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Friday, July 5, 2013

How to save City College

I’m not sure San Francisco – what with the BART strike and the holiday – has quite had a chance to come to terms with the magnitude of what the accreditingcommission overseeing City College has done to us.

This unelected, unaccountable body has shattered one of the most important public institutions in the city, damaging the economy, the workforce, and the hopes of tens of thousands of students. And it’s done so for the worst possible reasons.

I’m not going to argue that the administration of City College is perfect, or that the school hasn’t been plagued over the years by sometimes criminal misconduct (and by some very incompetent majorities on the Community College Board). The board’s better these days, but there’s a lot of mess to clean up.

Still, in my mind, the heart of what accreditation is about is ensuring that an institution is providing valuable, credible education – that a degree from the school means something. It’s a way for employers and other institutions to have faith that City College graduates know enough about their chosen fields that they are prepared to enter a four-year school or the workforce.

And nowhere in the long, critical, accreditation report is the value of a City College education ever seriously questioned.

Four-year schools accept City College graduates – and I’ve seen no evidence anywhere that Cal or State find those students unprepared. (In fact, I’ve had a lot of interns from the journalism program at City, and I can tell you that they’re as well trained as the students from State, sometimes better.) Health-care institutions hire people with nursing and other training, and consider City College degrees a valid indication that their employees will know what they need to do the job. Same for employers around the city.

So what did the ACCJC complain about? Administration. How decisions were made. Lack of centralized accountability. All valid points – but in the end, they don’t speak to the central question: Is a City College degree valid? By any reasonable account, yes.

Question asked and answered. Decision simple. If you’re an accreditor, you push for all the administrative changes you think are needed (most of which, by the way, City College has given them) but you renew accreditation because the quality of the education in the classroom is good enough to merit it.

That’s not what happened.

There may still be some form of salvation. What the ACCJC really wants, apparently, is for City College to eliminate much of  its traditional mission and become a simple junior college, aiming at moving High School graduates through a two-year program and into a four-year college. In the end, “saving” City College might mean cutting it back to, say, 10,000 students, eliminating all of the centers and campuses outside of  Phelan Avenue, and wiping out the opportunities that the school offers to immigrants who want to learn English, seniors who want to learn and stay active, people who aren’t going to a four-year college but need job training, and everyone else outside of a narrow demographic group.

“It would be a dramatic downsizing,” City College Trustee Rafael Mandelman told me. “And that will be called a victory.”

Which would be a disaster for San Francisco.

What would happen to all the public buildings that the taxpayers have funded? Well, they’d be sold off – most likely to private institutions like the Academy of Art University or the University of Phoenix or Heald, or the California Culinary Academy, where students could learn trade skills – for maybe $30,000 a year – and graduate heavily in debt. We’re taking about the privatization of basic education in San Francisco.

What happens to the $15 million a year that the voters approved for City College under Prop. A? That can’t go to private schools (or, for that matter, to the San Mateo college district, if it chose to take over CCSF).

What happens to the tens of thousands of people who need low-cost English as a Second Language classes to survive in this city? Where are the immigrants going to go?

Why are we allowing this to happen to us?

Well, for one thing, we don’t have a lot of choice. The ACCJC operates under federal Department of Education sanction, but there is no way to appeal its decision to the feds. The only “appeal” is to ask the same commission for a rehearing. Yes, the feds can revoke ACCJC’s charter – and the California Federation of Teachers is pushing for such a move – but even that wouldn’t give City College back its accreditation.
It’s such a bizarre system. There’s nobody accountable to the public involved at any level. The commission doesn’t seek or care about public input. And now the state chancellor will appoint a trustee (probably the same person the elected College Board already hired) who will be able to act without any public comment or oversight. He could, for example, start selling of City College property. And nobody would be able to stop him.

The College Board has been trying so hard – too hard, it seems now – to work with the accreditors and the state, to go along with unpleasant and often wrongheaded changes in the hope that everyone was acting in good faith. That was clearly a mistake; the board did pretty much everything it was asked to do – and still got completely screwed. 

“If anything, we’ve been too accommodating,” Mandelman said.

So now it’s time for the city to step up. So far, the mayor has been awfully weak, siding with the state and never indicating that the accreditation commission did a terrible, unprofessional, and unjustifiable thing. It’s tough, because the supervisors, the state Legislature, even Congress is powerless to stop this fiasco. But at the very least, we need some outrage. We need the city family to make it clear that this decision can’t stand.

The ACCJC needs to know that it’s not just CFT pushing the folks in Washington to investigate – every city official and elected leader ought to be in on that complaint. Rep. Nancy Pelosi should be calling the Department of Education to make sure that proper steps are taken.

And somebody needs to file a lawsuit.

Only a judge can find the accreditation report biased and invalid. It’s not clear who would be able to sue (City College as an institution could, but that won’t happen now). An individual trustee could – if we could raise the money and find a lawyer who wants to help. Could the teachers’ union sue? Maybe.

Here’s another thought: Can the city attorney sue, alleging that the shutdown of City College would bring irreparable damage to the City and County of San Francisco? That’s an easy claim to make; I don’t know if the courts would give Dennis Herrera standing (or if the mayor or the supervisors would go along) but we ought to be looking at it. (Hardly anyone’s working at City Hall today, so it’s hard to get answers, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do.)
The BART strike and the America’s Cup have pushed this out of the headlines for the moment, but the emergency is still there. The damage is imminent. And we can’t just sit here and take it.


  1. March in protest with us next Tuesday. We march from the downtown campus at 4th and Mission to the Department of Education. Gather at Downtown Campus around 4 p.m., march at 4:30pm: (Campus is @ 88 4th Street @ Mission -2 blocks from Powell St. BART)

    1. I will be there. The bottom line is money and power the same thing with everything else. Enough is enough! We're fired up!

  2. Tim, I applaud you on this most excellent account of what is happening and the questions you ask. Keep the pressure on. We must continue to press the hard questions here under the guise of those trying to quash all that CCSF has been and continues to be in a release of their findings on 3p of a long holiday weekend. Reminds me of the massive layoffs and announcement of further attempt at (union-busting/override of transparent negotiation) staff cuts/job loss and faculty reduction of earnings on Dec. 22, 2012 when the power brokers who took over CCSF laid waste to the Spring 2013 semester after employees and students had left for a holiday break. This is truly despicable behavior.

  3. Bravo! Posting to Facebook.

  4. Yes,very well said. This is a tragedy, and a bizarre situation at that, as you explained.

  5. Well put Tim. Keep us posted on whatever options you become aware of that people have to protest and try to reverse this abomination.

  6. CCSF did everything the ACCJC demanded but the ACCJC is pissed off because they don't like their authority & questionable judgement challenged by AFT 2121. CCSF's biggest problem right now is not incompetence or malfeasance but rather student retention & recruitment. And ACCJC's capricious revocation of CCSF's accreditation means less & less students. Nice work ACCJS! Kill the institution to prove your authority. This whole sordid affair is a nadir in academic governance & the ACCJC should be ashamed of themselves.

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  9. As an alumna of CCSF, I find it deplorable that the college has been "discredited" by a group that is unelected and unaccountable.

    Attending CCSF in the late 60's was the beginning of my academic life. The courses and instructors were challenging, excellent, and character-building. I owe much of my character today to a couple of CCSF instructors whom I am gratefully indebted.

    To think that a tiny group of people with an agenda to shut down CCSF and turn it into a private institution is unbelievable. A friend of mine relayed this info. "...the Accreditation Commission has unjustly revoked CCSF's accreditation to take effect on July 2014 for reasons that have nothing to do with our quality of education, but are politically and ideologically motivated. This outrageous attack on City College of San Francisco, one of the largest and best in the country, is an attack on all public education.

    The Accreditation Committee is NOT a government entity, but part of a privately-funded commission which has acquired enormous power. It is funded by extreme right wing billionaires, such as the Koch brothers, and its mission is to dismantle public education, divert students to private colleges and force them to take out loans, and bust unions.

    By taking down CCSF, which is the largest and one of the oldest community colleges in the nation, they hope to set a precedent."

    So please empower everyone you know to keep CCSF alive, in the public purview, and out of privatization.

  10. There are precedents for successfully resisting ACCJC sanctions, notably Peralta CCD's 2006 lawsuit on the conflicts of interest in the Visiting Team, which included 2 former Peralta CCD senior administrators who had left under acrimonious circumstances, a former VP at Laney, and ACCJC President since 2001, Barbara Beno, who was fired from her position as President of Vista (now Berkeley City College). Not sure if the suit proceeded beyond the initial injunction, but the ACCJC dropped all sanctions.

    Barring such an injunction or clear conflict of interest, options are more limited. The current effort by the well-intentioned Save CCSF Coalition to petition federal DOE to decertify the accreditors is unlikely to be successful, as it would require the CCC Chancellor's Office to rescind membership for the entire 113 campus CCC system, which he has given no indication he intends to do.

    Since the application of the managerialist, pro-privatization "standards" movement to CA public higher education is being pushed by the most influential neoliberals in the California Democratic Party, who fail to see the fundamental contradiction between social & political liberalism's aims of equality, pluralism, and social justice, and market fundamentalist ideology, this may be a preview of the possible one-party rule that coming national demographic shifts, already extant in CA, will foster if the national GOP continues to alienate the electorate to the point of becoming irrelevant.

    The silver lining may be that this will galvanize organizing to oppose "education reform", and state legislature moves to create an intersegmental California Virtual Campus, making the CCC system & CSU/UC GE into a public University of Phoenix, despite literally all on the scholarship on the use of MOOCs & online classes indicating that online courses should always be hybrid & developed in-house. With the at-risk populations CCSF serves, online courses without any face-to-face contact should require a 3.0 GPA, computer literacy test, and ensure students either have access to a current computer with high-speed internet at home loaner laptops for the semester, and/or expand hours for computers labs prior to approving registration. MOOCs are great for informal study, but all online classes have worse persistence, retentions, and student success outcomes than traditional delivery.

    Still, it is infuriating to read or hear comments from uninformed members of the public who blame this situation on the faculty & staff unions, whose Collective Bargaining Agreements were categorically violated by unilateral 9.9% pay cuts in Spring 2013 after already agreeing to a 2.85% pay cut in negotiations, as even the ACCJC's report praised CCSF's academics to the heavens, and sanctioned the district strictly on administrative, governance, budget, and planning issues. Despite CCR Title 5 governance rights (also under attack by Shireman & California Competes) entitling Academic Senates to be primary recommending bodies on academic & curricular matters, also mandating staff & students whose voice was markedly absent due to work schedules for staff & lack of any compensation or transcript incentive for students "meaningful participation" (& CBA protections), responsibility for the current budgetary & leadership crisis rest squarely with the former & interim administration and elected Trustees.

    A contract is a contract, and a law is a law, but only for employers, it seems. Many apolitical friends are alumni/ae of CCSF, and all have expressed uncharacteristic outrage at this move, so I expect San Franciscans will resist if they have the facts, and less union-busting rhetoric. It should be an interesting year...

  11. It's ironic the ACCJC has cited CCSF for poor planning and processes when their own recommendations are extremely opaque and subjective. For instance, one recommendation is "Assess the effectiveness of the institution". That muddy wording could mean anything.

    Crazy idea: Could the California legislature revise the law so that the state could send money to non-accredited institutions? And could we set up our own accreditation board, effectively ignoring the ACCJC?

  12. I believe that a formal lawsuit (or 2 or 3) should be considered/brought.
    Have we complained about the blatant contract violations to the National Labor Relations Board?
    Could part-timers sue regarding loss of pay and threats of eliminating medical and dental benefits and seniority?
    Who specifically at City College made the decisions regarding all these pay cuts?
    Who specifically at City College has started the attacks on part-time workers?

    Mimi Bartholomew
    Spanish Instructor for 32 years.

  13. Tim and co.

    This is a great piece about the "completion agenda," which is what is driving these austerity measures

    also, some key facts about california community college funding cuts

    and this is a 2006 newsletter from the ACCJC where then commissioner, and now california community colleges statewide chancellor Brice Harris outlines the federal push for completion style tactics

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