In late January our Academic Senate president discovered a board resolution to increase the salaries of top administrators. Small wonder when faculty and students cried foul. As it turned out, the new Vice Chancellors were already being paid more than the publicly stated salaries. Just the other day I saw the notice for a Board meeting on the issue posted on the administration building. It’s a farce. There have been no people convening, no announcements that top brass are collecting more pay, no transparency.
And if you don’t think this is hitting your pocketbook, think again. San Francisco voters passed the Prop A parcel tax to provide City College about $15 million a year to “offset budget cuts; prevent layoffs; provide an affordable, quality education for students.” Yet dozens of counseling faculty and classified staff were laid off a year ago, while too many class sections have been cancelled this spring, impacting students who don’t have a lot of options while juggling jobs and families. And if you’re wondering what happened to the Parcel Tax Oversight Committee, you’ll need to ask the one-man Board, ie. Dr. Agrella.
But let me add here a positive note; the good work continues at City College. Our campuses, students, and working alum are part of the fabric of San Francisco. Supervisor Eric Mar’s report shows that City College provides $300 million of economic benefit to the city, training health care and childcare workers, technicians, public employees, and other professionals who got their start in community college.
Losing accreditation would in effect be a death knell to City College as we know it, since accreditation determines whether our students can receive federal financial aid and transfer their courses to other institutions, both of which are vital for our population.
And now we have numerous elected officials shining a light on the questionable and improper actions taken against City College. Both California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and SF Supervisor David Campos have introduced bills to reinstate the elected Board. In December, a court injunction put a halt to the ACCJC’s intentions to yank our college’s accreditation until lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of their actions are resolved.
Many of us were surprised when we learned in July 2012 that City College had been placed on show cause; that it had to prove why it should remain accredited. To be sure there were problems to address, not the least among them financial troubles exacerbated by severe budget cuts in the wake of the Great Recession. But our academic credibility was still sound. The ACCJC noted in the same 2012 report that sanctioned CCSF: “The college has diligently pursued its broad educational mission through its network of campuses, all of which appear to maintain the same level of quality standards for instructional programs.” Many other passages lauded the quality of education that City College provides.
Yet even after faculty and staff spent a year investing thousands of hours in documenting our student learning outcomes, shoring up organizational and fiscal processes, the Commission decided in July 2013 to shut us down as of this July. No reasonable explanation has been given for that decision.
It’s time to look beyond the stark headlines and rumors by considering how the ACCJC has operated in secrecy, as a private outfit with a public charge to accredit California’s 112 community colleges, among others.
In June 2013, shortly before it lowered the axe, the ACCJC shut out most members of the public from its public meeting, to the dismay of those interested in City College’s fate. The Commission adopted a new policy so it could shred documents relevant to its accreditation actions. What were they trying to hide? The California Federation of Teachers documented the ACCJC’s conflicts of interest and breaches of law in accrediting City College in a complaint filed last April. When our CCSF faculty union president delivered the complaint to the ACCJC’s office in Novato, just north of San Francisco, their staff actually pulled down the shades.
This is not how an agency with a public charter, collecting $3 million to perform accrediting functions, should operate. One cannot pull the shades on critical decisions affecting millions of students in the community college system.
As for City College, we cannot steer the school to a more promising future without putting this kind of secrecy to a halt. Our elected leaders have done right by City College and their constituents in demanding transparency. We need ongoing vigilance so that our treasured College can continue – through real change and not shadowy “reforms” – in its mission of providing affordable, quality education for all.
Li Lovett is a counselor in the Biotechnology and Early Childhood Professional Development programs at City College of San Francisco. She is a member of the San Francisco Community College Federation of Teachers. This commentary comes from New American Media.