We won’t surrender CCSF

March 12, 2013

Clayton Plake reports on a budget battle underway at City College of San Francisco.

SOME 250 students, faculty, staff and community members rallied in front of City College of San Francisco (CCSF) on February 28 to protest the administration's threats that the school's accreditation will be revoked unless staff accept proposed cuts.

The action, spearheaded by the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 and endorsed by the Save City College Coalition, is the latest in a string of protests against attempts by interim Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman and special trustee Robert Agrella--under the oversight of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) and Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT)--to ram through austerity.

City College's accreditation has been in jeopardy since March 2012, when a visit from the ACCJC found "numerous problems" with the way the school was run. Included on the list of "problems" are full-time health care benefits for part-time faculty. If these cuts go into effect, they could affect some 1,000 instructors who teach part time and make up more than half of the faculty.

CCSF students and faculty march to save the college from losing accreditation
CCSF students and faculty march to save the college from losing accreditation (Labor Video Project | Indybay.org)

The commission set a tentative deadline of March 15 for CCSF administrators to prove that they've made the proposed changes, or the college could face closure.

With a student body of more than 85,000 students on nine separate campuses, CCSF is the single-largest community college in the nation. It is also a paragon of student-centered and democratically organized higher education that has maintained a strong commitment to helping people from under-represented and historically oppressed minorities.

According to recent enrollment statistics, people of color account for over 70 percent of CCSF's full-time student population alone, and many of them are first-time college attendees.

PARTICIPANTS IN the February 28 action stood shoulder to shoulder in a single-file line covering the length of Phelan Avenue, the busiest thoroughfare bordering CCSF's Ocean Campus. Protesters carrying signs and two gigantic banners reading "We are All City College" and "Save CCSF" were met with raised fists, smiles, waves, cheers, hoots and hollers from passersby.

Nicky Trasvina, a staff member at CCSF whose family has attended the school for three generations, described how the programs at CCSF were designed to help individuals from disadvantaged and marginalized communities.

"We do so much here to make sure we meet the needs of our broad and diverse student body," Trasvina said. She went on to discuss CCSF's Concurrent Enrollment Program, which allows students to earn college credit while they're still in high school--saving them thousands of dollars in tuition at a four-year university for the same coursework.

She also talked about the Extended Opportunity Program and Services' Second Chance Program, which actively seeks out and recruits formerly incarcerated individuals and provides them with an opportunity to receive an education. "All of these austerity measures are definitely going to hurt these programs."

One of the event's central organizers, Local 2121 President and faculty member Alisa Messer, said, "At City, we are able to provide our students with the quality of education other two-year colleges around the country can only dream of, and we--none of us here--want to see that change."

Scott-Skillman, Agrella, FCMAT and the ACCJC, however, have other priorities--making CCSF more profitable--and they want the larger CCSF community to pay for it.

Claiming that they're responding to the accreditation committee's demands that CCSF remedy its manifold "problems," college administrators have already shut down its Campus and Park Presidio instructional sites. The courses offered at these sites were relocated to a local middle school, where they now take place after the school's regular hours.

City College administrators also recently introduced an 8.8 percent cut in faculty pay. This cut comes on top of the 2.85 percent reduction in pay that union members agreed to last year. In addition, ongoing cuts of 5 percent are supposed to start in July. In January, the college laid off between 20 to 30 part-time instructors, 34 full-time clerical workers and 20 to 30 part-time instructors.

On top of this, the chancellor has earmarked most of the $15 million that Proposition A--a parcel tax that was overwhelming passed in November--is expected to generate over the next eight years for what she calls "accreditation procedures." This is in lieu of using the funds for what voters, and CCSF students and employees, expected them to be used for--support for already cash-strapped programs, and teacher recruitment and retention.

STUDENTS AND faculty alike are feeling the squeeze. Robin Roth, who teaches Health Education, said that the layoffs are being accompanied by talk of department consolidation. This will not only reduce the number of courses being offered, Roth said, but will result in the loss of numerous department chairs.

Department chairs function together as a collective bargaining unit under the present contract, so this is clearly an attempt to weaken labor's bargaining power and pave the way for more cuts. "It's the students who will really suffer, though," Roth said, "because they need the courses that we won't be able to find teachers to teach because of actions like this."

Second-year CCSF student Viet Le said that he has found it more difficult than ever to get the classes he needs to transfer to a four-year institution. "I just want to get an education and better myself, and it's getting really hard to do that," said Le.

Adriana Gutierrez, a student in her second semester at City, said she's already had friends complain about how difficult it is to get the academic counseling services they need. "My heart goes out to everyone this is hurting," she said. "It's not good for us. It's not good for anyone."

Rodger Scott, a professor who has worked at CCSF for 40 years, called the ACCJC's solutions a "complete inversion of the healthy education process." Scott said, "In 1991, a review committee encouraged us to hire more teachers and cut administrative costs. We saw all measures of achievement improve drastically across the board. Now they're telling us the complete opposite. It's laughable."

The entire executive board is "catatonic," Scott said, and totally beholden to the whims of the ACCJC. "With the Accreditation Commission's presence, the board has all the authority of the Vichy government in Nazi-occupied France," Scott said.

The ACCJC, FCMAT and their puppet administrators represent precisely that. They're an illegitimate occupational force desperately trying to stifle the heartbeat of one of the last bastions of democratically administered and accessible higher education in this country today.

In a statement sent to all CCSF students and teachers following the February 28 action, and an earlier march that ended in an overnight occupation, Chancellor Scott-Skillman said that such protests did nothing but bring "more negative attention to CCSF." She also reiterated her commitment to throttling up the austerity drive.

But CCSF and its supporters aren't backing down. Only the continued and concerted actions of a movement combining the efforts of faculty, staff, students and supporters will force administrators to listen.

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