City College of San Francisco and Public Education Under Attack
Hundreds of students, faculty, and community supporters of the City College of San Francisco rallied at City Hall to demand an end to cuts and layoffs and full funding of public education
DAVID ZLUTNICK, PRODUCER: On March 14, hundreds of students, faculty, and community supporters of the City College of San Francisco rallied at City Hall to demand an end to cuts and layoffs, and full funding of public education.
CCSF is the largest public school system in California, with a total enrollment of over 85,000 students and over 1,600 faculty. But CCSF is currently facing a crisis over its accreditation, often described as an issue of budget and management, but many believe is representative of an attack on public education as a whole.
Colleges and universities are given accreditation by one of several organizations recognized by the US Department of Education. CCSF is overseen by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, or ACCJC, a division of a private corporation called the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
In July 2012, the ACCJC placed CCSF on “Show Cause” status, its most serious sanction short of removing accreditation altogether.
The ACCJC has come under much criticism from student and faculty organizations for what they call a disproportionate use of sanctions. In 2012, the ACCJC issued 35 percent of all sanctions nationwide while only overseeing 5 percent of higher education institutions. Over the past decade, more than half of the ACCJC’s schools have been sanctioned, and currently 27 of California’s community colleges are under sanction.
The “Show Cause” status mandates improvements within a given time period, typically two years, but in this case only eight months, even though CCSF had never received a sanction in the past. In fact, CCSF was praised by the ACCJC for the outstanding quality of its educational opportunities, its accessibility, and its diversity. Yet nonetheless, the sanction has resulted in several drastic measures being taken, including a restructuring of administration, faculty and staff layoffs, and cuts to classes and student services.
This has outraged students and faculty who are bearing the brunt of these actions. The claim that there has been poor financial planning has particularly touched a nerve, as CCSF has suffered extreme budget cuts. Between 2009 and 2012, CCSF lost more than $53 million in state funding.
Yet even despite these massive cuts, CCSF worked to ensure minimal disruption to its programs. It dipped into its reserves to retain classes and staff and was still able to maintain a balance above the state’s recommended minimum. But in its evaluation, the ACCJC blasted CCSF for tapping its reserves without making more staffing cuts or cancelling additional classes.
ALISA MESSER, PRESIDENT AFT LOCAL 2121: What happened in California in the last several years was we pushed nearly half a million students out of the community college system. And at City College of San Francisco, we’ve really tried not to do that. We didn’t cancel as many classes, we didn’t lay off as many faculty and staff–in fact, we laid off no faculty and staff for several years.
It’s being framed now as though–now that the accreditation commission as come in, it’s being framed as though we made a mistake, like we didn’t know what we were doing. But it’s actually something that we did together, and it’s about decisions that we made together, trying to defend access for our students under very challenging circumstances. And so for labor that looked like making concessions, taking money out of our pockets on a number of occasions over a period of years to give back to try and keep the college going.
ZLUTNICK: The faculty union had already agreed to a 2.85 percent wage cut for the present school year. But in the fall, the district unilaterally lowered faculty wages by nearly 9 percent. At the same time, layoffs took place and cuts were made to programs for disabled students, as well as child care. Many critics of these measures are saying this is endangering the long-term mission of the school.
EDGAR TORRES, CHAIR, LATIN AMERICAN/LATINO STUDIES DEPARTMENT, CCSF: We’re just losing way too many staff. The sustainability of the school is now in jeopardy. The same thing with faculty. Faculty are leaving. The conditions are just so miserable that people are finding jobs elsewhere and they’re going there. We’re going to lose a lot of students. We already have. We’ve probably lost about 15,000 students already. And no one asked about those students. No one’s asked–the district doesn’t care about the 15,000 students that aren’t coming here any longer.
ZLUTNICK: The district’s new concentration on moving students quickly through programs reinforces this belief. The ACCJC’s report demanded that City College improve its monitoring of student advancement and limit the ability to take courses that do not move them out of the institution and on to four-year schools.
TORRES: This new accreditation team and the new district that wants to impose a business model on our school that’s trying to basically make it serve fewer people with an agenda of making people get out of school–not that we’re against that. We’re definitely in favor of that. But it can’t come at a cost of losing these programs that are facing the at-risk populations.
ZLUTNICK: The district administration has also overturned CCSF’s progressive system of shared governance, where faculty had a voice in decision-making.
MESSER: You know, reform can look a lot of different ways. And what we should have is a more transparent, more democratic, stronger institution. That’s what we’d like to see. That’s not what’s happening. In fact, there’s a very top-down process that’s been implemented that has really excluded the voices of the people who are impacted by whatever happens to City College and of the people who do the work.
ZLUTNICK: In the November 2012 elections, voters passed two ballot measures allowing for tax increases to fund public education. One was State Proposition 30 that provides funding throughout California, and the other was San Francisco Proposition A, providing funds specifically for City College to prevent cuts and layoffs. But although Prop A was to raise between $14-16 million annually for this purpose, the district has announced this money will be set aside to increase reserves and not re-fund programs. The district has claimed this is a mandate of the ACCJC, and what voters may have thought they were voting for is irrelevant.
MESSER: San Franciscans voted at an overwhelming amount, at 73 percent, to say, “Yes, we want to take money out of our pocket to save this college.” and unfortunately that’s not what it looks like right now. It doesn’t look like they’re saving our college. It looks like maybe they’ll save a smaller college.
ZLUTNICK: And that’s what brought protesters to the steps of City Hall this past Thursday to demand adequate funding of San Francisco’s community college.
LALO GUTIEREZ, CCSF STUDENT: We’re actually saying that it’s not budget crisis, that it’s not a financial crisis, but it’s actually a priority crisis. We’re saying that City Hall has an obligation to the people of San Francisco to step in and basically fund this school by giving us the Prop A money right now–that would prevent cuts–and demand that the state start funding the schools more. And so we’re also saying that City Hall also has to call on the Department of Education and basically call out the ACCJC.
ZLUTNICK: Students and faculty warn that what is happening here is not just of concern for San Francisco. If the district continues along its path of implementing the ACCJC’s directives, it will entirely redesign the institution to its own model, a startling precedent at one of the nation’s largest community colleges. If it happens here, they say, it can happen anywhere.
GUTIERREZ: This is a huge privatization attempt from the wealthy to literally try to profit off of public education. They want people to come to this school and any school and literally go straight into the work force. They view critical thinking as something that’s useless in this capitalist society, capitalist economy. What they need right now is a work force.
MESSER: It’s not really just an accreditation crisis, and it’s not really just a budget crisis. It’s a crisis in terms of what’s happening with public education in California and beyond.
ZLUTNICK: From San Francisco, California, this is David Zlutnick for The Real News Network.
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