body of 77,000. The college’s chancellor, Arthur Q. Tyler, noted the enrollment drop in a public letter.

Tyler strongly rebuffed the ACCJC’s Chronicle editorial.

“As you may have heard it has been suggested by some that City College apply for ‘candidacy status’ as a mechanism for addressing our current accreditation process,” Tyler wrote in a letter to the college community. “Let me be clear: we are not considering withdrawing our accreditation. To do so would severely harm our current and future students as well as undermine our current enrollment efforts.”

The editorial from the ACCJC may signal that the accrediting commission intends to deny any appeals made by City College, higher-ed experts told the Guardian. City College’s faculty union AFT 2121 President Alisa Messer agreed.

“The ACCJC — or at any rate, two of its leaders — have announced through this editorial that they have already decided to reject the college’s appeal and move forward with disaccreditation,” she told the Guardian. “Our concern all along has been that nothing CCSF could do would satisfy this commission. Unfortunately, this latest action appears to confirm that.” 

Notably, despite all indicators to the contrary, the ACCJC editorial wrote “Internal discord at City College has prevented sufficient progress.”

But in a Chronicle editorial written by Mayor Ed Lee and the California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris, the pair noted City College’s tremendous progress in changing the school. These are changes the college community hasn’t necessarily agreed with, leading to recent protests against the current administration. Despite this resistance, the pair of officials made an impassioned plea for the ACCJC to give City College more time to enact the less-than-popular changes.

“The commitment to reform and the accomplishments already made show that the college is on the right track,” Lee and Harris wrote. “City College has earned the right to finish the job by setting itself back on course.”

But the editorial penned by the ACCJC seems to rebuff any notion that they’ll give City College more time, unless City College revokes its own accreditation.

They just gave (Chancellor) Brice Harris, Mayor Ed Lee and all of San Francisco a giant F.U.,” City College Trustee Rafael Mandelman told the Guardian. 

All along, politicians and the college’s current administration towed the ACCJC line — even though the accreditors advocated for City College to disinvest in its neediest students, take away important neighborhood campuses serving disadvantaged communities, and ignored the college community’s wishes. 

On the other side of the imaginary line in the sand, the faculty union and student protesters have advocated against many of the changes proposed by the ACCJC, calling its actions unjust. City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s lawsuit adopted the viewpoint of the the latter group, suing the ACCJC for using its position as accreditor to advocate for the “student success agenda,” which aims to transform community college into degree-mills at the expense of students not specifically seeking degrees.

Stepping on their conservative, misinformed soapbox, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an editorial lambasting Herrera and the advocates, last August.

“When you have a losing argument, change the subject,” they wrote. “That’s been the approach of certain City College defenders who want the attack an accreditation commission instead of the serious problems it has identified.”

Even the state community college chancellor criticized Herrera’s lawsuit, in an open letter penned just a few months ago. 

“Court intervention is not necessary to keep City College open,” California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris wrote. “Characterizations that the cases before the court are a ‘last-ditch’ effort to ‘save’ City College are inaccurate and will do additional damage to the college’s enrollment.”

But Herrera filed for an injunction, which was granted by the judge, which would stop City College from closing until the legal proceedings have finished. The trial date is now set for October. 

With the ACCJC signaling it has no intention of allowing an appeal, Herrera’s lawsuit, Mandelman said, may be the college’s only hope.

The state chancellor, the mayor, and the Chronicle have all said ‘this is the way the process will work and Dennis Herrera should not have brought the lawsuit,'” he said. Now it seems quite likely that lawsuit will be the only thing that can save City College.”

Get action


CAREERS AND ED Ah, the bright lights of Hollywood — so close, and yet thankfully far enough away to allow Bay Area filmmakers to develop their own identities. The SF scene thrives thanks to an abundance of prolific talent (exhibit A: have you noticed how many film festivals we have?), and continues to grow, with a raft of local programs dedicated to teaching aspiring Spielbergs — or better yet, aspiring Kuchars — the ins and outs of the biz.

San Francisco’s big art schools all have film programs. California College of the Arts offers both a BFA and an MFA in film, with an eye toward keeping students trained not just in cinema’s latest technological advancements, but its ever-changing approaches to distribution and exhibition. One look at the staff roster and it’s not hard to see why CCA’s program is so highly-acclaimed, with two-time Oscar winner Rob Epstein (1985’s The Times of Harvey Milk; 1995’s The Celluloid Closet; 2013’s Lovelace); indie-film pioneer Cheryl Dunye (1996’s The Watermelon Woman; 2001’s The Stranger Inside); and noted experimental artist Jeanne C. Finley, among others.

The Art Institute of California has a Media Arts department that offers a whole slew of programs, including BS degrees in digital filmmaking and video production, digital photography, and media arts and animation, as well as an MFA in Computer Animation. The school, which offers a number of online courses, is affiliated with the for-profit Argosy University system and aims for “career-focused education.”

The San Francisco Art Institute has this to say about its programs: “The distinguished filmmaker Sidney Peterson initiated filmmaking courses at SFAI in 1947, and the work made during that period helped develop “underground” film. From the 1950s to the early 1970s, filmmakers at the school such as Bruce Conner, Robert Nelson, Stan Brakhage, and Gunvor Nelson brought forth the American avant-garde movement. Our current faculty is internationally renowned in genres including experimental film, documentary, and narrative forms.” The school has embraced new technology and offers extensive digital resources, but it also supports artists who prefer working with celluloid. 16mm and Super 8 filmmaking lives!

The Academy of Art University may be largely known around SF for the number of buildings it owns downtown, but it does have a School of Motion Pictures and Television that offers AA, BFA, and MFA diplomas, augmented by an extensive online program. Its executive director is Diane Baker, eternal pop-culture icon for her role in 1991’s Silence of the Lambs (“Take this thing back to Baltimore!”) Other faculty members include acclaimed choreographer Anne Bluethenthal. Students can also take classes from Guardian contributor Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, who programs the popular “Midnites for Maniacs” series at the Castro Theatre and is the school’s film history coordinator.

“I teach 11 different theory classes, including the evolution of horror, Westerns, melodramas, musicals, and ‘otherly’ world cinema, as well as a close-up on Alfred Hitchcock,” Ficks says. “But bar none, the History of Female Filmmakers class seems to create the biggest debates. Some find it sexist to emphasize gender — as artists, why can’t we transcend that concept? Except why have the majority of textbooks forgotten, ignored, or even re-written these women out of history? If the argument is that female filmmakers just aren’t good enough to be ranked alongside their male counterparts, how about watching more than one film by Alice Guy, Lois Weber, Frances Marion, Dorothy Arzner, Maya Deren, Ida Lupino, or Agnes Varda? And that’s just the first six weeks of class.”

The eventual fate of the City College of San Francisco is still being decided, but for now, its cinema department offers students a mix of hands-on (classes in cinematography, editing, sound, etc.) and theory (film theory, film history, genre studies, etc.) classes. The spring 2014 course catalog included such diverse offerings as “Focus on Film Noir,” “The Documentary Tradition,” “Pre-Production Planning,” and “Digital Media Skills.” Since 2000, the department has showcased outstanding student work in the City Shorts Film Festival, which last year screened both on-campus and at the Roxie Theater.

Tucked into the city’s foggiest corner is San Francisco State University, whose cinema department remains strongly tied to the school’s “core values of equity and social justice,” according to its website, with a special focus on experimental and documentary films. The faculty includes acclaimed filmmakers Larry Clark and Greta Snider, and students can earn a BFA, an MFA, or an MA (fun fact: like I did!)

On the newer end of the spectrum is the eight-year-old Berkeley Digital Film Institute, which offers “weekend intensives” to smaller groups of students. Dean Patrick Kriwanek says the school teaches “LA-style,” or commercial-style, filmmaking. “Our teachers all come from the American Film Institute or have worked on features,” he says. “We’re trying to train our kids to produce the same level of work that you’d see out of UCLA or USC grad schools — excellent work that’s thoughtful.”

The school also takes the practical side of entertainment into account. “I always joke that we try to be 51 percent art school and 49 percent business school, but it’s really true,” he adds. “You really have to be a business person if you want to succeed.”

On this side of the bay, at Mission and Fifth streets to be precise, there’s the San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking, which aims to “create filmmakers with careers in the entertainment industry.” Faculty members include Frazer Bradshaw, director of the acclaimed indie drama Everything Strange and New (2009) and screenwriter Pamela Gray (1999’s A Walk on the Moon). In addition to months-long programs, the school offers workshops like a crowd funding how-to (an essential area of expertise for any independent artist these days) and a single-day “boot camp-style” intro to digital filmmaking. *


Unanswered question on SF housing


Nobody has a good answer to San Francisco’s most basic housing problem: How do we build the housing that existing city residents need? It was a question the Guardian has been posing for many years, and one that I again asked a panel of journalists and housing advocates on March 14, again getting no good answers.

The question is an important one given Mayor Ed Lee’s so-called "affordability agenda" and pledge to build 30,000 new housing units, a third of them somehow affordable, by 2020. And it’s a question that led to the founding 30 years ago of Bridge Housing, the builder of affordable and supportive housing that assembled this media roundtable.

"There really isn’t one thing, there needs to be a lot of changes in a lot of areas to make it happen," was the closest that Bridge CEO Cynthia Parker came to answering the question.

One of those things is a general obligation bond measure this fall to fund affordable housing and transportation projects around the Bay Area, which Bridge and a large coalition of other partners are pushing. That would help channel some of the booming Bay Area’s wealth into its severely underfunded affordable housing and transit needs.

When I brought up other ideas from our March 12 Guardian editorial ("Lee must pay for his promises") for capturing more of the city’s wealth — such as new taxes on tech companies, a congestion pricing charge, and downtown transit assessment districts — Parker replied, "We’d be in favor of a lot of that."

Yet it’s going to take far more proactive, aggressive, and creative actions to really bridge the gap between the San Francisco Housing Element’s analysis that 60 percent of new housing should be below-market-rate and affordable to those earning 120 percent or less of the area median income, and the less than 20 percent that San Francisco is actually building and promoting through its policies. (Steven T. Jones)

No charges in CCSF protest

The two formerly jailed City College student protesters can now breathe a sigh of relief, as they learned March 19 that the District Attorney’s Office won’t be filing criminal charges against them.

Otto Pippenger, 20, and Dimitrios Philliou, 21, were detained by SFPD following a violent clash during a City College protest on March 13. Their ideological and physical fight for democracy at their school is also the subject of one of our print articles in this week’s Guardian ("Democracy for none," March 18). Philliou’s attorney confirmed to the Guardian that charges were not pursued by the District Attorney’s Office.

"The charges have been dropped for now, in terms of the criminal case," said Rachel Lederman, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing Philliou.

But, she noted, they’re not out of the fire yet.

"The fight is not over for them," she said, "as it’s possible they’ll face school discipline."

Heidi Alletzhauser, Pippenger’s mother, told the Guardian that Vice Chancellor Faye Naples indicated the two would face some sort of disciplinary hearing, though Naples told Alletzhauser that Pippenger would not be expelled. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)

Activists cross the border

Last November, the Guardian profiled Alex Aldana, a queer immigration activist who was born in Mexico but came to Pomona, California with his mother and sister on a visa at the age of 16 ("Undocumented and unafraid," 11/12/14).

On March 18, Aldana joined a group of undocumented immigrants in a protest at the US border crossing at Otay Mesa in San Diego. Chanting together as a group, they marched over the border and presented themselves to U.S. Immigration and Customs and Border protection agents, whom they asked for asylum.

Among the immigrants who surrendered to immigration agents were women, children, and teens. Some are separated from their husbands, children, and families in the US and, like my own mother (see "They deported my mom," March 11), wish to be reunited.

The youth protesters were brought to the US earlier in childhood, but deported to Mexico after being taken into custody and detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some would have qualified to remain under the Dream Act, but were forced to leave the country before it was signed into law.

The protesters marched toward the turnstiles that separate Mexico and the US, chanting "Yes we can," and "No human is illegal."

A few feet from the gates, the group paused to listen to a final pep talk from Aldana.

The action was captured and recorded in real time on U-Stream. About 16 minutes into the video, he can be seen addressing the crowd, fist raised. "We have nothing to lose but our chains," Aldana told the group. Then, in Spanish, he said, "Without papers," to which his fellow protesters responded, "without fear."

They made their way to the turnstiles and one by one they walked through, straight into custody of US border guards. As they crossed the border, they told a cameraperson where they hoped to go. They named cities, such as Phoenix and Tucson, and states, such as Alabama, Oregon, and North Carolina. But each one said, in English or Spanish, "we’re going home."

It was part of a series of organized border crossings by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, to highlight the experiences of young people who lived for years in the United States but were deported due to their immigration status. In Aldana’s case, he traveled to Mexico voluntarily, due to a family emergency. (Francisco Alvarado)

Oakland settles with injured Occupier

Iraq War veteran and injured Occupy Oakland protester Scott Olsen, 26, won a settlement of $4.5 million from the city of Oakland in a federal lawsuit, his attorneys announced March 21.

At the tail end of a thousands-strong 2011 Occupy Oakland protest, an Oakland Police Department officer fired a beanbag directly into Olsen’s head, causing serious and lasting brain injury. His attorney, Rachel Lederman, said that was why the payout was so high.

"His bones were shattered, part of his brain was destroyed," she told the Guardian. "He’d been working as a computer system network administrator. He’s not going back to that kind of work, and it compensates him for his wage loss for his lifetime."

But in the end, she said, "No amount of money can put his head back together." (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)

Guardian seeks columnists

The Bay Guardian is looking for a pair of new freelance writers to do separate monthly columns covering the technology industry and economic/social justice issues. The two new columns would go into a rotation we’re tentatively calling Soul of the City, along with Jason Henderson’s Street Fight column and a new environmental column by News Editor Rebecca Bowe that we’ll debut in our Earth Day issue.

For the technology column, we want someone with a deep understanding of this industry, its economic and personality drivers, and the role it could and should play in the civic life of San Francisco and nearby communities. We aren’t looking for gadget reviews or TechCrunch-style evangelizing or fetishizing of the tech sector, but someone with an illuminating, populist perspective that appeals to a broad base of Guardian readers.

The other column, on economic and social justice issues, would cover everything from housing rights to labor to police accountability issues, with an eye toward how San Francisco can maintain its diversity and cultural vibrancy. We want someone steeped in Bay Area political activism and advocacy, but with an independent streak and fearless desire to speak truth to power.

We strongly encourage candidates of color, young people, and those representing communities that need a stronger voice in the local political discourse to apply.

If you’re interested, please sent your qualifications and concepts, along with one sample column and ideas for future columns, to Editor-in-Chief Steven T. Jones at Help us escalate this fight for the soul of the city by adding your voice to the Guardian’s mix.

No charges filed against City College student protesters


The two formerly jailed City College student protesters can now breathe a sigh of relief, as this morning they learned that the District Attorney’s Office won’t be filing criminal charges against them.

Otto Pippenger, 20, and Dimitrios Philliou, 21, were detained by SFPD following a violent clash during a City College protest last Thursday. Their ideological and physical fight for democracy at their school is also the subject of one of our print articles in this week’s Guardian. Philliou’s attorney confirmed to the Guardian that charges were not pursued by the District Attorney’s Office.

“The charges have been dropped for now, in terms of the criminal case,” said Rachel Lederman, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing Philliou. 

But, she noted, they’re not out of the fire yet. 

“The fight is not over for them,” she said, “as it’s possible they’ll face school discipline.”

Heidi Alletzhauser, Pippenger’s mother, told the Guardian that Vice Chancellor Faye Naples indicated the two would face some sort of disciplinary hearing, though Naples told Alletzhauser that Pippenger would not be expelled.

We called Napes to confirm, but did not hear back from her, and we’ll update this post if and when we do. 

Alletzhauser was concerned that the Chancellor Arthur Q. Tyler publicly pointed a finger at the two boys, shaming them for their actions in a letter he penned to the community and to the press. “I am saddened to see students engaging in violent outbursts,” he wrote. The letter as a whole seems to cast a shadow of blame on the protesters. 

“It sounded to me like they were sure Otto and Dimitrios were guilty,” Alletzhauser said.

The school hearing has not yet been confirmed. Alletzhauser was happy to see her son and Dimitrios get back to school.

“They both had classes at 10, so they went to school,” she said. “Which is adorable, I think.”

Democracy for none


Democracy is dead at City College of San Francisco. At least, that’s what student protesters allege.

At a rally on March 13, over 200 student and faculty protesters marched at City College’s main campus to call for the resignation of state-appointed Special Trustee Robert Agrella. When City College was told it would soon close, the city-elected Board of Trustees was removed from power, and the state gave Agrella the power to make decisions unilaterally.

Agrella is not beholden to board rules, and now makes policy decisions behind closed doors: No public meetings are held and no public comments are solicited.

His decisions have proved controversial. Students are concerned that fast-tracked decision-making and new billing policies will create new barriers for students with few other educational options. But with no public forum to express their outrage, students took to the pavement.

The protesting students were met by police aggression, and in the aftermath of the clash two students were arrested — one was pepper sprayed, and the other suffered a concussion, allegedly at the hands of a San Francisco Police Department officer.

Both SFPD and CCSF police were on hand for the protest.

Controversy is now swirling around Agrella, school administrators, and the students involved. But lost among questions about police violence are larger policy concerns. When will democracy, that critical right to have a say in significant decision-making on campus, return to City College?

Critics say City College is compromising its core mission in its fight to remain open and accredited, slashing access for students and curtailing democracy in the name of reform.

“To be excluded and ignored and disenfranchised is simply unacceptable,” said faculty union president Alisa Messer.


BEFORE YOU READ ON: Check out our beta multimedia version of this story.

(Or you can read the plain text version below)


The protest began as students marched across City College’s main campus in an open space designated by college officials as a “free speech zone.” They headed toward an administrative office building, Conlan Hall, where students freely conduct business every day. However, the administration locked the doors on the protesters.

In response, the students inside unlocked them. When the protesters tried to enter this public building, they were met with resistance from campus police and the SFPD.

Otto Pippenger, 20, who was at the front of the protest, was dragged to the ground by multiple officers and allegedly punched in the head by an SFPD officer, an incident caught on video and recalled in eyewitness accounts.

His mother, Heidi Alletzhauser, told the Bay Guardian that Pippenger had since received medical attention. She said he’d suffered a concussion, contusions from where his head hit the concrete, injuries to both wrists, and broken blood vessels in his right eye.

Dimitrios Philliou, 21, was tackled to the ground and pepper sprayed in the face. In a video interview shortly after the incident, he recalled what happened.

“I asked [officers] what law I broke and neither could give me an explanation. They proceeded to tackle me to the ground,” he said.

In the end, Philliou was charged with misdemeanor “returning to school,” described as trespassing by the Sheriff’s Department. Pippenger was charged with two misdemeanors: resisting arrest and battery on emergency personnel.

The students were released the following morning (March 14), before sunrise. Philliou was issued a citation and released, and Pippenger made bail and was released, according to the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.

The City College faculty union raised over $1,000 towards Pippenger’s $23,000 bail. He will face arraignment March 19, two days after the Bay Guardian goes to press.

In an emailed statement, City College Chancellor Arthur Q. Tyler described the clash between protesters and police as the fault of the protesters who tried to enter the building.

“I am saddened to see students engaging in violent outbursts,” he wrote.

City College spokesperson Peter Anning said the school regretted the actions of the most violent officers. “There was one police officer with the SFPD, not [City College Police], whose behavior was more forceful than need be,” he said.

Philliou said he just wanted to be heard.

“We just want to have a conversation with Bob Agrella,” he said in a video interview with the college’s newspaper, The Guardsman. “It’d be nice if he would talk to us, like a real human.”

But so far, the students have been met with silence.



Agrella does not hold public meetings or take public comment on his decisions, but he posts public agendas in accordance with the California Brown Act. In the past, he’s called these posted agendas “meetings,” and dubbed email feedback as “public comment.”

Messer was critical of the practice. “Apparently these meetings are happening in the special trustee’s head,” she said, “and an email counts as public comment. No one agrees that [email] comment is public.”

In the past, public comment has meant speaking aloud at a meeting in a room where not only could everyone hear you, but every word was broadcast on television and on the web.

City College Board of Trustee public meetings used to be archived online for the world to see. Now only Agrella’s eyes see the concerns of the college community.

Pressed on whether these agendas and emails could count as public meetings, City College spokesperson Larry Kamer said, “I can’t answer that question because you’re getting into matters of legal interpretation. I’m not a lawyer.”

The Board of Trustee’s meetings were not always the most shining examples of democracy, he said.

“When Dr. Agrella was appointed as special trustee with extraordinary powers, it was precisely for the purpose of expediting decision making,” Kamer said. “The idea of expedited decision making and board meetings that go until one or two in the morning are usually incompatible.”

But City College Trustee Rafael Mandelman said some of the tension around the changes at City College could be diffused by letting the public vent, well, in public.

“I’d much rather have people jumping up and down in public comment than having an assault at Conlan Hall,” he said.

At a City Hall hearing held by Sup. David Campos the day after the protest, many students decried a loss of democracy at the school. Campos will soon introduce a resolution to the Board of Supervisors calling for the reinstatement of the City College Board of Trustees.

Students’ concerns about the college, voiced at rallies instead of public forums, have proven as diverse as the students themselves.



The same day protesters clashed with police at the main campus, Chinese Progressive Association lead activist Emily Ja Ming Lee led a student protest at the college’s Chinatown Campus.

The population there is traditionally older, with fewer English speakers than the general student body.

“We’re worried about the impact on the immigrant communities, the free English as Second Language classes, and vocational training,” Lee told the Guardian. “We partner with City College to run a hospitality training program so immigrant workers can get good jobs. We’re concerned about how City College will serve its immigrant workers.”

That concern has been intensified by a new restrictive billing policy that’s impacting lower income students.

The school has started to require up-front payment for classes, rather than billing students later. The change may shore up the college’s bank account in the short term, but many financially strapped students dropped their classes due to an inability to pay.

Itzel Calvo, a student who is an undocumented citizen, said at the City Hall hearing, “I was not able to enroll in classes this semester unless I paid thousands of dollars in tuition up front, even before the classes started. I can’t afford that.”

The Chinese Progressive Association has also raised concerns about changes to the college’s educational plan.

Over the course of four months, City College will formulate an educational plan to determine which classes deserve funding, and which don’t. This process usually takes a year. But with the accelerated process and lack of outreach, Lee’s worried that English language learners and vocational students will be sidelined.

“Our students don’t fit into a traditional model of what community colleges look like,” she said. “They’re not looking to transfer to a four-year university, necessarily.”

Focusing on transfer students moving from community colleges to four-year universities is part of a state policy known as the Student Success Initiative. In a lawsuit against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, City Attorney Dennis Herrera alleges that the ACCJC’s agenda of pushing this initiative was the driving force behind trying to close City College.

The college’s students rallied against those changes for years. Yet Agrella is enforcing the Student Success Initiative. “My job is to play within the rules and regulations of the ACCJC,” he told the Guardian in an interview a few months back.

On campus, concern is growing that changes made to appease the ACCJC may disenfranchise City College students in greater numbers. But worst of all, without public meetings or public comment, the college’s students may not get a chance to advocate against those changes before it’s too late.

CCSF students angered by class cancellations

Despite a day of misty downpours and gray skies, students, faculty members and their supporters gathered in the lobby of the City College of San Francisco’s Conlan Hall on Wed/28 in anticipation of a sit-down with the school’s chancellor, Dr. Arthur Q. Tyler.

The meeting had been requested to discuss increasing displacement at CCSF, with the number of eliminated classes on the rise every day. Yet questions were still swirling about whether college administrators had used much-needed funds to approve higher administrative pay scales without public notice.

Students and faculty delivered a petition signed by nearly 2,500 students opposing the recent course cancellations. When they unrolled the long list of signatures, it reached from the lobby all the way up the stairs to the chancellor’s office door, a physical display of growing dissent. And with the cuts’ affect already resulting in the cancellation of 27 foreign language courses alone, student anger over the course cancellations is building.

Matt Lambert, a CCSF student for several years, said he’d been informed just that morning that his photography class had been cancelled. He said he’d “spent all day this morning talking to people who were in a similar situation as I am, everybody has a class being cut somewhere. So how come classes are being cut, when supposedly City College is getting cash from Proposition A, how come with all that cash classes are still being cut?”

Proposition A, a special tax approved by voters in November of 2012, provides for a new channel of funding for CCSF with a $79 parcel tax. This tax was intended to help the relieve a bit of the struggle that’s burdened the college as of late, but now students and faculty are finding themselves fending off class cuts as enrollment declines under the ongoing threat that the school could lose its accreditation.

The meeting with the chancellor was intended to be an open discussion, but in the end, only three individuals were permitted to speak to Tyler face-to-face. A chancellor’s assistant informed the crowd the only three members–including faculty union AFT 2121 president Alisa Messer–were allowed to enter the office and represent the instructors and staff. While students were told they would have to follow the proper channels in order to arrange a formal meeting, many students regarded the move as a cop-out.

Following the meeting, Messer provided a recap. “They say they’re looking at the class numbers, and looking at what they did cut, and making sure they didn’t make any big mistakes,” she told the Bay Guardian. “And maybe they should reconsider or learn something from what they do cut. They did say that they will be setting up quite a number late start classes, which is all news to us. But we made it really clear about the quality of education, and the trust that students have in getting their education at City College, and that it is not the right time to be cutting classes.”

Despite an agenda item that was hastily withdrawn last week after being up for approval, recommending salary scale increases of 19.25 percent for certain administrative positions, Tyler is said to have denied the amount this increase, telling Messer, along with two colleagues, that “there was no intention to raise salaries by 20 percent,” that there was confusion about the lower approved salary ranges posted on the school’s website, and that Tyler is working to clarify this.

On Monday, AFT 2121 submitted formal records requests to learn the exact amount administrators are being paid.

Controversy still brewing over CCSF administrative pay raises

A string of recent emails have led City College of San Francisco faculty members to believe that college administrators are already being paid according to the higher salary ranges that were proposed and then hastily withdrawn from an action agenda last week. Now, they’re waiting for answers about a controversy that has only ballooned since Fri/24, when it seemed that a proposal to raise administrative pay had been brought to a halt and tabled for further discussion.

The retraction was made just as a protest by students and faculty members was getting underway. The recommendation called for increasing salary ranges for certain administrative positions by 19.25 percent, sparking an outcry from faculty members who have endured cutbacks in recent years. 

In an email that was widely circulated among CCSF faculty members, City College of San Francisco Chancellor Arthur Tyler seemed to imply that the recommendation was put forth to reflect current pay ranges – in order to comply with an audit requirement.

“We had not published an approved schedule that matched what people were being paid,” Tyler wrote in an email obtained by the Bay Guardian, which had a timestamp showing it was sent a couple hours after the Fri/24 protest and was addressed to Special Trustee Bob Agrella and several faculty members. “There wasn’t any intent to increase Administrative pay.”

In another email obtained by the Guardian, Tyler wrote, “The existing salaries did not match the schedule which was outdated. That inconsistency needed to be fixed before the audit.”

Tyler’s explanation seemed to imply that the proposed higher salary ranges, for the classifications Vice Chancellor, Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Technology Officer, had already gone into effect – even though they were higher than the formally approved pay schedule that can be found on CCSF’s website.

As of 5pm today (Tue/28), faculty members and reporters were still waiting for Tyler, Special Trustee Bob Agrella, and other top administrators to offer a clear explanation as to what, exactly, what was going on with this supposed pay increase.

“This is what I surmise from your email and other comments: This outrageous increase in pay for administrators listed is a fait accompli because you say the old pay scale is outdated for the upcoming audit. The employee who published did so innocently, thinking it was already known by the employees, since in the past there was a great deal of transparency in the policy changes here,” faculty member Patricia Arack wrote in an email to the chancellor that was widely circulated.

“I think it safe to say we are all very concerned about this divisive situation,” she went on. “The release of this pay scale has incited very strong emotions among employees, and I hope that you and Dr. Agrella, in the [swiftest] and most transparent way possible, confirm that the true administrator pay scale is the one currently online on the Pay Roll web page, and clearly explain why that pay scale released last Friday exists at all. All explanations have seemed very ambiguous to me. Please provide clarity so the speculations will cease and harmony can be restored and we can move forward to restore the reputation of CCSF.”

The Bay Guardian also sought clarity on this situation, but we have not yet received a response from CCSF administrators. Last we heard, communications director Peter Anning had forwarded our questions to Chancellor Tyler and Special Trustee Agrella and they were planning to respond.

Faculty members and students are scheduled to meet with Chancellor Tyler tomorrow, Wed/29, to discuss recent class cancellations. “This is not the time to close the door to students eager and willing to enroll at City College,” organizers with AFT 2121 wrote in an email newsletter to CCSF faculty. “Displacing students undermines their confidence in our college and interrupts their educational progress.”

In related news, Assembly Member Tom Ammiano introduced legislation Mon/27 seeking to “end undemocratic power grabs,” specifically the sort that stripped CCSF’s Board of Trustees of its voting powers.

Under the new system, Agrella, in his capacity as special trustee, can unilaterally make decisions that previously required the approval of the entire board. Approving the salary range modification on last week’s action agenda is one such example of what the special trustee may approve independently.

“Under a vague section of California code, the 17-seat Community Colleges Board of Governors has taken over faltering community colleges and effectively deposed the elected trustees of those colleges,” Ammiano’s office wrote in a statement announcing the proposed legislation. “They appoint a special trustee to make decisions in place of the elected board.”

Ammiano’s bill seeks to eliminate arbitrary actions that can lead to the disempowerment of an elected board, by clarifying and restricting conditions under which the state’s Board of Governors may take control.

“Aside from being undemocratic, I think it’s pretty criminal,” Ammiano told the Bay Guardian in a phone interview. “People can vote people out, people can recall people, and acknowledge that they’ve made mistakes. But it’s very upsetting to think that some appointed board can capriciously remove duly elected people.”

Alerts: January 29 – February 4, 2014




“Flying Paper” film screening and discussion Mission Cultural Center, 2868 Mission, SF. 7pm, $5–$20 sliding scale. “Flying Paper” is the uplifting story of Palestinian children in Gaza on a quest to shatter the Guinness World Record for the most kites ever flown. It showcases the creative resilience of these children despite the difficult realities in their daily lives. The film was co-produced with young Palestinians in Gaza, trained by the filmmakers through a youth media program called Voices Beyond Walls. Featuring a discussion with co-director Roger Hill.

“We are Palestine” film screening ANSWER Coalition Office, 2969 Mission, SF. 7-8:30pm, $5–$10 donation (no one turned away for lack of funds.) “We are Palestinian” was filmed in 1973 and includes an excellent chronology of events leading to the establishment of Israel by using rare historical footage. The film also explains the role of Britain and the US in establishing and supporting the Israeli state, and documents the resistance by the Palestinian people against settlement and expulsion. A discussion will follow the film led by Richard Becker, author of “Palestine, Israel and the US Empire.”



International Day of Action Against Corporate Globalization San Francisco Federal Building, 90 Seventh St, SF. 4:30pm, free. Join a broad coalition of community, environmental and social justice groups in protest against Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that has been described as “NAFTA on steroids.” Protesters will meet at Congresswomen Pelosi’s office, then peacefully march to Senator Feinstein’s office at One Post, SF.



Una Plaza Para la Comunidad/A Plaza for the Community Sixteenth and Mission BART Plaza. 1-3pm, free. This gathering, hosted by The Plaza 16 Coalition/La Plaza 16 Coalición, is being called to advocate for the use of the 1979 Mission SF site to supply much-needed affordable housing for the neighborhood, as well as more public spaces and a local ecosystem of mom and pop business that can meet the needs of the neighborhood. The coalition feels that the proposed $82 million development with 351 housing units does not meet the need for affordable housing.


What’s happening to City College of San Francisco? Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library, 6501 Telegraph, Oakl. Gene Ruyle (510) 428-1578. 10:30am-12:30pm, free but donations are welcomed. CCSF has been under extreme pressure from a private accrediting agency that is threatening to close the college. Rick Baum, a part-time instructor of Political Science at CCSF for over 15 years, will give an overview of the current situation that CCSF is facing, and answer questions.

City College Special Trustee withdraws proposal for administrative pay hike

Students and faculty at City College of San Francisco staged an emergency protest today (Fri/24) after discovering that a generous salary increase had been proposed for top administrators and was headed to the desk of Special Trustee Bob Agrella for approval. 

Since he was appointed and infused with the voting power of the full board of trustees in the wake of CCSF’s threatened loss of accreditation, which the Guardian has covered extensively, Agrella can unilaterally decide on such matters.

But just as word of the proposed pay increase got out and angry protesters gathered to oppose it, Agrella announced that the item would be withdrawn from the action agenda.

The recommendation was to increase salary ranges for the college’s Associate Vice Chancellor, Chief Information Technology Officer, and Vice Chancellor by a generous 19.25 percent, “based on the positions’ level of responsibilities and duties.”

“This is absolutely outrageous,” said faculty union president Alisa Messer. “We have students being pushed out of classes, instructors losing jobs, and faculty are still 4 percent below 2007 level salaries. Giving 20 percent raises to the one per centers around here? This college administration’s priorities are upside down.”

Ona Keller, an organizer with the faculty union, said some classes had already been cancelled due to low enrollment. “Agrella came out and said it was a mistake,” Keller said. “I think it was because there were so many people contacting him.” She said roughly 100 protesters had turned out on campus between 2:30 and 3:30.

Student trustee Shanell Williams sounded a similar note. “The students aren’t making a San Francisco minimum wage. … Everyone at the college is suffering. This is outrageous.”

City College’s communications director, Peter Anning, said he’d first learned of the proposal from a reporter. Seems that was right around the time protesters and news vans turned up outside.

Anning insisted that the proposal had not originated with Agrella and that the special trustee had not even seen it prior to the alerts going out that he would approve it.

The agenda went out Thu/23 around 5:30pm, Anning said, with the deadline for community input set for 24 hours later, at which point Agrella would make a final decision. “When Bob received it and saw it, he withdrew it,” according to Anning.

However, the proposal seems to have been tabled for future consideration. Anning said he did not know whether Agrella had been holding any prior conversations about the proposed salary range increases before the recommendation found its way onto the action agenda.

Anning said the proposal originated with City College Associate Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Clara Starr. We called Starr’s office to find out more, but her assistant told us she was taking the day off.

Pelosi denounces City College’s accreditors


Rep. Nancy Pelosi denounced the accreditors seeking to close City College at a press conference held yesterday at the school’s Chinatown campus.

“You can be sure it will be subjected to harsh scrutiny in terms of how they do what they do, who they are and why is it the Department of Education cannot do more,” she said to the crowd of local luminaries and City College faculty. 

City College of San Francisco is one of the state’s largest community colleges, home to a student body of over 85,000. The school came under fire from its accreditors, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, last July, who moved to revoke the school’s accreditation. Such a move would force the college to close. 

Since then the ACCJC has been beaten back from many directions: it’s tangled in three lawsuits, as well as a state inquiry from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. Arguably the highest profile thrashing the agency received was from Congresspeople Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier in November.

“I think the ACCJC has run amok, they have lost their vision — if they ever had one,” Speier told the Guardian. “They are riddled with conflicts of interest and arbitrariness.”

Pelosi voiced support for those views yesterday.

“I want to associate myself with remarks Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo,” she told the crowd, to cheers. 

Singing the praises of City College is all well and good, but the Guardian asked her directly: what can you do, and what is your next step?

Pelosi indicated that Congresspersons Speier, Eshoo, and George Miller, would review the role of the Department of Education regarding accreditors at a congressional higher education committee. This is something they’ve looked at before

“We’ll see what is recommended when we go there,” she said. “Suffice to say this is not something that will be ignored.”

Ignore less


CAREERS AND ED Often called the first feminist, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz could well be your guiding spirit heading into this bright new year. Born in 1651 in colonial Mexico, Sor Juana defied societal expectations about women at the time to study herself into becoming one of the smartest people in New Spain. She became a nun rather than marry, and eventually amassed one of the largest libraries in the Americas.

One of Sor Juana’s enduring catch phrases was “I don’t study to know more, but to ignore less,” a prettily humble bon mot from a woman who constantly had to defend her right to learn. Sadly, threats of censure by the church slowed her educational roll — but nonetheless, her unlikely influence on the fight for women’s rights is still honored today.

Will you ignore less in the new year? Surely there are fewer obstacles in your way than Sor Juana’s. Here are some excellent ways to engage with the world around you in 2014.



So you say you’re a boor? For all the menfolk — or anyone, really — boggled by feminism, this monthly book club may be the ticket. Held at Noisebridge, the Mission’s tech learning center (check its calendar for amazing, mainly free classes and meetups), the club will start with bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody and feature conversations about how to be the best ally possible. All gender identities welcome.

Second Wednesdays starting Wed/8, 7pm, free. Noisebridge, 2169 Mission, SF.



The stand-up school with the most working comedians on staff of any similar institution in the country wants to get you in front of an exposed brick wall talking about your boyfriend’s crazy roommate.

Wednesdays Jan. 8-Feb. 12, 6pm, $239-279. SF Comedy College, 442 Post, Fifth Fl., SF.



Instructor Tika Morgan explores the hip-hop, dancehall, Cuban salsa, and other influences that create the pounding rhythms of reggaeton.

Wednesdays, 8-9:30pm, $13. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., SF.



Two-step, skiffle, country swing, and waltz your way through these inclusive country-western lessons and dance parties run by community advocates Sundance Association.

Thursdays 5:30pm, Sundays 7pm, $5. Sundance Saloon, 550 Barneveld, SF.



Learn about qigong, the Chinese chi-balancing practice that involves breathing, other physical movements, and mental exercises. This free class is taught by Effie Chow, a qigong grandmaster who founded her East West Academy of Healing Arts here in 1973, and has served on White House advisory boards concerning alternative medicine.

Fri/10, 7-9pm, free. Polish Club, 3040 22nd St., SF.



Support your local community college through its battle to retain its accreditation by enrolling in one of its class offerings — there’s no charge for non-credit courses (though you may have to buy books and materials). This class examines the hidden and explicit messages sent out through mass media, and helps students pinpoint how these cues affect the decisions that they and other members of society make.

Fridays Fri/10-May 23, 8am-12:50pm, free. City College of San Francisco, 1125 Valencia, SF.



Start at the Aquatic Center next to Fisherman’s Wharf where you’ll learn safety and equipment basics, then head down with this SF Rec and Park class to Lake Merced’s scenic bird estuary to get down on some core-strengthening, stand-up paddle boarding action. Bring your own wetsuit, kiddies — it gets cold on those waters!

Sat/11, 1-4pm, free. Aquatic Park, Beach and Hyde, SF.



To do anything these days, you need a website. To have a website, you need a web designer. So basically, you may need to sign up for one of the Bay Area Video Coalition’s intro courses on dynamic layouts and client interfaces so that you can continue living your life as a functional citizen in 2014.

Sat/11-Sun/12, 10am-6pm, $595. Bay Area Video Coalition, 2727 Mariposa, SF.



With 51 species of this lovely, placid bloom sprinkling the premises, the San Francisco Botanical Garden is the perfect place to learn about the majesty of the magnolia. The garden offers daytime walks if you’re scared of the dark, but we think the nocturnal stroll sounds divine.

Jan. 16, 6-8pm, $20. Register in advance. SF Botanical Garden, Ninth Ave. and Lincoln, Golden Gate Park, SF.



Sure the price tag is steep for this class on raising buds in bright indoor light, but you’ll be supporting your green thumb and your local pot movement institution, which has surfed the tsunami of federal persecution and will live to blow clouds right through legalization (we reckon).

Thursdays Jan. 16-March 20, 10:30am-1pm, $1,195. Oaksterdam University, 1734 Telegraph, Oakl.



Accessing the subconscious’s potential for healing is the name of the game in this extremely mellow yoga class, during which you’ll be put into a trance-like state through a hybrid method developed by a Reiki, yoga, and hypnotherapy professional. The dream state is said to be highly beneficial for psychic health -– and sounds hella fun.

Jan. 18, 2:30-5:45, $40-50. Yoga Tree Telegraph, 2807 Telegraph, Berk.



Each month La Urbana, the chic new taqueria on Divisadero, hosts fancy mezcal tastings. But you’re not just getting your drink on: A different producer of the agave-based spirit comes in each time to present a signature mezcal alongside tales of its production. Educated boozery, this is it.

5-6pm, $10-15. La Urbana, 661 Divisadero, SF.



Valentine’s Day (sorry for any unwanted reminders) is on its effusive, heart-shaped way, giving you the perfect excuse for you to drop in on this class with Sin Sisters Burlesque co-founder Balla Fire to learn how to swish, conceal, and reveal with the best of them for your sweetheart.

Jan. 21, 7-9pm, $30. Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission, SF.



Does paying $40 to learn how to parse affordable wines make sense? Depends on how many bottles of Cab Sauv you’re consuming — and one would think that after partaking in this one-off seminar with Bar Tartine’s old wine director Vinny Eng, that tally will increase.

Jan. 22, 7-9pm, $40. 18 Reasons, 3674 18th St. SF.



A full weekend of learning about ways to cook fish from around the globe will go on at this friendly North Beach cooking school (which tends to book up its workshops early, so book now). On the menu: black cod poached in five-spice broth, brodo di pesce, and much more.

Feb. 1-2, 10am-3pm, $385. Tante Marie’s Cooking School, 271 Francisco, SF.



Do you have a staring problem? Fix your gaze on this 10-session course including anatomy tips, representational tricks, and a focus on the art of portraiture.

Thursdays, Feb. 6-April 10, 6:30-9:30pm, $360. California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth St., SF.



If the only thing you can depend on in this wacky 2014 is yourself, it’s time to hone those financial security skills. This free class is held once a month at the LGBT Community Center, and should give you a couple things to think about when it comes to money management.

Feb. 11, 6:30-8:30pm, free. LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market, SF.



In addition to a more long-running courses and a by-donation, student-staffed herbal health clinic that is open to the public, Berkeley’s Ohlone Herbal Center offers practical classes in Western herbalism for regular folks. Your loved ones will thank you for brushing up with this one — it teaches preventative anti-cold and flu measures, and home remedies for when you inevitably catch something. Yes, tea is provided during classtime.

Feb. 12, 7-9:30pm, free. Register at Ohlone Herbal Center, 1250 Addison, Berk.



If you are looking for educational opportunites as to changing the face of culture, look no further than this public lecture hosted by the California Institute of Integral Studies. For two hours, Orange is the New Black breakout star Laverne Cox will discuss her journey to becoming the most visible black transwoman on television (not to mention the first ever to produce and star in her own program with VH1’s “TRANSForm Me”). The talk won’t be lacking in looks-ahead to the important activism that still remains for Cox and her allies.

March 19, 7-9pm, $25-75. Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes, SF.



You will finally be able to get that organic farmstand delivery service to sponsor your yearly watermelon seed-spitting contest (or whatever) after you take this crash course on getting money to hold events. The secrets to obtaining event sponsorships are divulged during this one-day class: how to pitch potential partners, going market rates, and more, all in a group discussion-centric format.

April 26, 9am-5pm, $300. San Francisco State University Downtown Campus, 835 Market, SF.


Injunction blocks City College closure


City College of San Francisco is safe from closure, for now. A ruling from San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow issued Jan. 2 would bar City College’s accreditors from terminating the college’s accreditation until after legal proceedings against it are done.

The loss of accreditation would make City College’s future degrees basically worthless, resulting in its closure or merger with another district.

“I’m grateful to the court for acknowledging what so far accreditors have refused to, that educational access for tens of thousands of City College students matters,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said at a press conference announcing the judge’s decision.

Now Herrera and his team have time to save the school, and City College will keep its doors open for the duration of the suit — win or lose.

The ruling was the result of an injunction filed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Nov. 25 as part of his office’s suit against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges in August for allegedly using the process to carry out an ideological agenda against CCSF. The ACCJC openly lobbied in public hearings and via public letters for education reform across the state, reforms which City College’s administration believed would harm San Francisco’s most vulnerable students: the poor, certificate seekers, and lifelong learners.

Only part of the injunction was granted by Karnow, however. The ACCJC is barred from shutting down City College, but it can still revoke the accreditation from any of the other 112 community colleges it oversees across the state.

The ruling also doesn’t stop it them from making preparations to close the college, Herrera said.

“It does not stop them from continuing their review and analysis and evaluation, it stops them from issuing a final ruling with respect to taking accreditation of City College,” he said.

Not everyone agrees with Herrera’s efforts.

“Court intervention is not necessary to keep City College open,” State Community College Chancellor Brice Harris wrote to Herrera in a Jan. 2 letter.

Harris argues that the lawsuit detracts from the efforts to save the school made by the special trustee Robert Agrella, who was assigned by Harris to replace City College’s Board of Trustees just after the accreditation crisis broke out.

City College saved, for now (update)


Update: This post has been updated with new information, after a 5:30 press conference held by City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

City College of San Francisco is safe from closure, for now.

A ruling from San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow issued this afternoon would bar City College’s accreditors from terminating the college’s accreditation until after legal proceedings against it are done. 

The loss of accreditation would make City College’s future degrees basically worthless, resulting in its closure or merger with another district.

“I’m grateful to the court for acknowledging what so far accreditors have refused to, that educational access for tens of thousands of city college students matters,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said at a press conference announcing the judge’s decision.

Now Herrera and his team have time to save the school, and City College will keep its doors open for the duration of the suit — win or lose.

The ruling was the result of an injunction filed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Nov. 25. as part of their suit against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges in August for allegedly using the process to carry out an ideological agenda against CCSF. The ACCJC openly lobbied in public hearings and via public letters for education reform across the state, reforms which City College’s administration believed would harm San Francisco’s most vulnerable students: the poor, certificate seekers, and lifelong learners.


Counsel for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Andrew Sclar and Philip Ward, confer during a break at a preliminary injunction hearing regarding City College of San Francisco on Dec. 26, 2013. Photo by Sara Bloomberg

Only part of the injunction was granted by Karnow, however. The ACCJC is barred from shutting down City College, but it can still revoke the accreditation from any of the 112 community colleges it oversees across the state.

The ruling also doesn’t stop it them from making preparations to close the college, Herrera said.

“It does not stop them from continuing their review and analysis and evaluation, it stops them from issuing a final ruling with respect to taking accreditation of City College,” he said. 

Not everyone agrees with Herrera’s efforts though.

“Court intervention is not necessary to keep City College open,” State Community College Chancellor Brice Harris wrote to Herrera in a letter today. 

Harris argues that the lawsuit detracts from the efforts to save the school made by the special trustee Robert Agrella, who was assigned by Harris to replace City College’s board of trustees just after the accreditation crisis broke out.

“Characterizations that the cases before the court are a ‘last-ditch’ effort to ‘save’ City College are inaccurate and will do additional damage to the college’s enrollment,” Harris wrote.

And City College’s enrollment has taken a huge hit, down nearly 30 percent from last year, leading to the college’s new media campaign to get students back in City College seats. 

Though Harris criticized Herrera’s lawsuit as the chancellor of the state community college system, Harris has tangled ties with the accreditors — he was a commissioner on the ACCJC board some years ago

At the hearing to grant the injunction, Sara Eisenberg, the deputy city attorney, argued that real harm hit City College since the news of its closure hit. Students have left the school in droves.

We’re asking, your honor, right now for something that won’t happen until further down the road… but there’s real harm happening right now. Latest numbers show enrollment is down 27 percent,” she told Karnow. 

The ACCJC’s counsel, Andrew Sclar, argued that an injunction to stop City College’s closure would actually harm the ACCJC itself.

 “There certainly would be harm to us,” he told Karnow. “If we do not enforce sanctions or bring a non compliant institution into compliance within a two year period, we would be at risk of losing our recognition with the United States Department of Education.”

Karnow then asked if there was “evidence on the record” of that ever happening. Sclar said no.

The college is slated to lose its accreditation in July 2014. The college is trying to reverse its fortunes and is applying for an appeal with the ACCJC. 

Now, it has a chance to stay open while Herrera fights for its future. Two other lawsuits were filed against the ACCJC as well, one by the California Federation of Teachers and another by the Save CCSF Coalition. 

Lawsuits aren’t the only fire the ACCJC has come under lately. US Rep. Jackie Speier called for a forum on the ACCJC’s alleged misconduct in November, and the beleagured commission was recently reviewed by the federal government, and given one year to come into compliance with federal guidelines.

For our coverage of the court hearing that led to the injunction, click here.

Deputy City Attorney Sara Eisenberg discusses the hearing for the injuncton.

The full text of Herrera’s press release is below.

City College wins reprieve, as court enjoins ACCJC from terminating accreditation

Herrera grateful to court ‘for acknowledging what accreditors callously won’t: that the educational aspirations of tens of thousands of City College students matter’

SAN FRANCISCO (Jan. 2, 2014) — A San Francisco Superior Court judge has granted a key aspect of a motion by City Attorney Dennis Herrera to preliminarily enjoin the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges from terminating City College of San Francisco’s accreditation next July.  Under terms of the ruling Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow issued late this afternoon, the ACCJC is barred from finalizing its planned termination of City College’s accreditation during the course of the litigation, which alleges that the private accrediting body has allowed political bias, improper procedures, and conflicts of interest to unlawfully influence its evaluation of the state’s largest community college.  Judge Karnow denied Herrera’s request for additional injunctive relief to prevent the ACCJC from taking adverse accreditation actions against other educational institutions statewide until its evaluation policies comply with federal regulations.  A separate motion for a preliminary injunction by plaintiffs representing City College educators and students was denied.  

In issuing the injunction, the court recognized that Herrera’s office is likely to prevail on the merits of his case when it proceeds to trial, and that the balance of harms favored the people Herrera represents as City Attorney.  On the question of relative harms, Judge Karnow’s ruling was emphatic in acknowledging the catastrophic effect disaccreditation would hold for City College students and the community at large, writing: “There is no question, however, of the harm that will be suffered if the Commission follows through and terminates accreditation as of July 2014.  Those consequences would be catastrophic.  Without accreditation the College would almost certainly close and about 80,000 students would either lose their educational opportunities or hope to transfer elsewhere; and for many of them, the transfer option is not realistic.  The impact on the teachers, faculty, and the City would be incalculable, in both senses of the term: The impact cannot be calculated, and it would be extreme.”

“I’m grateful to the court for acknowledging what accreditors have so far refused to: that the educational aspirations of tens of thousands of City College students matter,” said Herrera.  “Judge Karnow reached a wise and thorough decision that vindicates our contention that accreditors engaged in unfair and unlawful conduct.  Given the ACCJC’s dubious evaluation process, it makes no sense for us to race the clock to accommodate ACCJC’s equally dubious deadline to terminate City College’s accreditation.”

Judge Karnow adjudicated four separate pre-trial motions in today’s ruling following two days of hearings on Dec. 26 and 30.  Herrera filed his motion for preliminary injunction on Nov. 25 — three months after filing his initial lawsuit — blaming the ACCJC for procedural foot-dragging and delay tactics, which included a failed bid to remove the case to federal court and its months-long refusal to honor discovery requests.  Judge Karnow granted in part and denied in part Herrera’s motion, issuing an injunction that applies only to the ACCJC’s termination deadline for City College’s accreditation, and not statewide.

Apart from Herrera’s motion, AFT Local 2121 and the California Federation of Teachers also moved for a preliminary injunction on Nov. 25, citing additional legal theories.  That motion was denied.  A third motion by the ACCJC asked the court to abstain from hearing the City Attorney’s lawsuit for interfering with complex accrediting processes largely governed by federal law; or, failing that, to stay Herrera’s action pending the outcomes of City College’s accreditation proceeding and ACCJC’s own efforts to renew its recognition with the U.S. Department of Education.  A fourth motion, also by the ACCJC, requested that the court strike the AFT/CFT’s case under California’s Anti-SLAPP statute, which enables defendants to dismiss causes of actions that intend to chill the valid exercise of their First Amendment rights of free speech and petition.  (SLAPP is an acronym for “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.”)  Both of the ACCJC’s pre-trial motions were denied.

The ACCJC has come under increasing fire from state education advocates, a bipartisan coalition of state legislators and U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier for its controversial advocacy to dramatically restrict the mission of California’s community colleges by focusing on degree completion to the detriment of vocational, remedial and non-credit education.  The accrediting body’s political agenda — shared by conservative advocacy organizations, for-profit colleges and student lender interests — represents a significant departure from the abiding “open access” mission repeatedly affirmed by the California legislature and pursued by San Francisco’s Community College District since it was first established.  

Herrera’s action, filed on Aug. 22, alleges that the commission acted to withdraw accreditation “in retaliation for City College having embraced and advocated a different vision for California’s community colleges than the ACCJC itself.”  The civil suit offers extensive evidence of ACCJC’s double standard in evaluating City College as compared to its treatment of six other similarly situated California colleges during the preceding five years.  Not one of those colleges saw its accreditation terminated.  

The City Attorney’s case is: People of the State of California ex rel. Dennis Herrera v. Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges et al., San Francisco Superior Court No. 13-533693, filed Aug. 22, 2013.  The AFT/CFT case is: AFT Local 2121 et al. v. Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges et al., San Francisco Superior Court No. 534447, filed Sept. 24, 2013.  Documentation from the City Attorney’s case is available online at: