When I showed up at the big Save City College rally outside the Department of Education offices, I kept asking people: Why are we here? Why aren't we at Nancy Pelosi's office?After all, if Pelosi wanted to make a fuss about this issue, she could make a phone call to the secretary of education and get some action right away (more things like this would happen.)
But in the end, I've had the feeling for a while now that the only way to stop this disaster from happening so fast, and City College essentially shutting down next spring, is for someone to get this case out of the hands of the ACCJC and in front of a judge.
And that's what City Attorney Dennis Herrera just did. In a complaint filed today (Aug. 22), Herrera alleges that the ACCJC's decision to yank the accreditation of City College was marred by conflicts of interest and that that commission went beyond the scope of its authority.
At the very least, I suspect this will slow things down. "The first question a judge is going to ask is 'what's the rush,' " Matt Dorsey, Herrera's spokesperson, told me. "What is the immediate danger here? Are things just so horribly bad for students at City College that they would be better off with nothing at all? Why do we have to do such lasting damage to the students and the city in such a short time frame?"
And if the case ever gets to trial, the ACCJC will have to explain why it treated City College differently than other institutions, why it is trying to shut the school down rather than allow time for improvements -- and why does the revocation of accreditation have nothing at all to do with the quality of education that the students are getting?
But the lawsuit actually goes beyond the narrow issues and raises critical questions about the direction of higher education policy and funding in this country. Among other things, the compliant discusses the role of the Lumina Foundation -- created with some $700 million in money from the sale of a private student-loan administration outfit -- in pushing for the privatization of community-college, vocational, and traditional college education.
Much of the complaint -- you can get a pdf here -- reads like an investigative news report, showing how Lumina and the leaders of big for-profit schools are scamming millions of students, taking their money, loading them down with debt, and never providing a decent education.
And, Herrera alleges, that same agenda is driving the move to shut down City College. When lower-income students and people seeking language or vocational skills lose access to public education, the private companies (and the student loan outfits) make increased profits. "Put simple, contracting community colleges pushes students into for-profit colleges and forces them to incur significant debt -- to the benefit of for-profit colleges and private lending institutions," the complaint notes.
Lumina also provides money to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a notorious right-wing group that is pushing the privatization of education.
In 2011, Lumina gave $1.5 million to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC's parent) and $600,000 to something called the "Campaign for College Opportunity." ACCJC President Barbara Beno sits on the COC Advisory Board. Lumina also gave $200,000 to a state Student Success Task Force that came up with proposals that directly undermined the mission of broad-based schools like City College and pushed for all students to be in degree programs, most of them aimed at transferring to a four-year college.
The ACCJC strongly endorsed the Task Force findings. City College, and its faculty, board, and students, strongly opposed them. As the state Legislature debated a bill in 2012 giving the recommendations the power of law, City College and its board, faculty and students fought back, and succeeded in watering it down significantly. ACCJC was just as strongly pushing for the other side.
While that battle was going on, the ACCJC decided to start moving against City College by threatening its accreditation.
The loss of accreditation was based in significant part on ACCJC's demand that City College narrow its scope and mission "to become the kind of limited service college that ACCJC and its funders prefer," the complaint notes.
It's explosive stuff.
The lawsuit was filed under the state's Unfair Practices Act, which gives Herrera the standing, on behalf of the people of California, to go after a private outfit that is engaging in illegal business practices. It's a powerful too, and if he's successful, he might save City College -- and deal a huge blow to the corporate privatization forces that are attacking public education.