City College of San Francisco students and teachers were given a reprieve Thursday when a Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the July 31 revocation of the college's accreditation.
The order by Judge Curtis Karnow will remain in effect until a full trial is held on City Attorney Dennis Herrera's challenge to the revocation decision by the western regional branch of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
Karnow said in a 53-page decision that the injunction was justified because of the severe harm to students, teachers and the city if the college lost accreditation and had to close.
"Those consequences would be catastrophic," Karnow wrote.
"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," Karnow wrote.
Herrera had argued in a court filing that disaccreditation would be "effectively a death sentence" because the college would lose federal and state funding.
Karnow is expected to set a trial date at a Jan. 29 status conference in his San Francisco courtroom, according to Herrera spokesman Matt Dorsey.
The trial and a possible appeal of its outcome could extend well beyond the July 31 revocation date ordered by the Novato-based commission last July, thus potentially keeping the injunction in effect for months.
The commission cited alleged problems with financial accountability and institutional governance as reasons for its decision.
Herrera's August lawsuit and a similar lawsuit by the California Federation of Teachers in September claim the commission violated the state's Unfair Competition Law by evaluating the college with unfair, biased or illegal procedures.
Among other claims, the lawsuits allege the commission was prejudiced against the college's mission of "open access" to the public and that two evaluation teams lacked adequate representation by professors. They contend Commission President Barbara Beno engaged in a conflict of interest by appointing her husband to one of the teams.
The teachers' union had also asked for a preliminary injunction but Karnow, using a different legal standard, denied it in that case. The union's lawsuit will still proceed, however, and the two cases may be tried together.
Herrera said of the ruling, "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."
CFT communications director Fred Glass said, "Now, with a preliminary injunction granted to keep the college open as the case moves forward, students can rest assured that the quality education offered at CCSF will continue to count for credits, transfer and financial aid."
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