President’s message: A good start to 2014

Dear AFT 2121 members and friends,

Great news and a lovely way to begin 2014! On January 2nd, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow granted a preliminary injunction to keep City College of San Francisco open until conclusion of the trial to determine whether the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges acted in an unfair and illegal manner in sanctioning and disaccrediting the college.

Over two days, this week and last, the judge heard motions from our legal team and City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s team, as well as responses and also counter-motions from the ACCJC. Hundreds of faculty, students, and community members, as well as CFT President Joshua Pechthalt and other labor allies, turned out and packed the courtroom; if you didn’t make it, be sure and ask a colleague who did. It was quite a showing! (We posted pictures and updates on our facebook page as it all happened, too.)

As a result of this decision, we can all rest and prepare for the semester–or head out to flyer for enrollment–with more confidence. Our current and would-be students, we hope, will be encouraged to enroll. And the judge’s decision means that after two years, the CCSF community can finally expect to see something we haven’t had until now: a fair hearing and a fair process.

Judge Karnow granted the injunction on the basis of the “incalculable harm” that would be inflicted on the students, faculty, employees, and broader community if he did not do so. At the same time, he rejected motions by the ACCJC attempting to dismiss the suits and to slow or halt the process of scrutinizing the Commission’s actions in court.

Both requests for preliminary injunction–ours and the City Attorney’s–asked the judge to ensure the school would remain open as long as the trial proceeds. The judge agreed that it will probably be after July 2014 before the trial would be concluded. We had also asked the court to rescind the ACCJC’s July 2012 “show cause” sanction, but Judge Karnow declined to do so. Additionally, he declined to act on another part of Herrera’s motion—to stop the ACCJC from continuing to issue sanctions on California’s other community colleges for the duration.

This injunctive relief does not decide the College’s re-accreditation or indicate any final decisions. In order to come to this injunction, however, Judge Karnow had to look at the evidence provided so far and weigh the merits of the cases, concluding not just that the harm to CCSF was great but also that the plaintiffs have a strong case. He was decisive about the harm that would result if CCSF were to close: “Those consequences would be catastrophic,” to students first and foremost, but also to faculty, college employees, and the San Francisco economy. He also found that at trial “AFT would probably be able to establish that the college was not afforded a fair procedure.” We look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate our full case and the necessity of rescinding the sanctions.

While the judge could–and indeed, we think should–have gone farther in his injunction, directing the ACCJC to rescind and re-do its evaluation of CCSF (fairly and legally, this time) and ensuring a fair and legal process for all California colleges, there is no doubt that this is a tremendous win for City College. Yet another important independent voice has corroborated that the process leading up to the show cause sanction and disaccreditation was unfair and likely illegal. It should give everyone watching confidence that the court will fairly adjudicate the situation and keep City College open.

What’s next on the legal front? The City Attorney’s and our union suits are combined in a “complex case.” On January 29th, the judge will sit down with all parties for a case management conference. We expect this to determine the trial calendar.

In the meantime, the City College cause gathers more political support at every turn (see a partial overview). This coming Monday, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi will speak in support of CCSF and our open doors at a press event on Chinatown Campus.

I hope that you will take a moment to savor this win and appreciate what strong advocates we have collectively been for our college and our students, the strong support we have in the community, and the many important champions for our City College and California’s community colleges who are truly rising to the occasion.

Our work is not over–and we have a semester to begin, and students to teach, and dedicated work to continue together. Thank you for all you do, I hope you have had a restorative break, and I look forward to seeing you on FLEX day (join us in Visual Arts 115 at 1pm).

Happy 2014! Onward!

In unity,

Alisa Messer
President, AFT 2121

p.s. You can listen to comments from City Attorney Dennis Herrera (and also from me!) on this morning’s KQED Forum in this 20-minute segment.

p.p.s. If you can dedicate time to the enrollment campaign, note that Susan Lopez, Leslie Simon, and Danny Halford will continue to coordinate on Saturday mornings out of “Enrollment Central” (Room 261) on Mission Campus starting Jan. 11th. Email Susan for details and watch the listservs for outreach locations and events (including Bart this Tuesday).

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