By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's largest community college won a reprieve on Thursday when a judge temporarily blocked a regulatory agency from stripping City College of San Francisco of its accreditation.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges planned to withdraw accreditation from the school next summer, citing a lack of financial accountability and other longstanding problems, none directly related to educational quality.
On Thursday, San Francisco Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow issued a preliminary injunction barring the commission from removing the college's accreditation until a trial is held on a lawsuit filed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who alleged that political bias and conflicts of interest unlawfully influenced the agency's decision.
Lost accreditation would trigger funding cuts that would shutter the school, San Francisco's only community college, with nine campuses, 60 academic degrees and 140 vocational programs, from nursing to culinary arts and aircraft mechanics. Nearly 80,000 students attend classes there.
Closing the college would be "catastrophic," Karnow wrote in a 56-page ruling.
"The impact on the teachers, faculty, and the city would be incalculable, in both senses of the term: The impact cannot be calculated, and it would be extreme," the judge wrote.
He plans to begin hearing Herrera's lawsuit as well as a similar suit brought by unions representing the college's 1,500 instructors before July. He expressed doubt, however, that the trial would conclude before July 31, the date the college was slated to lose its accreditation.
Karnow rejected a separate request for an injunction from the California Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, saying that he did not expect the unions to win at trial.
The commission's offices are closed until next week and representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
The U.S. Department of Education authorizes the commission to evaluate 112 community colleges with more than 2 million California students every six years.
In 2012, commission members and administrators at the college came down on opposite sides of an ongoing political issue about the role of community colleges, and Herrera's lawsuit alleges that the commission acted to withdraw accreditation "in retaliation for City College having embraced and advocated a different vision."
(Reporting by Ronnie Cohen; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Lisa Shumaker)