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Judge declines to restore Sojourner-Douglass’ accreditation

A federal judge has denied a preliminary injunction that would have restored the accreditation of Sojourner-Douglass College, calling into question whether the school’s next term will move forward.

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Sojourner-Douglass College. (Photo by Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

The school’s lawsuit against the Middle States Commission on Higher Education remains pending. But U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander also Thursday granted a motion by the commission to dismiss discrimination and breach of contract claims. The judge permitted the college to amend its complaint within 17 days.

The commission announced in November that Sojourner-Douglass would be losing its accreditation due to financial difficulties; it was formally taken away June 30, one day after the college filed its lawsuit.

No classes were scheduled for the school’s fall semester, slated to begin at the end of July. The school’s next semester is scheduled to start in November.

Charles Simmons, president of Sojourner-Douglass, did not return a call for comment Friday.

Sojourner-Douglass argued the commission continued “moving the goalposts” as the administration for the college attempted to comply with requests for documents, making the decision to withdraw accreditation arbitrary and capricious. The commission countered the standards never changed and the college’s accreditation always hinged on its ability to show financial viability.

Hollander said Sojourner-Douglass’ contention that it was not afforded notice and the opportunity to respond to arbitrarily changing accreditation criteria “borders on specious.”

“The record overwhelmingly showed that the Commission followed its own procedures as well as federal regulations, essentially to a tee,” she wrote.

The college, which was created in 1972 in Baltimore and had several satellite campuses in Maryland, has experienced severe financial difficulties. It lost more than $5 million in 2012, according to the school’s most recently available tax statements.

The commission first alerted the college that its accreditation was at risk in November 2011 after finding insufficient evidence to show compliance with several standards, including institutional financial viability, according to court filings.

Hollander’s dismissal of the two contract-based claims was based on the commission’s argument that Sojourner-Douglass did not adequately prove the existence of a contract other than the accreditation relationship.

“Although it is conceivable that an accrediting agency could contract to perform accreditation, the Complaint does not contain sufficient factual detail to ‘nudge’ SDC’s claim ‘across the line from conceivable to plausible,’ ” she wrote.

The case is Sojourner-Douglass College v. Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, 1:15-cv-01926-ELH.