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SF City College Students Occupy City Hall, Seek Mayor’s Help

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City College of San Francisco students during a sit-in at San Francisco City Hall on August 20, 2013. (CBS)

City College of San Francisco students during a sit-in at San Francisco City Hall on August 20, 2013. (CBS)

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Students from City College of San Francisco took over City Hall Tuesday night, protesting a recent decision by a regional panel to revoke the school’s accreditation. Meanwhile, school officials have filed a formal request to review the decision.

The protesters staged a rally at City Hall following a march Tuesday afternoon. According to witnesses, about 150-200 students stayed after the building closed for the night at 8 p.m. About 40-50 protesters remained at City Hall as of 11 p.m. Tuesday.

The students demanded to meet with Mayor Ed Lee, seeking his help to keep the school accredited. A spokesperson for the mayor accepted a list of the protesters’ demands, but Lee declined to meet with them Tuesday night.

A member of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department told KPIX 5 they plan to ask the protesters to leave and to have City Hall cleared sometime during the night.

City College of San Francisco officials on Monday submitted a formal request for review, but the request made no mention of recent criticism of the accrediting commission by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges announced last month that City College’s accreditation would end in July 2014 unless changes are made to the school’s governance structure and finances.

However, last week the Department of Education issued a letter finding fault with the ACCJC’s accrediting process for City College, citing vague instructions for compliance, a lack of faculty members on evaluation teams and a possible conflict of interest between the commission’s president and her husband, who was on an evaluation team.

Yet City College special trustee Robert Agrella said Tuesday that he decided not to include the federal criticism of the ACCJC in the school’s request for review because he did not want City College to take an adversarial role against the commission.

“By doing that we would be attacking the commission,” Agrella said. “That’s a call I made and we’re sticking with it.”

Agrella, who was appointed last month by California Community Colleges chancellor Brice Harris to oversee City College’s fight to maintain accreditation, expanded on his decision in an open letter posted on the school’s website on Monday.

Agrella wrote, “I strongly believe that the best path to maintaining CCSF’s accreditation is to follow the Commission’s rules, regulations, and directions and to continue to show substantial progress toward meeting the eligibility requirements and standards.”

He wrote, “If our review document joins the attack on the Commission, I believe that the review and appeals process will be unsuccessful. If this is the case, I also believe our timeframe for meeting the standards may be significantly shortened.”

Agrella said Tuesday that rather than have their timeframe shortened, his hope is that the 85,000-student school will be able to show enough progress that the commission could extend its accreditation deadline past its current date of July 31, 2014.

“I wouldn’t have taken this on if I didn’t truly think we would maintain our accreditation,” he said.

City College’s faculty union last week called on the ACCJC to reverse its decision to revoke the school’s accreditation in light of the Department of Education letter, but Agrella said that was highly unlikely.

Agrella, who spoke to reporters Tuesday at a panel convened in San Francisco by the group New America Media, said City College is continuing to address the commission’s recommendations during the review process. If the decision to revoke accreditation is upheld, the school plans to appeal.

Agrella said changes being made include redefining the roles of department chairs and deans and making sure the school maintains financial stability by placing at least 5 percent of its general fund in reserves.

“We want to put the pedal to the metal and work as hard as we possibly can,” he said.

The appointment of a special trustee temporarily removed any power from City College’s board of trustees, and Agrella said he does “not see a board coming back into the institution for some time to come,” with him or another special trustee likely overseeing the school for “several years.”

Agrella said City College also has to add details to a report outlining the school’s plans in the event that its accreditation is indeed revoked next year and the school has to close.

Among the options the school is looking at would be to lease space in its buildings to neighboring institutions to allow City College students to transfer there without having to commute to other destinations around the Bay Area, he said.

“It’s simply not possible to say every student at City College can just get in a car and go to another institution,” he said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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