City College of San Francisco teachers and their advocates said Wednesday that a decision to revoke the school's accreditation should be overturned after the U.S. Department of Education issued a letter Tuesday finding fault with the regional panel that made the decision.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges announced on July 3 that City College's accreditation would end in July 2014, saying the school had fully addressed only two of the 14 recommendations the commission made when it sanctioned the school last year.
However, a letter sent Tuesday by the Department of Education to commission president Barbara Beno cited multiple issues with the ACCJC's accrediting process.
The letter stated that the accrediting commission was unclear in "what a recommendation represents -- an area of noncompliance or an area for improvement."
The letter said, "This lack of clear identification impacts the agency's ability to provide institutions with adequate due process."
The letter also took issue with a lack of faculty members on the teams that evaluated City College in 2012 and earlier this year, as well as a possible conflict of interest in having Beno's husband serve as a member of an evaluation team.
Members of City College's faculty union and a statewide teachers' union lauded the department's letter today and argued that it should prompt the ACCJC not to revoke accreditation.
"It's a clear justification for reversing the decision," said Alisa Messer, president of American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, the school's faculty union.
"We all agree there are things to work on at City College," Messer said. "What we don't agree on are the punitive actions and inconsistent actions that have wreaked more havoc" on the school.
Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said the federal letter "confirms what we have known for some time, that the ACCJC has operated as a rogue agency."
The state teachers' union in May filed a nearly 300-page complaint against the accrediting commission with the Department of Education, accusing the ACCJC of intimidation, a lack of due process and other violations.
The ACCJC issued a response to the letter on its website Tuesday, saying the commission "will be responding formally to the department's letter and will, of course, make necessary changes to appropriately address the department's concerns."
The ACCJC said its response to the letter will be submitted in December as part of the review of its recognition by the department as an accrediting agency.
Meanwhile, City College plans next week to send in a request of a review by the commission of its accreditation decision, Messer said.
If the ACCJC declines to overturn its decision, the school will then be able to formally appeal, while Pechthalt said his organization is also considering legal options against the commission.
Messer said she is glad the letter has "the spotlight turned on (the commission's) own documents and procedures" and said it has brightened the mood at the school, which has seen decreasing student enrollment during the uncertainty over its accreditation.
"It's a tremendous relief for faculty," she said. "We've known all along that there's a problem with the process."
Today was the first day of the fall semester at City College.