Written by Andy Libson, a teacher active in the reform caucus Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU) of United Educators of San Francisco (UESF); La Voz/Workers Voice
For all the talk of poor governance and mismanagement at City College of San Francisco, you wouldn’t know that in 2007, the New York Times singled out City College as one of the top eleven community colleges in the county. For all the talk of “show cause”, threats of pulling City College accreditation and shutting City College down, you might not know that in its 77 year history, CCSF has not been issued any sort of sanction (not even a warning). You might be surprised to hear that three years ago the very same accreditation group (ACCJC) that is threatening to shut down City College gave City College a clean bill of health.
In a country divided by racism and poverty, CCSF operates in the teeth of these inequalities providing a much needed bridge to a 4-year college for students of color, support classes for students who struggled in K-12, classes in English for adult immigrants, and enrichment classes for community members who want to continue their education beyond high school or college. This commitment to serving the most needy is even acknowledged by the ACCJC, which writes that CCSF “is commended for the strong commitment by [its staff] to the mission of the college that connects to the diverse communities served by the college and its partners to foster academic success among all students.”
How is it possible such a vital institution with such a record of success could even be considered for closure?
ACCJC – “A is for Austerity”
The answer is the ACCJC, a group whose mission is supposedly to insure the education offered by Community Colleges meets an acceptable level of quality so that a student units are transferable and a college warrants receiving financial aid from state and federal governments, has operated as a veritable wrecking ball throughout California. While similar accreditation groups across the county have put anywhere from 1 – 5% of the community colleges under some sort of sanction, the ACCJC has a whopping 25% of all Community College and Junior Colleges under some form of sanction in California.
While the ACCJC board members speak in solemn tones about their impartiality and their commitment to standards of educational excellence. The truth is the ACCJC has the blessing of the federal Department of Education and Pro-Charter Governor Brown to impose a corporate model of running a school emphasizing efficiency and sound fiscal planning over the needs of the community and the workers. Critics of ACCJC are right to point out that this rogue institution with financial ties to the Lumina and Gates Foundations is not interested in improving CSSF, but is bent on a plan of privatizing City College and busting it’s unions (AFT2121 and SEIU 1021) in the process.
ACCJC Report: “Good school, not enough cuts, too much democracy”
What exactly did the ACCJC find when it visited CCSF in Spring 2012? The ACCJC praised CCSF for the high quality of educational opportunities, including accessibility, diversity and commitment to students. The major problems cited by ACCJC have nothing to do with the quality of education but are all about finances and cover two related areas:
- Poor fiscal planning: despite the fact that CCSF has experienced over $53 million in funding cuts over the last four years, CCSF has dared to scramble and reorganize resources to preserve the classes and services needed by the diverse communities CCSF serve. Furthermore, CCSF has preserved these classes while holding the line on maintain a semblance of decent wages and benefits for its workers. The commission was outraged by this and argues that there have not been enough cuts or cancelled classes.
- Poor management: ACCJC found that CCSF’s democratic system of administration which had workers and faculty in position of decision making during the crisis was at fault for not enough cuts being made. Instead of praising, CCSF for their creativity and commitment to educating the Bay Area’s neediest. ACCJC demands the dismantling of a faculty run system of management to be replaced by administrators. ACCJC does not want decisions made by workers who care about the communities they serve but by bureaucrats who are prepared to cut programs, cut staff, cut wages and honor the ‘bottom line’.
The ACCJC demands CCSF students and workers accept the logic of austerity, which says that the appropriate response to economic crisis is to slash social services at all levels. This is completely backwards! Any credentialing organization dedicated to quality education would not be demanding cuts from CCSF workers and students but would instead be demanding resources from the state and federal government to preserve and even expand the mission of schools like CCSF.
The fact is the ACCJC is just one piece of a national and state-wide puzzle to force public education at all levels to submit to the austerity demands of the state and reorganize public education around measurable results through standardized testing, performance funding by introducing merit pay schemes and instituting low cost and high capacity education through an emphasis on online education. This also means the removing the biggest barrier to instituting these changes: the union and student organizations fighting to preserve CCSF.
This explains why despite the recent passing of Prop. A- which explicitly raised funds to preserve the programs and jobs at City College- the newly appointed Special Trustee and new CCSF Chancellor didn’t miss a beat in rejecting that any of the $16 million would be used to fund classes or preserve programs. The whole point of the ACCJC visit and report was to force cuts and the administration is dedicated to seeing this through; even to the point of unilaterally imposing a 9% pay cut on all CCSF employees (with more to come) only months after Prop. A passage. No clearer message could be sent. The ACCJC and the Special Trustee will see cuts get made at CCSF no matter what the circumstances. For supporters of ACCJC, cuts at CCSF are a prelude to forcing cuts at Community Colleges across the state and reorganizing higher education around pro-business models.
Demonstrations like March 14th Rally to save City College are important ways of garnering public support for CCSF that has been mercilessly slandered in the media. Organizations like Save CCSF (which organized the demonstration) are right to tell the Mayor Lee and the SF Board of Supervisors to actually do their jobs and help preserve a vital institution like CCSF. To date, the politicians have been happy to sit on the fence and let ACCJC pummel students and faculty into submission.
This demonstration is a good start but demonstrations will not be enough to turn the tide and expose ACCJC and the CCSF administration and force the hand of SF officials to act decisively to save CCSF.
Dealing with a Bully. Chicago and Quebec show the way!
Less than a year ago, Chicago schools were under similar attack by the Chicago School District and the Democratic Party machine that runs the city. They had no choice but to go on strike and galvanize the city and the entire nation behind them in the process. The stakes are no less high here in City College which ACCJC seeks to break and then force similar austerity plans across the state. The response from AFT2121 and SEIU 1021 needs to be just as clear and resolute in defense of their college. Discussions and preparations must begin now to organize for a strike as a rallying point for defending City College and putting ACCJC and CCSF leaders on the defensive.
Similarly, students at CCSF should look to the massive strikes and occupations in Quebec when their educations was threatened with increased tuition, reduced programs and a project of privatization. Decisive action by workers and students would completely change the discussion around City College and galvanize its massive support it enjoys in San Francisco while forcing politicians to act (and not just parrot nice words of support while doing nothing).
Some initial demands are clear:
- Reject the ACCJC findings and call for the creation of an independent body to assess CCSF progress.
- Remove the unelected Special Trustee and return to a democratically run school.
- Overturn the 9% wage cut which was imposed without bargaining.
- Call for the immediate use of Prop. A monies for the purpose voted by 73% of San Francisco Voters.
- And absolutely no cuts to a single program deemed vital by CCSF workers and students.
In reality, strike preparations (or at the very least a discussion of a strike) should have started months ago, but it is not too late to start now. The fact is no other action will get the attention of those who seek to dismantle CCSF and its unions, and no other action could mobilize workers, students and the community to defend CCSF, keep public education public and affordable, and force the wealthy who seek to dismantle CCSF to foot the bill for fully funding it.