The San Francisco Chronicle's August 23 editorial criticizing the lawsuit filed by City Attorney Dennis J. Herrera against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College (ACCJC) moves the Chronicle farther than ever into the realm of tabloid journalism. While the Chronicle implies that Herrera doesn’t know what he is talking about, he does; it’s the Chronicle that has stubbornly refused to address the underlying issues for why the ACCJC put one of the highest-ranking educational institutions in the US with an excellent bill of accreditation health on alert last year.

Herrera’s lawsuit is a comprehensive, definitive treatise on the subject of accreditation at CCSF. It contains cardinal truths that have been obscured in news reports for years. It is astonishing that the facts in Herrera’s lawsuit have not come to light during the entire time “higher education reporter” Nanette Asimov has strategically whittled away at CCSF in her articles for the Chronicle. The Department of Education has gone after the ACCJC, and now the City Attorney has followed suit. It’s time to pay attention, and read Herrera’s powerful complaint.

Who would be in a better position to author the Chronicle editorial than Nannette Asimov? Her report (Aug 23) on Herrera’s injunction is identical, and if she didn’t write it, it confirms that the San Francisco Chronicle endorses consistently slanted news coverage about City College of San Francisco (CCSF). Asimov is on record for basing her articles about CCSF on reports from the ACCJC and the Fiscal Crisis and Management team (FMAT), who have been taken to task for their bias by the US and San Francisco government.

A major US city like San Francisco deserves a high quality newspaper with balanced investigative journalism, yet San Franciscans must rely on alternative new sources for fairness and accuracy in reporting about this extremely important issue.

One conspicuous detail of Asimov’s 8/23 report is an email received from ACCJC, supposedly solicited for a comment to the Chronicle about Herrera’s lawsuit. It is unclear just who is the recipient since it isn’t mentioned but this was their response: “These actions appear to be without merit and an attempt to politicize and interfere with the ongoing accreditation review process with response to CCSF”. This “interference” is obviously important for citizens of San Francisco and their community college given that the ACCJC has recently been reprimanded by the US Department of Education.

The editorial in the Chronicle entitled “Off Target” faults “the union” of CCSF (not students, faculty and supporters) for “turning the tables on ACCJC by citing deficiencies and bias in the process”, even if the Dept of Education is in compliance.

The hastily written editorial with a prominent typo in the first sentence suggests there was hardly enough time to read through the 31 page complaint filed by Herrera for “injunctive relief and civil penalties for violations of business and professions code 17200”. This is not an inconsequential code but one with potent legal muscle designed to prevent practices by entities such as the ACCJC. They have jeopardized the only community college San Francisco has, and which has cost the State of California millions of dollars.

Herrera’s lawsuit puts the ACCJC on line for “unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising and any act prohibited by Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 17500) of Part 3 of Division 7 of the Business and Professions Code”. The Chronicle calls the lawsuit “changing the subject”.

While a certain amount of groaning is part and parcel for readers of Asimovian CCSF reports, this editorial confirms that no matter what the circumstances, the San Francisco Chronicle has a vested interest in distorting, inflating and obfuscating the issues surrounding arbitrary sanctions made against City College by ACCJC. It is unlikely that the Chronicle will ever report the situation fairly on the complex facets of accreditation. It was time to listen when the Department of Education cited the ACCJC, and it is especially time to listen when the City Attorney delivers an injunction. This is “on target” although the Chronicle would prefer looking the other way.

It doesn’t require a fine-tooth comb to see crystallized distortions in the Chronicle editorial. Beyond the title “Off Target”, it purports, ”When you are losing an argument, change the subject”. Lodging a civil action is called a “distraction”, and “playing with fire”; standing up to the ACCJC is called “codling dysfunction”. CCSF administrative operations are called “ramshackle”. The Chronicle’s rhetorical style of loaded language with appeal to emotion should by now be transparent.

The sad fact is that the Chronicle offers ill-conceived claims that the college is regulated by a “loose fit governance” charioting “freeloaders,” which paints a fairly bleak picture of CCSF for Chronicle readers. Yet, what CCSF does have is an “open access” policy, mandated and codified in the California Education code (§66201).

CCSF’s student body and the California education code for “Open access”
CCSF’s “Open access” policy is the primary reason behind ACCJC’s ruling to terminate CCSF’s accreditation, and Herrera’s lawsuit responsibly addresses it as an agency with unlawful practices.

Students at City College of San Francisco can fulfill general education requirements and transfer to a four-year college with a lower college debt that doesn’t require an MBA degree to pay off in the future. State funding for non-credit courses that provide “valuable skills to find jobs and advance careers” are significantly lower than “for credit” courses. ACCJC would have CCSF dismantle these courses, instead of respecting California’s open access code. Non-credit courses in automotive technology, construction, accounting, bookkeeping, computer applications and health provide students with the skills to have a competitive advantage on the job market. Not every student can or wants to be a “techie.”

Lifelong-learning courses for 10% of the student body over 55 includes computer training, health and wellness, language arts and the arts, all valuable subjects for students in the prime of their life. The ESL program caters to 20,0000 students every year, there are disabled students programs and services and parenting and child observation classes.

These programs make City College a unique higher education institution of open access to Californians.

ACCJC has ties with ‘for profit’ colleges and student loan financial institutions.
It behooves ACCCJ to sanction a community college like CCSF and Herrera counters with facts that have yet to be printed in the San Francisco Chronicle, other than an occasional parenthetical comment, for an obvious reason.

The City Attorney demonstrates how the ACCJC serves corporate forces today that are striving to make public education private. Those forces are foundations that guarantee student loans such as the “Lumina Foundation for Education”.

Lumina was criticized by federal regulators for lucrative executives salaries, then regrouped as Sallie Mae and renamed itself Lumina. On the board is Professor Emeritus of the well funded online University of Phoenix and former president and CEO of Sallie Mae. Also supporting Lumina are a sizeable number of oil companies – Exxon, Mobil, Texaco, Shell, and Chevron. Other donors include the National Rifle Association and cigarette manufacturer Phillip Morris.

Lumina's mission fits perfectly with the downsizing of community colleges, for when student enrollment shrinks, “for profit” enrollment increases - such as the University of Phoenix, and private lending institutions – such as Sallie Mae. Low income and first generation US students at CCSF are targets for “for profit” colleges and recruitment strategists.

The US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has studied them and reports that recruiters especially prey on low-income students and use “fear” and pain as motivation to entice them to apply for expensive college loans at high tuition schools. One of them is University of Phoenix. Yet, when students enroll at “for profit” colleges, the dropout rate is high and a whopping 63% of the students leave without a degree. That doesn’t hurt the schools, which receive generous tuition funding regardless if the students stays or drops out. In fact, eighty five percent of University of Phoenix’s budget comes from federal student aid.

This is the fertile ground of ACCJC, with enrollment already declining at CCSF, given their ruling. It’s time to look closely at the “recommendations” they have cited to bring CCSF more into alignment with the goals of ‘for profit’ colleges and to fully understand how their ruling is in conflict with the California Education Code.

Lumina awarded a grant of $450,000 to ACCJC to among other things “facilitate Tuning”, a “process designed to identify what a student should know in a chosen discipline, whether an AA, BA or MA has been earned” (www.luminafoundation.org/tag/tuning). The rhetoric of “Tuning” informs some of their recommendations to CCSF.

More interesting is that Lumina is a generous contributor to the “Western Association of Schools and Colleges” with three ACCJC members on the board, including President Barbara Beno.

Herrera provides the chronology of ACCJC sanctions. City College supporters, students, faculty and members of the local Board of trustees have pointed out repeatedly to the ACCJC that their recommendations were “inconsistent with the historic open access mission of the school”. “Open access” was challenged by the ACCJC and rejected by College Board of Trustees in 2011 before the “show cause” decision. Students and faculty voiced their opposition in Jan 2012, a half year before the verdict. In May 2012, City College students organized a conference “to keep community in City College” and that “a student’s income should not determine whether they can attend college of not.”

Despite CCSF efforts, “Show Cause” came to fruition in 2012 by a team of administrators and very few professors, including Barbara Beno’s husband Peter Crabtree.

Herrera points out discrepancies with the “show cause” evaluation report of 2012 and the termination decision report of 2013, which demonstrate that CCSF has been specifically targeted by the ACCJC. A comparison made between CCSF and Diablo Valley College shows that 11 recommendations had not been followed by DVC, yet in the end only six of the recommendations were necessary to address to remedy the termination. They were given another year to resolve recommendations, whereas CCSF was given no leeway.

The open access vision of CCSF in effect is the ultimate challenge to ACCJC and the reason why college accreditation is pending termination, according to Herrera’s lawsuit.

Despite an excellent academic record, the ACCJC claims the financial situation of CCJC is inadequate to continue open access. Yet Herrera shows the metrics for just why this is economically viable.

ESL remedial progress is 52.3%, more than double the rate for other California community colleges; students have a completion rate of 55.6% higher than the average of 49.2& for other California schools; as far as academic excellence, students demonstrate a higher GPA and a higher persistence rate (enrollment in three consecutive semesters). A message from the ACCJC claims that these facts are without merit. If students demonstrate academic excellence, and enroll and complete courses consistently it means that there is a constant flow of income to the college of federal and state aid.

And, as students improve in language skills they have more viable assets to offer to the job market in San Francisco. Open access visibly benefits the citizens of San Francisco and the State of California.

One germane truth is evident in Herrera’s lawsuit: CCSF has never been sanctioned before yet the Chronicle in the spirit of tabloid journalism claims that there has been “years of neglect and mismanagement at CCSF”. Asimov’s articles are embroidered with similar hyperbole. What a difference her reports would make if her acumen was pointed at the high drop out rate at “for profit” colleges, the use of pain and fear by for profit college recruiters and the enmeshment of ACCJC with Lumina.

Responsibly, Herrera’s letter must be studied, face-to-face with the damaging and distorted misreporting in the Chronicle.

It is not surprising that the Chronicle editorial claims Herrera’s lawsuit is changing the subject for it is the elephant in the dining room the Chronicle has not investigated. Herrera has.

The ACCJC is in violation of Federal law and is being sued for violation of State law. These are the facts. This is the subject. Herrera also challenges the California Board of Governors for improperly delegating its responsibility to a third party agency, as he should. Meanwhile, CCSF is fully entrenched and working at top speed in an accreditation action program, which hopefully will be delegated by the California Board of Governors to be overseen by a more efficacious and unbiased entity than ACCJC.

Bravo to Dennis Herrera for standing up for the people of San Francisco. Unlike the San Francisco Chronicle, Dennis Herrera has done his homework and is ensuring the protection of CCSF's legal rights.

Moira Sullivan PhD is a member of FIPRESCI (International Film Critics) and a staff writer for Movie Magazine International, San Francisco where she does weekly radio reports on film reviews, events and festivals. Since 2013 she is a lecturer at City College of San Francisco in the Cinema Department.