SF City College threatened by privatization

March 2013 College 5

By DON HARMON and KAREN SCHIEVE

City College of San Francisco (CCSF), with 85,000 students on seven campuses, is under attack from powerful and monied forces, such as JP Morgan Chase, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Goldman Sachs, and Lumina Foundation. These corporate giants are in collusion with the layer of secondary bureaucrats who are doing the footwork to destroy public education.  Their endgame is a “new and improved” college that will serve the long-term goals of America’s 1%: “Yes, sir. No, sir. How can we serve the 1%, sir?” Their plan has nothing to do with educating students.

In this time of austerity and severe cuts to education (the CCSF budget has been trimmed by more than $50 million), when America’s corporations are reaping maximum profits and paying minimum taxes, the privately-run and undemocratic accrediting agency—whose actions and process are veiled in secrecy with little or no input from staff, students, or the public in general—has demanded further unnecessary cuts. These cuts would forever decimate City College and slide it toward privatization. The end result would be exorbitant tuition fees that would exclude most of the present-day students and also result in low-paid, nonunion faculty and staff replacing the current excellent teachers and workers.

The accrediting agency, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), under the guise of “fiscal responsibility,” has given CCSF a “show cause” sanction, meaning that the college must satisfy the demands of the ACCJC or face closure. This “show cause”—the most severe sanction possible—is akin to a death penalty looming over the college. It has come out of the blue, with no prior lesser sanctions.

In its 77-year history, City College has never received any sanction of any kind. In 2007, City College was named by The New York Times as one of the top 11 community colleges in the nation. CCSF was among those “frequently named as models” and “successful in preparing students to transfer” to a four-year university, according to a panel of nationally prominent community college researchers.

According to the Save CCSF Coalition, “a study of actions taken between 2003 and 2008 found that the five regions of the U.S. had sanction rates ranging between zero and six per cent of community colleges. In contrast, the ACCJC imposed sanctions on 37% of community colleges in California, 41 of California’s 110 community colleges. Remarkably, the ACCJC generated 89% of all sanctions issued nationwide during this period. From June 2011 to June 2012, the ACCJC issued 64% of the 75 sanctions issued nationwide. At present, 25% of California’s community colleges are on sanction.”

CCSF is an institution of working-class students who are overwhelmingly people of color: African American, Latino, Asian. These 85,000 are a microcosm of San Francisco and its working class—from those neighborhoods that the tourists never visit. CCSF is much loved and respected by its students, staff, and the community at large.

CCSF students who go on to four-year universities have a higher graduation rate than those students who enter four-year colleges right out of high school. And these authors have heard many students exclaim the virtues of this institution: “City College turned my life around. This place gave me a second chance.”

The faculty at CCSF is unionized—American Federation of Teachers Local 2121—and very supportive of the democratic procedures that have been hard fought and hard won, such as the decades-long system in which department chairs teach less and earn stipends to run their departments, thus giving the teachers a greater voice in the day-to-day operations. Other colleges use deans who are part of the administration, and therefore non-union. The accrediting agency—no surprise here—recommends that this democracy be dismantled, that more administrators be hired to do the work that union department chairs are presently doing.

To hear the corporate media know-it-alls, one might think that teachers are overpaid and underworked. You be the judge: A beginning full-time instructor makes less than $50,000 per year, hardly a princely sum in the expensive Bay Area. But the accrediting agency recommends a temporary pay cut of nearly 9% and permanent pay cuts of 5% to be established for the next school year.

Does the community support City College? Last November San Francisco voters approved Prop A with a 73% “yes” vote, allocating $16 million yearly to help maintain the college, money to be spent in the classroom, on student services and staff. But the interim chancellor, who is paid the queenly sum of $1000 per day, has ruled that Prop A funds cannot be used as they were intended, another testament to the pre-meditated injustice being perpetrated. This is another example of the immoral and illegal operations at play. Also, California voters approved Prop 30, which allocates close to $400 million for the state’s junior colleges.

A student delegation met with the Interim Chancellor Dr. Scott-Skillman in late February to present their demands:

1) Call on the Board of Trustees to reverse the cuts to classes, services, staff and faculty. Stop downsizing the mission of CCSF and promote equity.

2) Organize town hall forums at all campuses so that students can have their voices heard.

3) Make a public statement calling for Prop A funds to be used for education as voters intended. Call on City Hall to give CCSF a bridge loan until Prop A and Prop 30 funds become available.

4) Speak out against CCSF being put on “Show Cause” without prior sanction. Call on the Department of Education to take action to stop the ACCJC’s misuse of the accreditation process.

But the Chancellor rejected all of these demands. Mass meetings of up to 350 people have been organized by the Save CCSF Coalition. Not only students, faculty, and staff but also an outpouring of people from the community have been in attendance. In addition, numerous campus rallies have been held since October 2012. On March 14, at 4 p.m., the coalition is planning a mass rally at San Francisco City Hall to insist that the mayor and Board of Supervisors release Prop A funds immediately.

According to Reuters reporter Stephanie Simon, investment in for-profit education has already jumped from $13 million in 2005 to $389 million in 2011. Why are corporations spending millions of dollars on education?

The U.S. capitalist class is confronted with dwindling profits due to the crisis of overproduction. They have largely given up on producing goods. Instead, their profits have come from financialization of capital, gambling and risk-taking with the money that belongs to working-class people. According to billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, private investment in a bare-bones, cut-down U.S. education industry is a risk worth taking—a new $500 billion opportunity for investors.

The effort to save City College of San Francisco will take more than a few demonstrations. We must build a massive and united movement of students, parents, labor, and the community at large—determined to do what it takes to protect our right to quality public education at the junior college level. No cuts! No to privatization! All out to City Hall on March 14!

All Out to Save City College of San Francisco!! Rally at San Francisco City Hall. Thursday, March 14 at 4 p.m.

Photo: www.edsource.org