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City College of S.F. trustees lose power

By Nanette Asimov

State officials stripped authority from the elected Board of Trustees for City College of San Francisco on Monday and installed a “special trustee” with unilateral powers to try to save the school from losing accreditation in one year.

The dramatic move by California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris and the college system’s Board of Governors followed objections from faculty and a plea from City College Trustee Anita Grier to let the board remain in charge.

But Harris and a unanimous Board of Governors made it clear that the trustees’ time has run out.

“I envision taking action in a much more rapid manner,” Harris said. “The decisions have been very, very slow. … There are broken systems that need to be corrected, and there’s a need to bring different people in.”

Harris named Robert Agrella as “special trustee with extraordinary powers,” meaning that he will decide how the college should spend its money, though he can’t dismantle labor contracts. Agrella has served as special trustee for City College since the fall, but in an advisory role. He declined to comment.

The move “is designed to save City College, not preside over its closure,” Harris said.

City College trustees learned last week that their yearlong effort to save the school fell short. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges said Wednesday that the college of 85,000 students will lose accreditation on July 31, 2014. Without that license to operate, the college — one of the largest in the country — could receive no public funds and would have to close.

The commission said City College had satisfied only two of the 14 recommendations needed to meet accreditation standards, and that its money management and governance problems remain severe.

So Agrella will establish “a really clear game plan for how we’re going to meet each and every one of those standards,” Harris said.

Ineffective leadership is at the core of the college’s problems, the accrediting commission found. City College is on its second interim leader since April 2012.

Agrella will also appoint a permanent chancellor, though faculty will be able to interview finalists.

Harris said he wants a permanent chancellor by Oct. 1. Asked by board member Henry Ramos what would happen if no one stepped forward to take such a precarious position, Harris said that “outstanding leaders have expressed interest. … More than one.”

Just six of the nine state board members showed up Monday. Two of the missing were personally involved in the turmoil that has gripped City College for a year and has led to labor strife, protests and fear in the community that one of the Bay Area’s most valuable public assets will cease to exist. Absent were Natalie Berg, who also serves as a City College trustee, and Joseph Bielanski, who also serves on the accrediting commission.

Also absent was Deborah Malumed.

Before their vote, the state board heard from faculty and trustees defending the college’s efforts and questioning the accrediting commission’s motives.

“The problems at City College didn’t warrant the extreme judgment,” said Grier, a trustee for 20 years. “I’m firmly convinced that City College is on a stable path. … City College needs policymakers like me to make the decisions for us.”

The state board took a different view.

The experience at City College should “send a message up and down the state” that trustees need to manage the money and stay accredited, said Vice President Geoffrey Baum.

“You have to make decisions that aren’t popular,” Baum said.

And with that, the board told Harris to hire the special trustee and suspend the board.

— Reach Nanette Asimov at [email protected]

San Francisco Chronicle

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