City College forum questions new reforms as deadline looms

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Carlos Ambriz, vice president of Associated Student Council, watches over the large crowd that came to help save CCSF.
Joe Fitzgerald

More than 300 of City College of San Francisco’s students and faculty piled into a meeting hall at the school’s Mission campus last night, Feb.7, all waiting to hear the answer to one question: What can we do to save City College?

CCSF failed to meet a list of six requirements to improve the school that the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges gave it to complete in 2006, notably in measuring student learning outcomes and in managing its finances. Failing to meet those deadlines, the ACCJC told City College last June that it had until March 15, 2013 to fix their school, or it would face losing its accreditation -- which means the college would lose state funding, and the degrees it offered from that point on would be almost worthless.

Concerned for the future of their college, a coalition of students, faculty and community members started “Save CCSF,” the group that organized the teach-in at Mission campus.

Students occupied every chair, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the back of the hall. The meeting was about education, the first speaker announced, meant to inform students about the crisis. How did CCSF come under threat of closure? Who is the accreditation body that posed the threat? The answers were complicated, and filled with accusations against the ACCJC, and the school’s own Board of Trustees.

We do accept there are deficiencies at City College,” student Inder Grewal, 20, said to the crowd. “But the administration is making change at a pace that is hurting faculty and students at our school."

Notable speakers came out to show their support for the diverse students at City College. Wisconsin State Senator Spencer Coggs, one of the “Wisconsin 14” who fled the state to deny Governor Scott Walker quorum in the senate over his union-busting legislation, spoke in his support of City College’s labor force.

We believe in justice for workers rights, correct?” he said to the crowd, to cheers. “You in California supported us in Wisconsin, we in Wisconsin support you in California.”

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who represents San Francisco, sent a representative to show his support for the Save CCSF coalition. “We have been working on this issue,” Kimberly Alvarenga, Ammiano’s district director, said to the coalition supporters. “Last week we had a meeting with Assemblymember Ting, labor, and a rep from the [California Community College] state chancellor’s office to get a conversation started. We’re in solidarity with you.”

Just today, Ting held a press conference to support City College. Notably, CCSF faculty union leader Alisa Messer, staff union head Athena Steff, and SF Labor Council head Tim Paulson spoke as well, perhaps signaling Ting’s support of labor at the college.

At the press conference, college spokesperson Larry Kamer acknowledged the disagreements within the college, and offered to find middle ground.

There’s a lot we don’t agree on,” he said. “But one thing we do agree on is we want City College to remain accredited, we want people to recognize the work that’s been done, we want them to appreciate what we still have to do. But the headline today is we want people to enroll.”

Above, video of the press conference courtesy of The Guardsman, the newspaper of City College of San Francisco

The makeup of the crowd of currently enrolled students at the coalition meeting last night was a good indicator of exactly who stands to lose in City College’s shakeup. Easily half the room was filled with Latino students of every age and stripe, and many of them answered that they were English as Second Language students worried about their future.

I was a dishwasher, a janitor, everything,” said a man who wanted to be identified only as Jose because he is an undocumented student. Jose emigrated from El Salvador 10 years ago, and decided to take ESL classes at City College so he could get a new lease on life. He hasn’t decided on his major yet, maybe natural sciences, creative writing, or social science. The world is open to him, he said, because of his ESL classes.

If I hadn’t taken classes at City College, I couldn’t be talking to you now.”

He and other students were there for answers, and the answers they got were alarming.

Changes for the worse

The Save CCSF coalition urged the hundreds of students and faculty in attendance to bring anyone they could to rally at City Hall on March 14 -- the day before City College is set to deliver its “show cause report” to the ACCJC. The report is a detailed report of the progress the college has made to address the ACCJC’s requirements for change. You can read the draft here.

In order to meet the ACCJC’s requirements, the board of trustees and administration have been making stark changes to the college, ones that the people in the meeting that night said were harming students.

Who’s been to the Bayview district?” Shanell Williams, associated students president, asked the crowd. Easily 30 hands went up. “There was a van students were using to get to their campus without getting shot, that the college cut out of the budget. It's about access.”

The college is cutting funds wherever it can, and the private bus that shuttled students across gang lines in the Bayview was only the first of many changes. The Save CCSF coalition also told the crowd that they were fighting to restore the jobs of the over 30 classified staff and 50 faculty that weren’t rehired for this school year -- essentially let go.

Use the Proposition A funds as promised,” Tarik Farrar, chair of African American studies said. He was referring to the language in Prop. A that went before San Francisco voters last November saying the $14 million parcel tax would be used to stop faculty layoffs at City College. “It's explicit, not vague. The interim chancellor and special trustee does not have the right to use the money as they choose.”

Protecting labor isn't strictly about protecting teachers because ultimately, the loss of faculty shrinks class offerings and class sizes.

Farrar was especially concerned that the belt tightening at the school would shrink the population it sets out to serve, something the college has already put into writing, by rewriting its mission statement.

“If you turn CCSF into a school of 20,000 students it will not be accessible,” he said. “The students that will be hurt disproportionately by this school will be the students I teach, people who look like this room, mostly.”

It is important to note that City College is still open, and is still accredited. The school is currently under-enrolled to the tune of about 3,000 students. The loss of that many students could possibly result in the state withdrawing funds for the school to the tune of at least $5 million, according to school officials in public meetings.

For further reading on the City College crisis from the students themselves, check out the following:

Can City College students transfer to SF State if the college closes
?

25 percent of community colleges in California are under sanction

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