City College supporters protest state takeover and the agenda behind it


By Dalton Amador

Around 350 students, faculty members and other San Franciscans marched from City College’s downtown campus to the U.S. Department of Education Tuesday afternoon to protest the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College’s (ACCJC) decision to terminate City College’s accreditation effective July 31, 2014.

The Save CCSF Coalition sponsored the event. “We are not here to mourn, we are here to fight,” Shanell Williams, City College’s newly elected student trustee and one of the leaders of the coalition, told a cheering crowd. “ACCJC is a private, rogue group.”

The coalition sought to convince the Department of Education, which oversees the ACCJC, to immediately reverse the commission’s decision.

Behind Aztec dancers dressed in feathers and loincloths, protesters chanted “No more deception, no more lies, we don’t want to privatize” and held picket signs that read “Stop the corporate overthrow of public education at CCSF” as they marched down Market Street.

The coalition said that revoking City College’s accreditation is part of a systematic effort to undermine affordable education. Eric Blanc, one of the coalition’s leaders and a current City College student, said that the ACCJC’s decision to terminate City College’s accreditation was motivated in part by forcing would-be transfer students to take out student loans for private or for-profit universities.

“It’s clear that from the arbitrary norms the commission is using as its excuse to shut down City College that there is something much bigger going on,” he said. “(Students) are going to go to the University of Phoenix or prison.”

Williams agreed. “Where would I go?” she said, referring to a hypothetical City College student’s hope to transfer to a California State University or University of California campus without first going to a private university.  

City College Board of Trustees members Chris Jackson, Vice President Anita Grier and Rafael Mandelman addressed the crowd in front of the Department of Education.

Grier said that the “democratic process” that elected the Board of Trustees was “replaced by a feudal lord dictator,” referring to the ACCJC-appointed Special Trustee Robert Agrella, who now holds unilateral power over the board following the ACCJC’s decision. He had canceled a meeting scheduled for that day by President John Rizzo.

Supervisors Scott Wiener and David Campos also spoke, both saying that many of their constituents depend on City College. “Where is Ed Lee?” the crowd chanted spontaneously during different speakers’ addresses.

Lee did address the City College situation earlier in the day when he asked about it at the Board of Supervisors meeting, reiterating his previous statements supporting a state takeover. “It’s been a difficult decision and we had been hoping the decision of the accrediting commission would be different,” Lee said, going on to praise California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris, who Lee said, “has agreed to save City College through a state intervention.”

But on the streets, protesters rued the loss of local control and the agenda behind it.

Some independent organizations, not part of the Save CCSF Coalition, participated to show their support. Adam Wood, a firefighter of 18 years, held a sign that said, “San Francisco Firefighters support City College.”

“A lot of aspiring firefighters go through fire academy at City College,” he said. “It would be a real loss if it closed.”

City College will remain open for the following fall and spring semesters. It can ask for a review of the decision to the ACCJC. Should the ACCJC affirm its decisions, the college can appeal. The college would remain open during the appeal process.




Laborfest: CCSF’s accreditation crisis City College of San Francisco, Mission Campus, 1125 Valencia, SF. 6-8pm, free. City College serves about 85,000 students and faces threat of closure in July 2014 if its appeals to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, which has threatened to revoke the school’s accreditation in a year, aren’t successful. At this forum, Marty Hittelman, former president of the California Federal of Teachers, will speak on accreditation and the ACCJC. Sponsored by Save CCSF Coalition and AFT 2121.


Laborfest panel: The press and the powerful First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1187 Franklin, SF. 7-9pm, free. Gray Brechin, author of Imperial San Francisco, will join Westside Observer publisher George Wooding, former Berkeley Daily Planet reporter Richard Brenneman, and former Bay Guardian reporter Savannah Blackwell for a panel talk on the erosion of investigative journalism in the face of commercialization and monopolization of the media.


Panel: The continuing battle for free expression Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission, SF. 3-5pm, $12. Allen Ginsberg’s seminal poem, Howl, represented a landmark in the history of freedom of speech, obscenity issues, and the censorship of literary works. This panel talk, led by Peter Maravelis of City Lights Booksellers with panelists Rebecca Farmer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Mark Rumold of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and James Wheaton of the First Amendment Project, will focus on the continuing fight against censorship today. Presented in conjunction with The Allen Ginsberg Festival and the exhibition Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.


Green renters expo Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo Ave, Berk. 7-9pm, free. Who says you have to own a home to live a green and energy efficient lifestyle? The Bay Area offers a myriad of resources for renters who wish to green their living spaces with efficiency upgrades, which can also help save money. Representatives from Rising Sun Energy Center, Community Energy Services Corps, the City of Berkeley Recycling Program,, the Ecology Center and others will be on hand to offer presentations, tips and advice, and to answer questions.


City College will appeal


OPINION City College will appeal last week’s decision by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to revoke City College’s accreditation.

The reason for the appeal is simple: Most of what ACCJC asked for has been accomplished, and the rest is well on its way towards completion within a year.

First, the San Francisco City College district is financially secure. This is not a district that is close to fiscal collapse. This year’s audit was “clean,” and the budget is balanced, thanks to multiple cost-saving reorganizations, large spending cuts, reforms in practices, and the passage of Propositions A and 30. City College also has a healthy reserve fund well above that of state requirements. City College is even squirreling away money for a special “Ninth year” fund in the event that voters don’t reapprove Prop A when it expires 8 years from now.

The City College budget also increases spending in areas that ACCJC wanted: there is nearly $3 million per year for new technology and building maintenance, both long deferred through the years of radical state funding cuts. City College is also paying money towards the unpaid liability in retiree health benefits. The City of San Francisco also has this kind of liability — to the tune of $4.4 billion — but has so far not come up with a plan to deal with it. City College, on the other hand, has a plan and the funds to enact it.

City College has also cut costs by millions of dollars. There have been layoffs and furloughs, and salary cuts. For instance, faculty members are earning 5 percent less than they did in 2007. Department chairs are earning less, and the Board of Trustees just cut administrators salaries. Streamlined operations have resulted in other savings.

Governance is another area where City College has made major changes. There have been five major management overhauls to streamline bureaucracy, increase efficiency and speed the carrying out of decisions. And many administrators have been replaced. Any one of these overhauls could ordinarily have taken a year each to implement. There were all done in a matter of months.

For instance, the job description of every dean’s position was completely rewritten; some posts disappeared, and new ones were created. Every dean had to reapply for a job, and many did not return. The same is true for other management positions.

City College also replaced a decades-old department chair structure with a system that costs less and has simpler lines of authority. And last fall, the Board of Trustees acted to completely restructure the Participatory Governance system. This is a state-mandated system of getting input from faculty and staff into management decisions. Over 40 committees were dissolved and replaced with a more streamlined system.

The faculty and staff also worked hard in fixing problems identified by ACCJC, particularly in the areas of planning. One of the most important of these is in the collection of Student Learning Outcome data -– a measure of how well students do. Faculty filed thousands of reports in order to fulfill this requirement, a truly enormous amount of work. The collected data will then be used to improve courses next year. This cycle of planning, data collection, and improvement are the basis of ongoing reform effort that takes a year at minimum to prove that it’s working. There is a lot more work to be done in this area. It will take another year to complete — if City College is given the time.

Not everyone at the college agrees with all of the changes that were made. People have the right to express their views, and indeed, we want the internal experts to speak up and give their best advice. And given the speed and monumental scope of the changes, it is very likely that these changes have flaws and that improvements can be made.

But regardless of what people think of the changes that have occurred, these are changes that ACCJC asked for. City College neither ignored nor fought ACCJC’s recommendations, as many people wish we had. City College’s response was to work to enact ACCJC’s will as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, the decision to revoke accreditation will harm City College’s otherwise good financial position by causing a large drop in student enrollment for fall — and the loss of millions of dollars in state funding. Ironically, this will make it more difficult to finish what ACCJC wants done.

The best course for students is to let City College retain accreditation while it finishes the job that ACCJC wants done.

John Rizzo is President of the City College Board of Trustees


Who killed City College?

The day City College of San Francisco heard it would close was the same day, July 3, that 19-year-old Dennis Garcia signed up for his fall classes.

With a manila folder tucked under his arm, he turned the corner away from the registration counter and strode by a wall festooned with black and white sketches of every City College chancellor since 1935, including a portrait of bespectacled founder Archibald Cloud. In a meeting room on the other side of that wall, the college’s current administrators were receiving the verdict from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

It was their worst fears of the past year realized: City College’s accreditation was being revoked. Accreditation is necessary for the college to receive state funding, for students to get federal loans, and for the degree to be worth more than the paper it’s printed on.

Unbeknownst to Garcia, he walked out of the building just as the college received its death sentence, which is scheduled to be carried out next July unless appeals now underway offer a reprieve. In the interim, CCSF will essentially be a ward of the state, stripped of the local control it has enjoyed since Cloud’s days.

Just a few blocks down Ocean Avenue is the nerve center of City College’s teachers union. Housed in a flat above a Laundromat, the scent of freshly washed clothes wafted up the staircase to an office that instantly became a flurry of ringing phones and rushed voices.

Only an hour later, 10 or so union volunteers were calling their members, contacting nearly 1,600 City College faculty whose responses ranged from sad to furious. The volunteers read them bulleted factoids about accreditation and a call to join an upcoming protest march.

But the woes of City College reach deeper than a three line script could ever cover, and can be traced back to the oval office itself, leading to a really odd question: Did President Obama kill City College?




When the president trumpeted education in his 2012 State of the Union speech, he sounded an understandable sentiment. “States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets,” Obama told the nation. “And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down.”

But the specifics of how to cut costs were outlined by years of policymaking and a State of the Union supplement sheet given to the press.

The president’s statement said that they will determine which colleges receive aid, “either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.”

The emphasis is ours, but the translation is very simple: College accreditation agencies can either enforce the administration’s numbers-based plan or be replaced. The president’s college reform is widely known and hotly debated in education circles. Commonly known as the “completion agenda,” with an emphasis on measurable outcomes in job placement, it had its start under President George W. Bush, but Obama carried the torch.

The idea is that colleges divest from community-based programs not directly related to job creation or university degrees, and use a data measurement approach to ensure two-year schools transfer and graduate students in greater numbers. “Community colleges” would quickly become “junior colleges,” accelerating a slow transition that began many years ago.

But its critics say completion numbers are screwy: They discount students who are at affordable community colleges just to learn a single skill and students who switch schools, administrator Sanford Shugart of Valencia College in Florida wrote in an essay titled “Moving the Needle on College Completion Thoughtfully.”

Funding decisions made from completion numbers affect millions of students nationwide — and CCSF has now become the biggest laboratory rat in this experiment in finding new ways to feed the modern economy.

“I think there was a general consensus that the country is in a position that, coming out of the recession, we have diminished resources,” Paul Feist, spokesperson for the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, told us. “Completion is important to the nation — if you talk to economic forecasters, there’s a huge demand for educated workers. Completion is not a bad thing.”

Like dominoes, the federal agenda and Obama’s controversial Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tipped the Department of Education, followed by the ACCJC, and now City College — an activist school in an activist city and an institution that openly defied the new austerity regime.



In the ACCJC’s Summer 2006 newsletter, Brice Harris — then an accreditation commissioner, now chancellor of the state community college system — described the conflict that arose when colleges rallied against completion measurements established by the federal government.

“In the current climate of increased accountability, our regional accrediting associations find that tight spot to be more like a vice,” Harris wrote.

Many of the 14 demands the ACCJC made of City College trace back to the early days of Obama’s administration, when local trustees resisted slashing the curriculum during the Great Recession.

“There’s a logic to saying ‘We don’t want to put students on the street in the middle of a recession,'” said Karen Saginor, former City College academic senate president. “If you throw out the students, you can’t put them in the closet for two years and bring them back when you have the money.”

And they have a lot of students — more than 85,000. Like all community colleges in California, the price of entry is cheap, at $46 a unit and all welcome to attend. But since 2008, the system was hammered with budget cuts of more than $809 million, or 12 percent of its budget.

So programs were cut, including those for seniors, ex-inmates re-entering society, or young people enrolling to learn Photoshop or some other skill without committing to a four-year degree.

“As the recession hit, the Legislature instructed the community college system [to] prioritize basic skills, career technical, and transfer,” Feist said. “That’s to a large extent what we did. That was the reshaping of the mission of that whole system.”

It’s easy to cast the completion agenda as a shadowy villain in a grand dilemma, but as Feist or anyone on the federal level would note, people were already being pushed out of the system, to the tune of more than 500,000 students since the 2008-09 academic year due to the budget crisis. Course offerings have been slashed by 24 percent, according to the state chancellor’s office.

But City College would only go so far. Then-Chancellor Don Q. Griffin raised the battle cry against austerity and the completion agenda at an October 2011 board meeting, his baritone voice sounding one of his fullest furies.

“It was obvious to me when I heard Bush … and then Obama talking about the value of community colleges … they’re going to push out poor people, people of color, people who cannot afford to go anywhere else except the community college,” he said.

But when it came to paying for that pushback, things got tricky.

“No more of this bullshit, that we turn the other way and say it’s fine. We’re going to concentrate the money on the students,” Griffin said at a December 2011 board meeting. “You guys are talking about cutting classes, we don’t believe in that. Cut the other stuff first, cut it until it hurts, and then talk about cutting classes.”

So he slashed his own salary and lost staff through attrition and other means. The college had more than 70 administrators before 2008, and it now has fewer than 40.

“Since the recession in 2009, we’ve been seen as the rebels,” said Jeffrey Fang, a former student trustee on City College’s board. “When most of the colleges went and made cuts in light of the recession, we decided to find ways to keep everything open while doing what we could to eliminate spending.”

But those successes in saving classes put City College on a collision course with its accreditor.



Seven years ago, the ACCJC found six deficiencies that it asked City College to fix, finding it had too many campuses serving too many students, fiscal troubles, and hadn’t enforced measurement standards. Last year, it faulted City College for resisting those changes and tacked on eight additional demands, threatening to revoke its accreditation.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official who worked closely with ACCJC as a member of one of the visiting accreditation teams told us there was pressure to crack down on all the Western colleges.

“The message they’re hearing from (ACCJC President) Barbara Beno is that Washington is demanding, ‘Why are you not being more strict with institutions with deficiencies that have lasted more than two years [and taking action] to revoke their accreditation?'” the source said.

This official said this may soon ripple to other accreditation agencies. “What’s anomalous about California is we’re getting to where everyone will be in a few years.”

The ACCJC’s next evaluation is this December, where it will be reviewed by the Department of Education. It wants to be ready, says Paul Fain, a reporter for Inside Higher Ed, a national trade publication.

“Washington writ large … is pushing very hard on accreditors to drive a harder line,” Fain told us. “There’s a criticism out there that accreditation is weak and toothless.”

The U.S. Department of Education declined to comment on the issue, saying only that it will formally respond to all officially filed complaints about ACCJC.

But the numbers speak volumes. As an ACCJC newsletter first described federal pressure back in 2006, seven community colleges in California were on probation or warning by the ACCJC. By 2012 that number leapt to 28.

But the California Federation of Teachers is fighting back, and recently filed a 280-page complaint about the ACCJC with the Department of Education.

The allegations were many: Business conflict of interest from a commission member, failure to adhere to its own policies and bylaws, and even the commission President Beno’s husband having served on City College’s visiting team, which the unions said is a clear conflict of interest.

Some people think it’s a waste of time, that City College has already lost.

“That process of fighting accreditation won’t succeed, it just forestalls the problem,” said Bill McGinnis, a trustee on Butte College’s board for over 20 years. He’s also served on many ACCJC visiting teams.

But the unions are making some headway. The Department of Education wrote a letter to the ACCJC telling them to respond in full to the complaints by July 8, as this article goes to press. The accreditor will soon be the one evaluated.



In the meantime, City College has exactly one year to reverse its fortunes: The loss of accreditation doesn’t actually kick in until July, 2014. A special trustee appointed by the state will be granted all the powers of the locally elected City College Board of Trustees to get with the federal program. Without voting power, the elected body is effectively castrated.

No one knows what that will mean for the college board, not even Mayor Ed Lee, who issued a statement supporting the state takeover and criticizing local trustees for not cutting enough. “The ACCJC is fundamentally hostile to elected boards and they’ve made that clear,” City College Trustee Rafael Mandelman told us. “The Board of Trustees should and may look at all possible legal options around this.”

Although officials say classes will proceed as normal for the next year, some aren’t waiting around to see if City College will survive.

At its last board meeting, the CCSF Board of Trustees grappled with how to address dwindling enrollment. As news of its accreditation troubles spread, City College has been under-enrolled by thousands of students, exacerbating its problems. Since the state funds colleges based on numbers of students, City College’s funding is plummeting by the millions.

A frightening statistic: When Compton College lost its accreditation in 2005 and was subsequently absorbed by a neighboring district, it lost half its student population, according to state records.

Even the faculty is having a hard time hanging on, said Alisa Messer, the college’s faculty union president.

“People are looking for jobs elsewhere already. Despite everyone’s dedication to see the college through, it has tried everyone and stretched them to the limit,” she told us.

The college has two hopes — that the CFT wins its lawsuit and can reverse the ACCJC decision, or that the new special trustee can somehow turn the college around by next July. But either way, something will be lost. “City College is definitely changing,” Saginor said. “What it will change into, and if those changes will be permanent, that I don’t know.”

Opponents of City College takeover to march through SF


Opponents of last week’s decision to revoke the accreditation of City College of San Francisco and place the district under state control until that death sentence becomes official in July 2014 plan to rally and march through San Francisco today [Tues/9] at 4pm.

The procession will begin at the CCSF’s downtown campus at 88 Fourth Street and end outside the U.S. Department of Education — whose policy of coercing colleges to focus on job training and university prep led to the crackdown on CCSF, as we report in tomorrow’s Guardian — at 50 Beale Street.

Among the local officials who will join the march are Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, San Francisco Central Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson, and Alisa Messer, president of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, who this morning issued statements condemning the decision by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

“This decision is nothing less than an attack on the people of San Francisco,” Ammiano said. “All of us benefit from having this great 78-year-old institution, whether we take courses or not. San Francisco voters recognized that at the polls just last fall when they passed Proposition A to support the college financially. In addition, the appointment of a state official to manage the school takes away the local voice of CCSF’s duly elected trustees.”

“The quality of education at City College is not in question,” said Messer, who is also an English teacher at the college. “For the last year this institution has turned itself upside down to address the recommendations of the Commission, with employees putting in thousands of hours of effort and making huge sacrifices. To be told at the end of this process that the effort has had no impact is simply outrageous.”

“City College is vital and has made major progress in turning around many of the shortcomings identified by the Commission,” said Paulson. “The actions of the ACCJC – an organization accountable to no one — have unnecessarily put at risk the livelihoods of the nearly 2,500 hard-working men and women at the college. What’s more, their move to deny CCSF accreditation has imperiled the future of San Francisco’s working people, who rely heavily on a CCSF education for workforce training, language learning, and a pathway to better futures for themselves and their communities.”

“The Accrediting Commission’s handiwork has not improved educational quality at CCSF,” said Messer. “We want a stronger, better college, but in many instances direction from the ACCJC has moved us in the wrong direction. The Accrediting Commission should be accountable for the impact of its actions.”

 “The accrediting agency has only worked half-heartedly to support City College, and instead seems bent on tearing it down,” Ammiano said. “The decision needs to be reversed so we can all go to work building on the successes and fixing the few problems, instead of spending our time starting over from scratch because the school was destroyed by naysayers.”

City College overseers bar most speakers from meeting


The Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges has the power to close City College of San Francisco, and students and faculty in line at the San Francisco Airport Marriott June 7 were there to hear about the fate of their school.

But at the only public meeting available to meet with City College’s accreditors in more than seven months, some 30 people were barred from entry.

The doors were were shut, police said, because there were only about 20 seats available.

Even the San Francisco Chronicle’s higher education reporter, Nanette Asimov, was left outside, haggling with officers to get into the meeting — and she called ahead to reserve a seat.

Lalo Gonzalez, a City College student who was recently elected to the Associated Students Senate, was dismayed at not being able to meet with the accreditation agency. “I would’ve assumed they would have reached out to students,” he said.

But they didn’t.

The commission made its decision June 6 on whether City College would keep its accreditation — without which the school would lose state funding and close. But that decision won’t be revealed until early July.
The accreditors put the school sanction for a number of reasons, mostly fiscal but also relating to measuring student achievement. The college has 85,000 students and nearly 2,600 faculty.

The meeting was held at the same Marriott used many times in the past for meetings, the commissioners said. But unlike normal meetings, on June 7 there were four police officers, two from Burlingame PD and two from City College, who patrolled more than 60 feet of metal barriers erected around the corner.

Part of that may have been reaction to the 30 demonstrators from the Save CCSF coalition ( that protested outside the accreditor’s closed meeting Wednesday.

“I was shocked that we couldn’t get in,” student Sharon Shatterly said.

No bags, recording devices, or cameras were allowed in the meeting. As a private entity, the accreditation commission does not fall under California open access laws like the Brown Act.
Inside, 24 commissioners from the agency were seated, dealing with the day-to-day business of managing matters of California’s 112 community colleges, seemingly unconcerned about the dozens who waited outside wishing to speak. In fact, only two public speakers were allowed to address the accreditors.

One was Teeka James, a San Mateo community college teacher speaking on behalf of the California Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. She read aloud a litany of complaints about the accreditors, alleging that the teams sent to evaluate community colleges didn’t have enough faculty members, that the policies of the accreditors weren’t values “widely accepted” by educators or other accrediting bodies, and that there was a lack of transparency in how they operate.

She especially bemoaned the agency’s conflict of interest —  the commission president is Barbara Beno, and her husband served on the team that visited and evaluated City College a year ago, which resulted in the severe sanction the school is under today.

The president and the reviewing agents are supposed to be independent entities.

“To serve the students and people of California properly, ACCJC has to change or be delisted by the Department of Education,” James said. “The time is now.”

She was basically summarizing an official complaint about the accreditation agency sent to the Department of Education last month. It’s 280 pages long, and the allegations are serious.

After her presentation, the members of the commission started to grill her.

“What qualifications do you have? What is the source of your evidence?” said Steven Kinsella, who was named in the official complaint as someone whose ties to business constituted a conflict of interest to his role as a commissioner on the ACCJC. He is a “public member” of the agency.

The questions kept coming – and some were about James herself.

“I don’t think they took her very seriously,” said Fred Teti, president of the City College Academic Senate.

James also argued that the accreditors needed to be more transparent about their process, which was exemplified by the dozens of people who weren’t let into the meeting. Beno disagreed.

“We’re a private institution,” she said. “You can imagine a college president comes in and they discuss matters that could be embarrassing or challenging. That can’t occur in public.”
Outside, the students who had come to talk to the commission that may potentially close their school sat beside each other in the sun, watching the blue of the bay from the hotel’s patio.

And what would Gonzalez and his fellow students have said to the panel if they had gotten in?

“I would’ve asked about if they knew how this was affecting my people, people of color. I would’ve asked about EOPS,” he said, which is the second chance program at City College for those coming out of prison. “They’ve cut over 30 counselors, they’re dismantling the school in the name of accreditation.”

Gonzalez and all of San Francisco will have to wait until the beginning of July to find out what will happen to City College.

Behind the attacks on City College


OPINION Last year the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges harshly sanctioned City College of San Francisco and gave us just nine months to shape up or face the consequences. This was pushed on the community even though the quality of education provided at City College was never in question.

Since then, CCSF has changed student assessment metrics and addressed the governance, institutional planning, and enrollment management issues cited. We have done so even as we have also documented disquieting information about the ACCJC’s damaging role at CCSF and at community colleges throughout California.

Our research into ACCJC found that the commission failed to respect the law and public policy of the state and violated federal common-law due process and California common-law fair procedure. Further, at CCSF and in districts around the state, the ACCJC often acts arbitrarily, capriciously, unfairly, and inconsistently in evaluating colleges, thereby harming the schools and their communities.

San Francisco has shown valiant support for City College despite the drumbeat of negative publicity around our accreditation status.

Recently, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in support of preserving the quality and diversity of education at City College of San Francisco, of tackling the achievement gap and ensuring equitable opportunities for students, and of utilizing Proposition A funds as intended.

In the age of the 24-7 corporate news cycle, educators and unions are too often portrayed as the opposition in attempts to push austerity, undermine the public sector, and efface the important educational work we do for students. We will not apologize for resisting the downsizing of our students’ educations, for saving jobs, and for protecting educational programs that benefit our students—particularly our most vulnerable students. We will not apologize for attempting to sustain employees’ health, working conditions, and well-being.

When San Franciscans passed Proposition A overwhelmingly last November, it was a ray of light for those of us who have devoted our lives to City College and its students. Providing $15.2 million, the tax was designed to reverse the cuts to classes and employees in our starved public educational system, helping sustain our college for San Franciscans. Now the administration is diverting millions of these dollars and pumping additional money into consultants, lawyers, computers, and maintenance. Under the administration plan, next year less than a third of that money will go toward the educational purposes voters were promised.

Meanwhile, the race to downsize continues. At the negotiating table and in the press, the administration uses the need to retain the college’s accreditation—something all of us agree is crucial—as reason, excuse, and threat. It has shirked its duties at the bargaining table, imposing pay cuts and implementing premature and damaging layoffs of staff and faculty.

We face a host of other dramatic changes that cut into our ability to serve student needs, including a reorganization that pushes faculty expertise and voices further into the background and a shocking lack of substantive dialogue or transparent processes. Our trustees now preside over meetings that squelch public speech, restricting access to a too-small meeting room with the windows literally papered over so that no one can see in or out.

Thankfully, we are not alone in this fight. In Chicago, in Seattle, and in communities around the country afflicted with disingenuous “reforms” and diminished access, we are gathering strength and allies and standing up for the principles that inform our work as educators, responsible for defending and improving quality, accessible public education for the public good.

To join the fight to save our City College, email

Alisa Messer is an English instructor at City College of San Francisco and president of AFT Local 2121, which represents instructors, counselors, and librarians at the college.


Teachers try to dis-accredit accreditation group


The union representing teachers at San Francisco City College have fired back at the accreditation commission that’s threatened to shut the school down and forced dramatic changes in its mission. The California Federation of Teachers and AFT Local 2121 filed a legal complaint May 1 charging the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges with violating its own rules and federal law — and the complaint asks the federal Department of Education to withdraw the accreditation of the accreditation commission.

The language of the 260-page complaint is harsh:

The Commission has violated nearly every Federal regulation which guides it, disregards its own policies, misrepresents
its actions or legal requirements, fails to respect the law and public policy of the State,violates Federal common law due process and California common law fir procedure, and acts arbitrarily, capaciously, unfairly and inconsistently in evaluating colleges and
districts throughout the State, thereby harming colleges, students, faculty and staff, boards of trustees and ultimately the People.

But in the end, union members on a conference call noted, the big issue is whether the ACCJC ought to be evaluating classroom instruction and offering constructive criticisms (which is what these panels have tended to do in the past) — or ought to be looking at overall college finances, including retirement costs and management structure.

For example, the ACCJC wants City College to pre-fund some of its retiree health-care benefits — diverting money that could be used right now in classrooms. “Accreditation agencies shouldn’t be looking at [those types of] finances,” union spokesperson Fred Glass said.

Alisa Messer, president of the Local 2121, said that the commission’s threat to withdraw accreditation from City College “has thrown the college into turmoil,” which is hardly news. Jim Mahler, president of the CFT Community College Council, took the broader view, saying that schools are now so afraid of the ACCJC that they’re spending disproportionate amounts of money and time just trying to please the agency.

CFT President Joshua Pechthalt said the goal of the legal filing was to get the ACCJC to withdraw its “show cause” order at City College — and the change the overall approach the accreditors are taking. “No other body operates like this,” he said. The Department of Education has to accredit the accreditors, and the ACCJC comes up for review this year — so in a sense, the unions want to put the oversight agency under the same type of scrutiny the schools are enduring.

So far, no response from ACCJC.

UPDATE: ACCJC posted the following on its website:

While we understand there is interest in obtaining information in this regard directly from the ACCJC,
the Commission will maintain its normal practice of reviewing third party comment and communicating
about that comment directly to the affected member institution. Further, complaints against the ACCJC
are treated formally, in accordance with policy; comment from the organization or its officers is limited
during this time.



City College forum questions new reforms as deadline looms


More than 300 of City College of San Francisco’s students and faculty piled into a meeting hall at the school’s Mission campus last night, Feb.7, all waiting to hear the answer to one question: What can we do to save City College?

CCSF failed to meet a list of six requirements to improve the school that the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges gave it to complete in 2006, notably in measuring student learning outcomes and in managing its finances. Failing to meet those deadlines, the ACCJC told City College last June that it had until March 15, 2013 to fix their school, or it would face losing its accreditation — which means the college would lose state funding, and the degrees it offered from that point on would be almost worthless.

Concerned for the future of their college, a coalition of students, faculty and community members started “Save CCSF,” the group that organized the teach-in at Mission campus.

Students occupied every chair, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the back of the hall. The meeting was about education, the first speaker announced, meant to inform students about the crisis. How did CCSF come under threat of closure? Who is the accreditation body that posed the threat? The answers were complicated, and filled with accusations against the ACCJC, and the school’s own Board of Trustees.

We do accept there are deficiencies at City College,” student Inder Grewal, 20, said to the crowd. “But the administration is making change at a pace that is hurting faculty and students at our school.”

Notable speakers came out to show their support for the diverse students at City College. Wisconsin State Senator Spencer Coggs, one of the “Wisconsin 14” who fled the state to deny Governor Scott Walker quorum in the senate over his union-busting legislation, spoke in his support of City College’s labor force.

We believe in justice for workers rights, correct?” he said to the crowd, to cheers. “You in California supported us in Wisconsin, we in Wisconsin support you in California.”

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who represents San Francisco, sent a representative to show his support for the Save CCSF coalition. “We have been working on this issue,” Kimberly Alvarenga, Ammiano’s district director, said to the coalition supporters. “Last week we had a meeting with Assemblymember Ting, labor, and a rep from the [California Community College] state chancellor’s office to get a conversation started. We’re in solidarity with you.”

Just today, Ting held a press conference to support City College. Notably, CCSF faculty union leader Alisa Messer, staff union head Athena Steff, and SF Labor Council head Tim Paulson spoke as well, perhaps signaling Ting’s support of labor at the college.

At the press conference, college spokesperson Larry Kamer acknowledged the disagreements within the college, and offered to find middle ground.

There’s a lot we don’t agree on,” he said. “But one thing we do agree on is we want City College to remain accredited, we want people to recognize the work that’s been done, we want them to appreciate what we still have to do. But the headline today is we want people to enroll.”

Above, video of the press conference courtesy of The Guardsman, the newspaper of City College of San Francisco

The makeup of the crowd of currently enrolled students at the coalition meeting last night was a good indicator of exactly who stands to lose in City College’s shakeup. Easily half the room was filled with Latino students of every age and stripe, and many of them answered that they were English as Second Language students worried about their future.

I was a dishwasher, a janitor, everything,” said a man who wanted to be identified only as Jose because he is an undocumented student. Jose emigrated from El Salvador 10 years ago, and decided to take ESL classes at City College so he could get a new lease on life. He hasn’t decided on his major yet, maybe natural sciences, creative writing, or social science. The world is open to him, he said, because of his ESL classes.

If I hadn’t taken classes at City College, I couldn’t be talking to you now.”

He and other students were there for answers, and the answers they got were alarming.

Changes for the worse

The Save CCSF coalition urged the hundreds of students and faculty in attendance to bring anyone they could to rally at City Hall on March 14 — the day before City College is set to deliver its “show cause report” to the ACCJC. The report is a detailed report of the progress the college has made to address the ACCJC’s requirements for change. You can read the draft here.

In order to meet the ACCJC’s requirements, the board of trustees and administration have been making stark changes to the college, ones that the people in the meeting that night said were harming students.

Who’s been to the Bayview district?” Shanell Williams, associated students president, asked the crowd. Easily 30 hands went up. “There was a van students were using to get to their campus without getting shot, that the college cut out of the budget. It’s about access.”

The college is cutting funds wherever it can, and the private bus that shuttled students across gang lines in the Bayview was only the first of many changes. The Save CCSF coalition also told the crowd that they were fighting to restore the jobs of the over 30 classified staff and 50 faculty that weren’t rehired for this school year — essentially let go.

Use the Proposition A funds as promised,” Tarik Farrar, chair of African American studies said. He was referring to the language in Prop. A that went before San Francisco voters last November saying the $14 million parcel tax would be used to stop faculty layoffs at City College. “It’s explicit, not vague. The interim chancellor and special trustee does not have the right to use the money as they choose.”

Protecting labor isn’t strictly about protecting teachers because ultimately, the loss of faculty shrinks class offerings and class sizes.

Farrar was especially concerned that the belt tightening at the school would shrink the population it sets out to serve, something the college has already put into writing, by rewriting its mission statement.

“If you turn CCSF into a school of 20,000 students it will not be accessible,” he said. “The students that will be hurt disproportionately by this school will be the students I teach, people who look like this room, mostly.”

It is important to note that City College is still open, and is still accredited. The school is currently under-enrolled to the tune of about 3,000 students. The loss of that many students could possibly result in the state withdrawing funds for the school to the tune of at least $5 million, according to school officials in public meetings.

For further reading on the City College crisis from the students themselves, check out the following:

Can City College students transfer to SF State if the college closes

25 percent of community colleges in California are under sanction

Is City College’s main critic out of control?


The oversight board that’s demanding big, often unpopular changes at City College carries the name of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and it’s approval is essential for any school that wants to get taken seriously. Without accreditation, there’s no state funding, students can’t get loans, diplomas don’t count for much — in other words, losing the ACCJA seal of approval is a death sentence.

You’d think a board so important and powerful would have a lot of oversight, be the subject of news stories, get monitored. But that’s not the case with ACCJC; nobody seems to know much about it, except that its board is a fairly obscure group of academics and administrators and its president used to run Berkeley City College and it’s stirred up a bit of anger in past years. The boss, Barbara Beno, seems to like chancellors and presidents a lot more than she likes governing boards — and, from the situation at City College, it’s clear that she’s a big fan of top-down decision-making and doesn’t approve of shared governance.

But there’s a fascinating report done by the former president of the California Federation of Teachers that looks at how ACCJC compares to regional accreditation boards in other parts of the country. Martin Hittelman, an emeritus professor of Mathematics, did a numerical analysis that suggests that ACCJC is a whole lot harsher on schools than its counterparts. Check out the chart below:


As Hittelman notes:

The vast majority of reasons dealt with the adequacy of procedures, reviews of programs, services, and operations as well as whether the college adequately used assessment tools such as student learning outcomes in the evaluation of faculty. Sanctions were rarely, if ever, based on the
actual quality and adequacy of instruction received by students.

He notes:

The ACCJC Commissioners are not representative of the diversity in the California community colleges. The large urban districts such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose – Evergreen, and Long Beach are not represented on the Commission whereas Riverside City College
has two member of the Commission. The faculty of the California Community Colleges are represented by only four of the members of the Commission. The Commission also includes a number of members who were not well respected as administrators at their home campus

For example:

Dr. Sherrill Amador | Chair
Dr. Amador serves as a public member of the Commission. Dr. Amador began her service on the Commission July 1, 2004. She was a very unpopular college president at Palomar College where she received several votes of non-confidence.

Much of the report is academic (not surprisingly), but what I got out of it was that this particular agency, at this particular time, is demanding more from desperately underfunded schools than is normal, and is leaning distinctly toward the side of academia and politics that wants simple tests and hard data to quantify educational outcomes that aren’t always easy to quantify.

Not saying for one second that City College is free of problems. But it’s worth thinking about who the critics are and where they come from.

BTW, I contacted ACCJC for comment on the report, but haven’t heard back.


City College board takes first step toward scaling back its mission


[CORRECTED BELOW] The first step was taken in changing City College of San Francisco’s educational mission at last night’s Board of Trustees meeting, a decision that would drastically alter what programs the college funds and who it serves.

The college’s mission statement is an overarching funding guideline, according to Gohar Momjian, the college’s accreditation liaison officer. She presented the mission statement workgroup’s findings to the college’s board and a packed room of faculty and students last night.

Momjian oversees the 15 workgroups responsible for addressing the major areas the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges told the school it has to rectify. A failure to do so by March 2013 could result in the revocation of the school’s accreditation, which is necessary for the college’s degrees to be recognized and for the school to receive federal funding.

Simply put, City College was tasked by the ACCJC to gets its mission in line with current fiscal realities. The workgroups, tasked with brainstorming ways to reshape the college and meet the criteria of the accreditation team’s findings, will use the new mission statement as a guide for what programs are viable, said Momjian.

So what was cut out of the new mission statement? Completion of adult high school diplomas, GED’s (which help students test out of high school), active engagement in the social fabric of the community, lifelong learning, life skills, and enrichment courses were all dropped from the revised mission statement. [[8/27 CORRECTION: Transitional Studies, which includes GEDs and basic adult education, ended up being in included in the primary mission]].

In their place was a statement making these things “conditional” on available resources. “In addition, the college offers other programs and services consistent with our primary mission, only as resources allow and whenever possible in collaboration with partnering agencies and community-based organizations,” reads the new draft statement of the college’s mission.

Essentially, the college promises to enrich the community only if the resources are available to do so. Students and faculty from classes geared towards older adults and also disabled students came out to oppose changes to the mission statement, and a loss of their funding.

“We have students that will wait 40 minutes in the rain in a wheelchair for a bus to get to class,” Disabled Students Programs and Services faculty Katherine Brown said to the board.

Shelly Glazer, faculty in the older adults program, left the board with a warning. “Here are the almost 2,000 letters written to the Student Success Task Force when they tried to cut our dollars,” Glazer said, dropping the huge stack of paper on the top of the podium. “They need your support, and you need theirs.”

Importantly, English as Second Language classes and basic skills classes were preserved in the primary mission guideline. “There are compromises made in the mission statement. There are things we can do under [better] conditions,” said Momjian in her report to the board. “That was our compromise.”

The board made a motion to approve the new draft mission statement, and voted unanimously in favor. The board will look at a second revised mission statement on Sept. 11, and take a final vote to amend the mission statement on Sept. 27. The draft mission statement can be read at the City College website here.

Forty-five problem areas were found in City College’s financial structures by a financial consulting group at the same college board meeting last night. The findings left the college board nearly speechless once the report was complete.

The Financial Crisis Management Team, known as FCMAT, was paid for by the state community college chancellor’s office and assigned to City College to help it review its finances. This was good timing with the recent accreditation troubles, but officially has no connection to the recent accreditation team visit or with any direction from the state chancellor’s office, FCMAT Chief Analyst Michelle Plumbtree told the college board.

Plumbtree and her associate Mike Hill made the presentation to the board on behalf of the four members of the “financial SWAT team,” as they’ve been dubbed by the board in the past. The report it gave to the board that night was only the tip of the iceberg.

“The report itself is going to be in the realm of 65 pages. There are about 45 specific recommendations,” said analyst Mike Hill. “But we do want to give you a sense of some of our observations first, and some of our recommendations grouped together.”

The hit list was read in a bullet point fashion, and as he rattled off each of the findings, the silence in the room deepened:

  • The district has made a cost structure over time that can’t be sustained in this economy.
  • The district opted for short term solutions.
  • Employee contracts have been made without long-term analysis.
  • Decision making has been made by power and political whim rather than logic and fairness.
  • The conduct of key leaders and the culture within the district have greatly diminished the role and the effectiveness of the management team.
  • The district lacks data to assess sites.
  • The district supports much more faculty than its closest peers.
  • There’s a history of maintaining a small fund balance, with 90-92 percent of the budget being committed to salary and benefits, the college needs to make adjustments.
  • The department chair structure is not cost effective nor administratively sound.
  • We’re recommending a reduction in full time faculty through attrition.
  • We’re recommending the district not subsidize categorical programs, and that current subsidies be reassessed (the state cut funding for some categorical programs, like the second chance program, and City College has been eating that cost to the tune of around $20 million a year, according to AFT 2121 president Alisa Messer).
  • Consider either elimination of department chairs or diminish them while empowering deans and giving them the ability to act.”

“There’s a lot there, it covers a lot of territory, and you need to see the context and data and analysis in order to have informed questions, or else you’ll be spinning our wheels,” Hill said to the stunned board.

Chief Analyst Michelle Plumbtree concluded by cautioning the board against inaction. “The circumstances the district found itself did not happen overnight, decisions made over many years brought you here,” she said. “You’re going to have to move quicker than you want to, but that’s what’s needed.”

“Some of these things are new to me, but some of these things have come up in work groups. Some of these things are things we’ve known for years,” board President John Rizzo said after the report concluded. Financial administrators at City College declined to comment before the release of the full report. The 65-page final report will be made public on Sept. 18, and given to the college board a few days before that, Plumbtree said.

The City College Board of Trustees motioned to delay one of their most controversial votes at last night’s board meeting.

The board hopes to bring in a “special trustee,” who would be provided by the state, to help guide them through their recent accreditation woes. A special trustee is not simply a guide. A special trustee has veto power over the college board, giving the trustee unilateral decision making powers, according to college officials that night.

Most of the board welcomed the notion of outside help. The board has asked for $1.5 million dollars in cuts that never got made, Rizzo said, arguing for the need for the special trustee.

“It’s an enormous wealth of expertise that we do not have…We need someone from the outside to tell us where that mistake was made,” Rizzo said.

Trustee Chris Jackson wasn’t sure that the board had full knowledge of what it was asking. “I support a special trustee, but I have questions…How long would a trustee be here? What’s the process of asking them to leave?” Jackson asked, to the applause of the audience.

It was student Trustee William Walker who clarified the students’ position. He had a meeting with students the previous day, and they strongly disagreed with bringing in a special trustee to help run the school.

Given the history of special trustees in college districts, it’s not surprising why. A report by the LA Sentinel shows the discord brought by one special trustee to the Compton community college district, also facing accreditation woes. To read a report of Compton College’s and how it mirrors City College, check out the Guardian report “Saving City College.”

Special trustee Dr. Genethis Hudley-Hayes, was removed from her position as special trustee by State Community College Chancellor Jack Scott last September, according to the Sentinel article. The article cites multitudes of complaints against her by the community, who wrote a six page letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and Scott asking for Hayes’ removal.

“Who do you serve and why are you here?” Associated Students President Shanell Williams said to the board during its public comment session. “It’s shameful… If you can’t make decisions without a special trustee, then we need a new board.”

Student Kitty Lui said that the board’s decision to bring in a special trustee would undercut the democratic will of the community.
“If you don’t know how to move forward, I don’t know why you’re still here,” she said.

Despite students’ objections, if the board does not choose a special trustee, the likelihood is that one will be imposed on them, Jackson said. The board ultimately decided to shelve the decision until a special meeting on Sept. 11.

Interestingly, the “financial SWAT team,” FCMAT, thinks that a special trustee is a good idea. “To have an outside expert is always good,” FCMAT Chief Analyst Michelle Plumbtree told The Guardian. “Sometimes, you’re just too close.”

Saving City College


By Chris Jackson

Although a recent accreditation report levels a long list of criticisms of City College, some of them legitimate issues that need to be addressed, the real problem is the state’s defunding of public education and its disinvestment in our community-college system.

There’s no question that everyone is going to work to keep City College open and serving our communities.

City College of San Francisco serves more than 90,000 students each year, trains (and retrains) our workforce, teaches English to our immigrant populations, fosters lifelong learning, and provides affordable, accessible pathways into all of higher education’s opportunities. But five years of drastic cuts in state funding has resulted in shrinking programs and overflowing classes; skyrocketing costs to students and families; employee furloughs, pay cuts, and givebacks; shutting the doors on far too many students who are unable to get the classes they need; and an increasing sense that community college education and its mission are wholly threatened for our city’s diverse students.

Overall, if you read the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College’s report, the commission is asking City College to shrink its mission of providing a high quality, affordable education to all who come to its doors. The ACCJC wants City College to step away from its San Francisco value of “chopping from the top” — cutting administration instead of teachers.

Let’s be clear, the buck stops with the elected Board of Trustees. We as a board are going to work together with the entire City College family to save the college and its accreditation and look at and resolve all of the issues brought up in the accreditation report.

With that said, it’s important to understand that California’s institutions of higher education have taken huge cuts during our historic recession and subsequent unemployment — a time when more and more people have come to use our educational resources to help in their quest to find jobs.

Over the past four years, the state has cut more than $1 billion from the community college system. That includes a $17 million cut to City College last year — and this year, we’ve worked to close an additional $14 million budget deficit. Last year, more than 10,000 students were unable to attend City College due to lack classes.

While students are scrambling for classroom seats, the commission is arguing that City College has too few administrators. But we’re proud of the fact that every available dollar continues to go to saving City College classes and student access.

City College has spent the last year planning to place a parcel tax on this November’s ballot — to raise funds specifically to address many of the problems cited in the report. If the City College parcel tax and Governor Brown’s tax both pass, City College will have the money to restore many of the classes, services and liabilities that we’ve been unable to address.

As the largest community college in California, our mission and values are to serve all that come to the doors of City College, and let this be clear to our communities: We will never shrink away from that mission.

Chris Jackson is a member of the San Francisco Community College Board of Trustees