City College failed to support its claims. It failed to use best practices for public meetings during the pandemic, and the Trustees admitted they were violating the law in handling public comments at their meetings, agreed to fix the problem in January but then, after only three months, went back to their old ways.
At a press conference, Higher Education Action Team (HEAT) and the CCSF Collective unveiled a Report Card on the role of the San Francisco City College Board of Trustees, giving the Trustees a failing grade for destroying classes, eliminating campuses and privatizing the Community College for "developers, consultants and lawyers who are making millions."
The Report Card cited the following areas of failure:
• Music and Arts
• Older Adults Program and Fort Mason
• Registration System
• Class Cuts & Downsizing
• Ethnic Studies and Destruction of Ethnic and Community Studies
• Privatization and the Balboa Reservoir [Project]
• Student Success Task Force Formula, Lumina and ALEC
• Transparency, Brown Act and payoff to Rocha
• 1400 Evans and Airport campus closure—to be combined?
• Using the board as stepping stone to higher office.
Anyone who wants to attend a meeting of the City College Board of Trustees during the pandemic and make public comments will see this notice:
“Institutions across the country have been working to ensure public meetings can be conducted effectively and respectfully in virtual formats. To that end, state and national best practices have been developed regarding public comment. In line with these best practices, CCSF is requiring all requests for public comment be submitted [in writing] to firstname.lastname@example.org [or by phone to 669.444.1266] 30 minutes prior to the meeting start time.”
On September 11, I submitted a public records request to learn what the College based "best practices" on. I had already written to the chancellor’s chief-of-staff to find out about their research. They told me that “Board President Williams worked with staff and surveyed other districts and public agencies to establish the protocols, noted above.”
State—national—public agencies—other districts. That sounded rather impressive and resourceful.
So who was responsible for formulating the above statement (“Institutions across the country…”) and having it inserted in the agenda? That question actually was answered — one of the few. When the selection of Dianna Gonzales as the new interim chancellor was revealed on April l, ’20, she soon announced a town hall for April 7. The afternoon of the event, Rachel Howard of BergDavis Public Affairs, a CCSF consultant, was tasked with creating a statement on how to access that evening’s virtual session; it was 98% identical to the version still in use today. As for the numerous questions I raised about the best practices—when the survey was done, by whom and with which districts and public agencies, etc., they were either protected by lawyer-client privilege, disregarded, or exempt from disclosure for a plethora of reasons. In other words, it took a month to discover that the district wouldn’t or couldn’t back up its claims. More important, the “best practices” only referred to the way of reserving a place in line to deliver public comment. It turns out that other local districts have more generous policies, some not requiring advance notice to make a comment (West Valley-Mission) or giving more time to speak (five minutes at Foothill-De Anza), or being able to make one or more comments during the meeting.
...in April, the new regime under Interim Chancellor Gonzalez abruptly, with a blatant lack of transparency and no justification, returned to the previous agenda structure, with very limited public comment and only near the beginning of the meeting — reservation is now required in advance as well.”
This leads to the more serious complaint about the District limiting the public’s opportunity to participate in Board meetings. The Board of Trustees held a retreat on January 9, before classes began this year. Guy Bryant, a lawyer from AALRR, gave a presentation on the Brown Act and open meeting procedures, as well as other legal issues.
That morning, Trustee Davila spoke of a time when “we had it all the way through”—meaning that public comment had been allowed at a number of places throughout their meetings. You can see this from Board agendas and minutes going back to the early months of 2017. She explained some reasons the Board decided to put all the public comment at the beginning of the meeting — greater convenience, minimizing late-night sessions, allowing greater diversity of speakers. Then she wanted to know if that had been a violation of Education Code? The lawyer was not shy in setting her straight.
Violation of Ed. Code, § 72121.5
“I would say that the best practice would be to change it to have it [public comment] as the items come up.” (He said it about three times in the next five minutes.)
Bryant: “I would say the best practice is, would be to, if you can—obviously, again it’s your meeting and you’re trying to make sure that you’re getting your business done and if there’s a whole lot of things—but the Ed. Code is pretty clear that it wants you to, if you can, allow for the public to speak when the item is taken up.”
He was even more emphatic when pointing out that this is a provision of the Education Code, which applies particularly to Community Colleges:
“[There’s a similar provision that was] general for other public entities, but Community Colleges section 72121.5* is specific to you guys. And so that’s why [it’s a] best practice that ‘Community College Districts and their subsidiary bodies must allow speakers to be heard as agenda items are taken up.’ ” (*Ed. Code, § 72121.5)
Towards the end of the retreat, Trustee Rizzo commented, “We heard today that we have a problem with the Brown Act by having all of the public comment for items on the agenda at once at the beginning. We heard today that the Brown Act says they need to come up as the items come up. So that’s a problem that we need to fix….”
And fix it they did. During the first three months of 2020, Board agendas showed that public comments were allowed on action items, reports, consent items and closed session agendas, as well as for items not on the agenda. Yes, there were time limits, but suddenly fuller participation was possible. And even after shelter-in-place regulations were in effect, the same agenda structure persisted in March. But in April, the new regime under Interim Chancellor Gonzalez abruptly, with a blatant lack of transparency and no justification, returned to the previous agenda structure, with very limited public comment and only near the beginning of the meeting — reservation is now required in advance as well. (For months, one could not even read one’s own comment.) The Zoom technology makes for a different experience, too. The Trustees, their thoughts inscrutable, are hidden from view during comments, replaced by a digital clock counting down. The Trustees also seem less accountable than when faculty and students were there in person to observe, and respond. Yet old battles and controversies are not forgotten.
The Trustees in January made it clear that they valued most participants other than those who regularly showed up and were the best informed — City College employees. It’s time to open up the meetings and let those who still observe these lengthy gatherings participate more fully. Follow the Ed. Code and the Brown Act. Be transparent; return to best practices at Board meetings.
According to the REPORT CARD: The Trustees restricted public comments at meetings and violated transparency regulations for public agencies.
To find upcoming Board of Trustees meetings or Board agendas
The next upcoming meeting is highlighted, and information about Zoom and telephone access to the meetings will be found there; to find information about previous meetings for 2019-2020, go first to the menu bar to select "Meetings" and then look to the upper left corner to find a list of meetings for either year.
Board of Trustees Streaming Media and Video Archive is another useful resource that goes further back with video and audio recordings of Board meetings. These are recordings for regular meetings, Special meetings, committee meetings and agendas, etc., going back to about 2009.
Harry Bernstein CCSF Faculty Member and AFT 2121 Member
Previous Articles About City College
The rain didn't let up on the morning of April 27, but neither did City College faculty, who multiplied in numbers as the rain fell harder on the street corners of Ocean campus at the start of the faculty union's school-wide strike.
You can either get depressed or angry, or you can connect with people, because morale among faculty has gotten really low,” said Kathe Burick, a dance teacher in her 37th year at City College. Burick was on the picket line at dawn, yelling out chants to save City College through her megaphone…”
Signs and umbrellas held high, demonstrators gathered at select locations on the perimeter of Ocean campus to protest unfair labor practices with the district.
|captionAFT 2121 member Kathe Burick helps lead City College faculty sing and chant while picketing against unfair labor practices at Ocean Campus on April 27, 2016. (Photo by Natasha Dangond/Special to The Guardsman)|
"I'm sad that it's come to this point, but I'm hopeful to get what we need in the end, which is a fair contract for faculty and a wage that lets us live in this city," math instructor Mary Bravewoman said.
City College's faculty union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 2121, have been in negotiations with the administration for over a year now. But the AFT claims the administration has been bargaining in bad faith, leaving faculty working without a settled contract.
"Negotiations started in January 2015. The administration has been dragging their feet ever since then," AFT Negotiating Team representative and engineering instructor Wendy Kaufmyn said.
The administration did not respond to requests for comment, but Lamb closed all 11 City College campuses in response to the strike, citing safety concerns. April 27's faculty-led strike marked the first ever in City College's 80 years of existence.”
City College Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb previously notified the union that the strike was illegal because it occurred during the fact-finding process, a step taken in an attempt to mediate on-going negotiations.
The AFT turned down the administration's latest offer, a 7.19 percent full-time salary increase over the next two years, which the union said would only raise their wages 1.7 percent over 2007 wages.
|AFT 2121 President Tim Killikelly supporting City College faculty and students during the one-day strike to rally against the administration's allegedly unfair labor practices at Civic Center. Faculty and supporters picketed eight of City College's 11 campuses on April 27, 2016. (Photo by Rachel Quinio/Special to The Guardsman)|
The administration did not respond to requests for comment, but Lamb closed all 11 City College campuses in response to the strike, citing safety concerns. April 27's faculty-led strike marked the first ever in City College's 80 years of existence.
Multiple Campuses Active
A small, dedicated group of protesters gathered at City College's administrative offices at 33 Gough St. by 8 a.m. with picket signs, warm smiles and morning greetings for passersby as they began their day of action against unfair labor practices. The union had organized protesters to picket at Gough Street and seven other campus locations throughout the day.
"We're not really so focused on how many; we just want to make sure there is a presence at every campus and every building," English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor Diane Wallis said. "(We) just want to make sure the city sees that we're supporting public education and we're trying to support City College as a public institution."
AFT president Tim Killikelly arrived at Ocean campus midmorning, ecstatic from the support he had seen at John Adams campus. "The college decided to close the school down because they understand the support we have from the community and students and how united faculty is to get a fair contract," Killikelly said.
|City College faculty gather around Ocean Campus. (Photo by Natasha Dangond/Special to The Guardsman)|
Civic Center Erupts
Protesters converged at noon among the hustle and bustle of Civic Center plaza to demonstrate in the long-awaited sunlight with a unified and spirited rally.
The rally proved that the faculty was not alone—representatives from Service Employees International Union, Associated Students, the Department Chair Council and Teamsters, among others, brought numbers to the crowd.
City College student Luis G.R held a sign with his friends that read, "Cuts to City College=Gentrification." G.R, among many other students and faculty, believe the pending cuts to class offerings are a step to purposely downsize the college.
"I had to change my major from zoology to biology because so many zoology classes have been cut, and now it's even harder for me to get classes for biology," said G.R, a student since 2011. "These cuts make people leave and go somewhere else."
End to a Historic Day
|City College English instructor Mitra Sapienza, with her daughter Colette, during the strike (Photo by Natasha Dangond/Special to The Guardsman)|
"You can either get depressed or angry, or you can connect with people, because morale among faculty has gotten really low," said Kathe Burick, a dance teacher in her 37th year at City College. Burick was on the picket line at dawn, yelling out chants to save City College through her megaphone toward the Ocean Avenue morning commute.
By the time evening had set on Ocean Campus, the picket line had dwindled, but Burick's voice rose prominently over the blustering winds and blaring horns of Ocean Avenue traffic. Her voice finally gave in and cracked through the amplifier.
She took a moment to step aside and take a breath, "The only way to keep it our college is to declare it our college."
Marco Siler-Gonzales is a Journalism student at City College, this special report is courtesy of The Guardsman. Patrick Fitzgerald contributed to his story.
Rafael Mandelman introduces Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi to thank her for her efforts on behalf of the college’s accreditation. Photo: Khaled Sayed
The last few years have been rough for City College of San Francisco, and I wish I could say that our wild ride was over. Unfortunately, I fear we may have a few more heart-stopping twists and turns still ahead before we finally can finally declare our troubles behind us. If San Francisco, and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, have learned anything from our mutually-destructive entanglement, however, it is this: City College is simply too important to be allowed to fail. City College is not closing, but big questions remain about what kind of institution the College will be going forward, and whether and how fully it can recover from the damage that has been done.
The Board has been meeting since January, and by July we will have reassumed responsibility for all aspects of the College’s governance, subject to the significant caveat that, for the indeterminate future, the Special Trustee will retain authority to overturn any decision of the Board that is contrary to accreditation, or would jeopardize the College’s finances.”
Following the Commission putting the College on “Show Cause” status, its most severe level of sanction short of termination, back in July 2012, the College moved quickly to initiate a far-reaching program of reforms to address the issues raised by the Commission, primarily in the areas of finance, administration and governance. The College’s system of “shared governance,” wherein the various College constituencies were engaged in institutional decision-making through a complicated system of committees, was essentially scrapped and replaced with a far more streamlined (some would say, far less democratic) “participatory governance” system. The College’s administrative structure was reorganized and a number of longtime administrators sent packing. And the Board approved an 8-year financial plan that committed funds from the 2012 parcel tax largely to Commission-favored priorities, including maintenance of the College’s aging and neglected facilities, technology investments, funding of long-term liability for retiree benefits, and building up reserves, which had been eroded during the Great Recession. Sadly, notwithstanding these and other efforts and only weeks after the Board had approved a balanced budget for 2013-14 that included a $2 million surplus, the Commission announced in July 2013 that it would be terminating the College’s accreditation effective July 2014.
Today, thanks to the efforts of State Chancellor Brice Harris and many others, not least among them San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera (who filed a lawsuit to stop the Commission from following through on its threat to close the College), City College remains open and accredited under a new accreditation status called “Restoration.” The Commission created this status in June 2014, just days before its prior order terminating City College’s accreditation was set to take effect and with the City Attorney’s lawsuit then still pending. Restoration status gives City College an additional two years to come into full compliance with all accreditation standards. Our dance with the Commission continues, however, as a Commission evaluating team will be back in November 2016 to determine whether City College has, in fact, come into full compliance with the Commission’s standards.
Restoration of the Board
One of the casualties of the accreditation crisis has been local control of our College. In July 2013, following the Commission’s announcement that it would be terminating City College’s accreditation, State Chancellor Harris suspended the local Board of Trustees and placed responsibility for the College’s governance solely in the hands of his appointed Special Trustee. However, with the disaccreditation threat apparently receding, Harris in November announced a plan for restoration of the local Board through a phased process by which the Board would gradually reassume control of the College. The Board has been meeting since January, and by July we will have reassumed responsibility for all aspects of the College’s governance, subject to the significant caveat that, for the indeterminate future, the Special Trustee will retain authority to overturn any decision of the Board that is contrary to accreditation, or would jeopardize the College’s finances.
The challenges still facing the College are daunting. There is still significant work to do in addressing the Commission’s remaining issues, primarily now in the areas of student services (found to be uneven and inequitable across the College) and integrated planning (a Commission priority that the College has yet to fully demonstrate). But perhaps the greater challenge is the tragic decline in enrollment since the accreditation crisis began. During that time, the College has lost more than a quarter of its students. If not for legislation authored by State Senator Mark Leno, City College would be facing a consequent budget hit of $30-40 million dollars, which would be truly catastrophic. Leno’s legislation softens the blow by limiting the reduction in State funding to five percent a year over a three year period, thus buying City College that bit of extra time to try to reverse the decline before facing the full fiscal impact of the loss. At the same time, after approaching a decade without raises, our faculty salaries are now among the lowest among Bay Area community colleges. And then of course there are the facilities challenges that have occasionally made it into the papers. With dwindling local bond funds and little facilities funding available from the State, the College nonetheless must find ways to whittle away at the hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance needs, rebuild the Civic Center campus (recently shuttered for seismic safety reasons), and finally, build a much-needed Performing Arts Center at the Ocean Campus (promised to the voters during two separate bond campaigns and still not under construction).
There is some good news. City College continues to create educational and career opportunities for tens of thousands every year. Our faculty and staff, fatigued and frustrated by the College’s travails, still care intensely about our students and every day accomplish minor miracles on their behalf. The rating agencies recently raised City College’s bond-rating (which they had lowered based on fears about the College’s survival), allowing the College to refinance its outstanding bond debt, thereby saving the taxpayers nearly fifty million dollars. Having survived the existential challenges of the last couple of years, the College can and will address the challenges ahead. It may take time, and it will surely not always be pretty, but we will save our City College for generations to come.
Rafael Mandelman is a Deputy City Attorney in the Oakland City Attorney’s office and President of the City College Board of Trustees
San Francisco is in danger of losing an irreplaceable asset, our 80 year-old college. Yet the problem is not the quality of its education; educational standards exceed the Accrediting Commission’s (ACCJC) requirements. Nor is the College in financial trouble, the duly elected Trustees—prior to their undemocratic replacement with a “Special Trustee”— left the college in the green, with a balanced budget.
Especially hurt by this rule are seniors who enjoy taking an exercise class or any of the wonderful art classes, or immigrants who need to repeat basic skills or master English as second language (ESL).”
So if it’s not the education or the finances, what is the problem?
The ACCJC’s beef with our community college is about data—they want a top-down administration that concentrates on graduation numbers. This is needed, they contend, to deal with fiscal problems generated by students who do not graduate or transfer. They contend the state can no longer subsidize students who want or need to repeat a class. But their solution, “no repeatability,” is causing irreparable fiscal harm.
Since California community colleges began enforcing the “repeatability” regulations last fall, enrollment has fallen 17% at SF City College. While much of it is caused by the ACCJC, much can be ascribed to the rule. Teachers are scrambling to keep enough students to qualify classes, and many classes have closed, excellent teachers have given up, moving on to other colleges or professions. Especially hurt by this rule are seniors who enjoy taking an exercise class or any of the wonderful art classes, or immigrants who need to repeat basic skills or master English as second language (ESL). Where else can newcomers become acculturated? It is not easy for everyone.
Our formerly balanced budget cannot survive this newly imposed agenda.
Last month we asked our readers (Don’t Kick Grandma Out of Pottery Class) to sign the petition to reverse the repeatability rule and we appreciate the response. If you haven’t signed the petition, please do it now:
One of the biggest problems currently facing City College is declining student enrollment and its domino effect on funding. A big share of that problem comes, not from the City, but from Sacramento, led by one Barbara Bento, whose war on San Francisco’s City College is wreaking havoc that may be irreparable.
Using the rationale that “Budget cuts have forced us to ration education” the Board of Governors, who worry that “we are currently turning away hundreds of thousands of students from our campuses,” have issued a statewide blanket regulation, turning away thousands of students, causing classes to close, all while we are losing great teachers and endangering the financial health of the greatest community college in the state. “No repeatability of classes,” is the pinion regulation of the “Student Success Plan”.
The rule against repeatability is devastating to seniors for whom ongoing class participation can mean the difference between years of isolation or association with like-minded friends.”
The repeatability rule means professionals who took a class in Dreamweaver, version 3, now find they cannot return and take Dreamweaver in version 8; similarly InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Excel, Word and many continually changing tech programs are no longer repeatable. What an incredibly ill conceived ruling, considering San Francisco has become home to several of the world’s most innovative technology producers. It is critical to keep current with technical advances, yet the college can no longer offer this valuable service to interested learners.
Many seniors have formed friendships and communities with fellow students. The rule against repeatability is devastating to seniors for whom ongoing class participation can mean the difference between years of isolation or association with like-minded friends. Gerontologists tell us social engagement is a key to healthy aging. Throwing Grandma out of the pottery class she loves is not the solution to the high cost of education.
The Governors want to privatize these ‘unnecessary’ classes — “join a gym,” or “take a private pottery class” is their solution. Now exercise and visual arts classes can only be taken once—aerobics, dance, music, painting, drawing; all the arts that need continual practice. Why not offer repeatability, so City College is fulfilling its mission of access to everyone? Students and faculty traveled to Sacramento and testified against the change.
Now, students who wish to take one class, repeat classes, pursue a certification, or transfer to four-year colleges and students who are not aiming for a degree — like our seniors — have been pushed out of classes in music, dance, exercise, and art classes. They may only be taken once. Who thinks that’s a good idea?
Reversing the repeatability ruling could return a lot of students, perhaps enough to fill the 23% enrollment decline. It is very shortsighted of the Governors to take this hard line against life-long learning, long a mission of City College.
Take a step — sign up for a class — join Trustee Anita Grier’s petition to restore repeatability here.
I love City College. City College changed my life and granted me my first degree, I've served on its Board of Trustees 15 years.
As an African-American woman, I know how much an outstanding community college that is affordable and accessible can help people. City College of San Francisco has the educational mission and moral responsibility to continue serving the people as it has for 78 years, and I'm convinced that we will.
Contrary to simplistic reports by education "leaders" who should know better, many reasonable, informed people at City College not only have recognized that we've had some problems, but that we've worked hard on many fronts to rectify them.
I want to acknowledge my profound respect for the integrity, intellect, courage and perseverance of Marty Hittelman, a community college math teacher… When many of us at CCSF cautiously regarded the ACCJC as a responsible and respected institution with the credibility and integrity of a blue-ribbon grand jury, Hittelman was leading a lonely struggle to expose the ACCJC as a "rogue organization" that was abusing its power and causing great harm to City College … and numerous other community colleges in California.”
The college has always been recognized for having enlightened personnel policies and practices and high-quality instruction, even during the recent financial crisis and the destabilizing imposition of harsh, and in my view, unwarranted, sanctions by the Accreditation Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC). Respected educators have observed that CCSF has done the best job in the state of improving Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). Not only have the faculty and classified staff unions and the Department Chair Council made major concessions at the bargaining table that have saved millions of dollars, those groups also worked with other constituencies at CCSF, organized labor, various community and religious organizations, and traditional allies to pass the Prop A Parcel Tax and State Prop 30.
CCSF has improved in many areas, not just in terms of fiscal stability. Our extensive efforts to accommodate the recommendations and demands of the ACCJC fell short, however, of the ACCJC's shifting standards. It's puzzling and troubling that the ACCJC visiting team had a very different assessment of CCSF's performance than the Accreditation Commission that composed the final report.
California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris asserts: "City College must come into compliance with the same operational, governance, and educational standards that all 112 California community colleges are expected to meet." Special Trustee Robert Agrella also stated the obvious: "City College's job-and our only job-is to fully meet the standards that are being followed by the other 111 community colleges in California." [His emphasis.]
I feel deep institutional grief to see City College in its present state. The college is more polarized and destabilized than it's ever been. Even though enrollments are plummeting, the administration is making further cuts in classes for the spring semester; the Board of Trustees has been exiled from all of the decision-making responsibilities the people invested in us; and on a daily basis, people point out the sad irony that a great, democratic college that serves up to 100,000 students in a progressive city like San Francisco is being run by one individual, a special trustee with absolute power who is paid more than $1,000 a day.
Since our elected Board of Trustees has been dissolved, the responsibility of meeting our enrollment goals to avoid a massive loss of state funding rests with recently selected Chancellor Arthur Tyler and Special Trustee Robert Agrella. Now that City College has the financial resources to restore the cuts in classes and personnel as we promised the voters in our Prop A Parcel Tax campaign literature, will the two policymakers be able and willing to keep that promise, or will they continue cutting classes and part-time faculty?
As a member of the CCSF Board of Trustees before the takeover, I won't say that we are brilliant people; however, I believe we are competent policymakers, and we have learned from hard economic times and institutional missteps. We also know the college well and, most important of all, the people elected us to provide, as effectively as possible, the comprehensive educational services that our students need.
The harsh ACCJC sanctions have brought responses ranging from massive demonstrations to three lawsuits. On January 2, 2014, Superior Court Judge Stanley Karnow granted a preliminary injunction against the ACCJC, barring "the Commission from finalizing their dis-accreditation decision pending further order of the court or final adjudication of the merits in this case." Judge Karnow also wrote:
"There is no question, however, of the harm that will be suffered if the Commission follows through and terminates accreditation as of July 2014. Those consequences would be catastrophic. Without accreditation the College would almost certainly close and about 80,000 students would either lose their educational opportunities or hope to transfer elsewhere; and for many of them, the transfer option is not realistic. The impact on the teachers, faculty, and the City would be incalculable, in both senses of the term: The impact cannot be calculated, and it would be extreme."
On January 2, 2014, just before Judge Karnow granted the injunction, California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris wrote a letter to San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera regarding the City's lawsuit against ACCJC. Chancellor Harris wrote:
"While neither my office nor City College is a party to these actions, we have a continuing responsibility to the community and students of San Francisco to ensure that no additional harm is dealt to the College as a result of the court's decision. One of the greatest threats to the long-term health of the college is the dramatic decline in its enrollment."
Wouldn't it be more rational and productive for Chancellor Harris to motivate Special Trustee Agrella, who's had supreme policy-making power at CCSF since July 2012, to conceive and implement actions to stop the dramatic decline in enrollment?
As the trial goes forward, the court may find that the ACCJC was acting responsibly and within the scope of its authority. If the petitioners prevail, however, and the court nullifies or drastically modifies the ACCJC's punitive decisions, what will that say about the judgment of Chancellor Harris and the Board of Governors, the allies of, and apologists for, the ACCJC?
I want to acknowledge my profound respect for the integrity, intellect, courage and perseverance of Marty Hittelman, a community college math teacher, longtime union activist and former president of the California Federation of Teachers. When many of us at CCSF cautiously regarded the ACCJC as a responsible and respected institution with the credibility and integrity of a blue-ribbon grand jury, Hittelman was leading a lonely struggle to expose the ACCJC as a "rogue organization" that was abusing its power and causing great harm to City College of San Francisco, and numerous other community colleges in California. (See accreditationwatch.com.)
I'm convinced that City College is on a firm path to stability and will survive in spite of the institutional missteps, shortage of funding, and the destabilizing influences of the past 18 months. Now that we have a permanent chancellor, we hope he has the vision, intelligence, communication skills, long-term commitment, and humanity to ensure that CCSF will continue to serve the comprehensive human and educational needs of the people of San Francisco.
Dr. Anita Grier has served as an elected Trustee of the City College of San Francisco for 15 years.
It surprised many, from students to the State Chancellor, when the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) announced that it would revoke City College's accreditation. True, the City College administration had not finished implementing the Board of Trustee's recovery plan. But it had made significant progress in all 14 categories of issues laid out by ACCJC.
The District is financially stable, with a budget surplus. We now have a healthy reserve fund that is larger than what the state requires. City College has enough money to spend on areas demanded by the Accrediting Commission, such as new technology for students, beefed-up building maintenance, and the pay-down of the retiree health benefit liability.
Although the College's budget is healthy this year, the accreditation decision has caused a 10% drop in enrollment. This could translate to a loss in state funding of over $15 million next year. The most direct, tangible thing people can do to help is to take a class. You'll help stave off further dramatic cuts and earn life enrichment from some of the finest instructors in the state."
The College has taken drastic action, including removing most administrators from their jobs, overhauling the management structure, and imposing salary cuts. At the time of the June decision, the College was two-thirds through several year-long planning cycles requested by ACCJC. According to ACCJC itself, academic excellence was not an issue. In fact, the student success rate at City College is above the state average.
|Doors are open at the Chinatown's new Campus —but for how long?|
Perhaps because of this, the accrediting agency itself has recently come under fire from all levels of government. The Obama Administration said that ACCJC violated federal regulations in rendering its decision against City College. A bi-partisan committee of the state legislature ordered an audit of ACCJC. (The harshest critic was Republican Senator Jim Nielsen.) And San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit to block ACCJC action, and challenged the State of California's decision to delegate its authority to ACCJC.
So how does it affect the future of City College? The Department of Education could revoke ACCJC's authority – basically removing accreditation from the private entity, forcing it to close its doors. But the Department of Education has said that it doesn't have the authority to alter ACCJC's decision against City College. Neither does the State Legislature.
The federal, state, and local actions could dramatically alter the way the state's 112 community colleges are accredited. But only the City Attorney's action is aimed directly at the decision against City College. He is asking the courts to overturn the decision against City College. This could happen.
But City College can't afford to wait for a decision by a court, and is pursuing three tracks on its own. First, through an appeal process, City College is asking ACCJC to reverse its decision to end accreditation. City College will make the case for what has been accomplished over the 13 months, including the work done since ACCJC's June decision. Staff and faculty -- who have been working without a contract since December 2012 and are earning less than they did 6 years ago — have put in tens of thousand of person-hours on accreditation-related efforts, often on their own time, while continuing to teach or provide support services.
Second, the College is continuing to roll out the recovery plan adopted by the Board of Trustees last October, hoping to finish the bulk of it before the appeal decision, which may occur in January.
Finally, we are working to find a new chancellor for the college. New leadership is required to finish the job. The Board of Trustees enacted every item that the current chancellor asked of it, including some very tough and unpopular choices, such as slashing pay, laying off workers, and dismantling decades-old power structures. But the chancellor has not been able to finish the mandates of the Board.
Administration acted too slowly for ACCJC and has not completed what the Board has directed. The procedures that the Board had authorized to be written were not completed. The hiring of new managers took too long, with key slots still empty when ACCJC met in June. An overhaul of the payroll department isn't finished. And the financial software that the college runs on still hasn't been updated – something that I first brought attention to three years ago in a series of hearings.
I am working with College employees and the state-appointed Special Trustee on an aggressive search for a new chancellor; we hope to complete this effort by October. City College needs a top manager who can get the operating procedures written, fill the hiring vacancies, finish the newly created planning cycles, and complete the other tasks that are actually needed for accreditation.
We need someone who can resolve the lingering labor disputes and work with City College's 2500 employees to finish the job started last year. Collaboration with employees is required to make any College function, and more so in a stressful environment of rapid transformation.
Finally, there are the people of San Francisco. Although the College's budget is healthy this year, the accreditation decision has caused a 10% drop in enrollment. This could translate to a loss in state funding of over $15 million next year. The most direct, tangible thing people can do to help is to take a class. You'll help stave off further dramatic cuts and earn life enrichment from some of the finest instructors in the state.
Classes are now in session at City College, which is still fully accredited. Whether it remains so past next July 14 depends on a number of efforts of a number of people – including the people of San Francisco.
John Rizzo is President of the Board of Trustees at City College
Editor's note: It's not too late to register for City College go to: CCSF.edu—late start, short-term and non-credit classes start all semester long.