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News + Politics Education City College students fight back against brutal faculty cuts

City College students fight back against brutal faculty cuts

Firing teachers could also mean the end of a lot of treasured programs.

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City College students led a march of more than 100 people, including City College faculty, from 24th and Mission BART Plaza to the steps of the Mission Campus protesting layoffs of 163 full-time faculty, which will become effective in about a month.

Students called for the administration to expand their use of federal emergency funds established by the CARES Act earmarked for education, called Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds, to pay teacher salaries, and to rescind the layoff notices issued to 163 full-time faculty members.

Students demand an end to faculty — and program — cuts. Photo by Garrett Leahy.

Several faculty members, however, warned that the total number of layoffs could exceed the 163 full-timers that have received pink slips—part-time faculty do not need to receive a notice to be laid off because they just stop receiving teaching assignments.

In a worst-case scenario, where all part-time faculty are laid off in the departments where at least one pink slip has been issued, 65 percent of faculty could face layoffs at the end of the semester. According to Maliaka Finkelstein, president of AFT2121, the City College faculty union, that scenario may not be unlikely.

 “If the 163 people are laid off, then all of the part-timers in their departments need to be laid off first, it’s the law,” said Finkelstein. “In the math department, they issued four pink slips, but the only way they can act on those pink slips is to first get rid of all 20 adjunct [faculty]. The Education Code requires it, there’s no other way to do it.”

Dianna Gonzales and Clara Starr, chancellor of human resources and vice chancellor of human resources, did not respond to requests for comment.

City College has received HEERF funding across three iterations, called HEERF I, III, and III, and was awarded $7 million, $16 million, and $28 million for each iteration. Currently, the HEERF funds are to be spent primarily on technology, as Vice Chancellor of Finance John Al-Amin determined that that is what the funding is eligible for.

Cuts will likely eliminate some longtime programs. Photo by Garrett Leahy.

Stephanie MacAller, an English teacher and founder of Rebuild City College, a campaign lobbying City College’s administration to expand revenues through aggressive enrollment outreach, said she disagrees with Al-Amin’s determination. She said his analysis is based on the most restrictive guidelines set out in HEERF I.

MacAller pointed out that the guidance for the second and third revisions of HEERF funding have expanded the allowed uses of funding, now allowing for a portion of the money to be used to fund payroll expenses and retrofitting classrooms for in-person learning, as long as they are expenses incurred due to changes in instruction associated with the coronavirus.

MacAller argued that to spend the HEERF funds on faculty salaries, the college could justify the expense on necessitating the hiring of more faculty to serve smaller in-person courses, as smaller, socially-distanced classrooms are mandated by public health guidance and public schools are now reopening in San Francisco.

“[Al-Amin] thinks that it’s the most limited allowed uses, which came with HEERF 1 funds, but allowed uses of the funds have since expanded…we think that you can use these funds to open more class sections because of social distancing, but even though other school districts are planning to open for fall, we don’t have anything planned, even though we have money to help facilitate that,” said MacAller.

“You could temporarily use these funds to keep faculty employed while we’re securing additional funding going forward…however, what they’ve done is spend it as quickly as possible and kind of recklessly. If you look at their HEERF 2 spending plan, most of it’s for technology, but none of it is to mitigate cutting the majority of the faculty…You can’t use the HEERF funds to pay for teacher salaries that have always been there, but if you’re going to layoff a bunch of people, you could make the argument that we need to use HEERF money not to lay these people off so that we can teach in socially distanced classrooms.”

Al-Amin did not respond to requests for comment.

According to faculty, two programs in particular are at risk of disappearing due to the faculty cuts.

Project SURVIVE, a nationally-recognized program founded by Leslie Simon in 1994 that trains students as peer educators to provide guidance to students at City College and San Francisco high schools on how they can identify, avoid, and leave abusive relationships, may end due to the faculty cuts, according to Simon, after the only full-time faculty member in the Women and Gender Studies Department, Adele Failes-Carpenter, received a pink slip.

Simon said that as of 2017, more than 100,000 students have been involved in the program, receiving guidance from 200 peer educators trained since the program’s founding.

“If that [layoff] were to go through, there would be no Project SURVIVE,” said Simon, who led the program from its founding until 2017.

Simon explained that peer educators are hired based on their performance in two classes, The Politics of Sexual Violence and Ending Sexual Violence: Peer Education. To hire effective peer educators, the person hiring needs to be teaching those courses, so as to be familiar with the students’ performance and to assess whether they’ll succeed as peer educators, and to also be managing Project SURVIVE, so that they are in a position to actually hire them on. Splitting the roles across multiple part-time faculty would not allow for the program to develop a robust staff of well-vetted peer educators, according to Simon.

“You need someone who is teaching the classes and running the program…it’s an integrated unit, you can’t parcel it out, it would fall apart,” said Simon.

The Philippine Studies Department, which is the only one of its kind in the United States and was institutionalized in 1970, could also face closure as a result of the faculty cuts, according to Lily Ann Villaraza, the department chair and only full-time employee in the department. Villaraza has also received a pink slip and said during a press conference before the march that the absence of leadership would likely mean the end of the program.

“While the leadership of our college may say that there is no intention at this time to dissolve Philippine Studies as a department, the loss of a full-time position would lead to a loss of leadership and stewardship needed to grow, cultivate engagement and interest in the community to pursue a degree [in Philippine Studies],” said Villaraza. “Without leadership it is only a matter of time before it becomes fiscally justifiable to close the department.”

For former student Guada Nobela, who took Philippine History and transferred from City College to San Francisco State University in December, the prospect of the department’s closure has left her infuriated at the college’s continued cuts, particularly because the Philippine Studies department had a profound impact on her sense of identity.

“I’m a 1.5 generation immigrant—I moved here to San Francisco when I was five years old. Going through the public education system here in San Francisco, I was never really taught anything about my culture or my history…it wasn’t until I decided to go to City College that I had the chance to connect myself back to my culture and my roots. I struggled a lot with my identity growing up, finding my balance as a Filipino and an American, and it just filled these holes I had in my life,” said Nobela.

Currently, Nobela is active in WeArePHSD, a group of current and former students organizing to preserve the Philippine Studies department as it faces cuts. They are petitioning City College’s Board of Trustees to rescind the layoff notice issued to Villaraza, and have collected more than 750 signatures.

City College’s administration has promised that no programs will be cut as a result of the layoffs, but faculty say they are not buying it.

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