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Friday, August 23, 2013

Changing the narrative around City College

Over at at the Unitarian Church last night, Rafael Mandelman, Chris Jackson and I were talking to the Progressive Democrats of America about how to save City College. Two things became clear:

1. It's time to stop rolling over for the ACCJC and start fighting back, and

2. We have to change the narrative about what's happening to the school.

Mandelman made the first point pretty clearly. In his first six months on the board, he said, his goal was to keep the school accredited, and he and his colleagues did pretty much everything that the ACCJC and a special trustee wanted done. "We acquiesced for six months," he said. And it didn't do any good at all.

Some board members are nervous about pissing off the ACCJC, but at this point, there's really no choice. The accreditation panel isn't going to allow City College to continue as anything beyond a shadow of its former self. This is political; it's a big fight, and if we try to compromise and be accommodating, we're going to lose.

The second point is even more significant.

It's easy to say (and it's not wrong to say) that there has been financial mismanagement at the school. But that's not only something that can be fixed (and that process is happening); it's entirely beyond the point. The ACCJC isn't really concerned about fiscal issues or governance; the panel and its leadership want to fundamentally change how community colleges operate in this country.

The San Francisco's Chronicle's editorial today is a perfect case study in how (some of) the news media and (some of) the city's political leadership is getting this entirely wrong:

After years of neglect and mismanagement, this institution - so critical to opportunity and economic development in the city - needs to overhaul financial controls and governance policies to maintain its accreditation. These failures were underlined by an outside review panel that has become the subject of union ire and now Herrera's legal focus.

The city's leaders should be calling for tough love, not coddling dysfunction. Fortunately, Mayor Ed Lee has done just that - but, regrettably, the city attorney is going in the opposite direction.
 Actually, nobody's coddling anyone or anything. At the direction of a special trustee that the ACCJC wanted appointed, City College has made dramatic changes to governance and financial accountability, some of them bitterly opposed by labor and the students, and many of them unnecessary and wrong. The elected trustees went along to mollify the ACCJC -- and it didn't work.

That's because, as Herrera points out in his lawsuit, this isn't really about whether department chairs or deans or senior administrators get to set course lists and hire faculty. It's about a profound change in the mission of City College and other similar institutions. It's about an attempt by right-wing corporatists, private for-profit schools, and private companies that make money off student loans to undermine public education. There's a huge amount of money in loans and for-profit schools, and the growth in that field depends on eliminating the cheap, more effective, public competition.

Herrera's team did the research that reporters (including me) should have been doing long ago, and his case sets what has to be the new narrative. Ed Lee can talk tough love all he wants, but does he really want to be on the side of the Lumina Foundation, ALEC, the student loan sharks, and the privatizers? Is this the crew we want running education in this country?

Does Nancy Pelosi really want to allow the educational equivalent of the Koch brothers to be calling the shots in the district she was elected to represent?

That's the real story here. It's time to tell it. Loudly.


  1. Like Chicago is a proving ground for the privatization of public education atizations/164972/

    California is the proving ground for the dismantling of low cost higher education.

    Pelosi even has financial connections to University of Phoenix.

    Ed Lee seemingly only helps you if you give him a check.

    I ran into a nice young woman who was working as a bank teller recently, and she was trying to pay off her $60k University of Phoenix debt.

    Shame. God knows we can do better. Let's #changeourways people.

  3. I think this Tim piece is true. Having been a professor in the community college system for half my life, I can see how the corporate world and money gawds push for reducing and or making faculty part time; see the "contracts" between money and the college try to water down the vocational and academic side of the house; and experience the accreditation council change into bullies - like Beno (and her husband on the SF team)...many could smell the bad fish as well as know the elephant in the room...Privatize vs public ! time to take our country back and keep "public" in education.

  4. Nice piece Tim, thanks for writing it and bringing some of these issues to light. I once went to a CCSF Board of Trustees meeting and saw a well known reporter for The Chronicle there. She stayed just to get the dirt from the FCMAT report, and then bailed 1/2 hour into the meeting (before Peter Goldstein told the Board they had a balanced budget). As you mentioned, many of these problems are being fixed, but The Chronicle knows that CCSF's financial problems are their bread and butter, mainly, I think, because the Right Wing has the working class in a tough spot in this country (have you recently read about how Detroit's working class people who put in 30+ years are going to get 17% of their expected pensions, while BofA swap investors are going to recover AT LEAST 75% of their investments?) It's criminal, and The Chronicle knows that they can inflame the exploited masses by rubbing in their overworked, pension-less faces how "good" others have it. On the same point, ever wonder why Barbara Beno is "arrogant, condescending, and dismissive" to Senators?! Who does that?? Only somebody with deep deep financial backing. And so, you mentioned that Herrera did the research that we all should have done. I think there is more research to be done. Where is the ACCJC getting it's dough? Lumina, ALEC yes, but what other companies? Tech stands to benefit a lot from online education too. Apple, Microsoft, Google? Who is funding Barbara Beno's Black and Blue Machine?

  5. Tim: I cannot thank you enough for your reporting on CCSF this summer. I have been an instructor there for almost 15 years and every time you post on this issue it spreads like wildfire on campus.