On Tuesday, August 6th, AFT 2121, the City College of San Francisco teacher’s union, began contract negotiations with the administration of the college. The local, under the leadership of president Alisa Messer, had requested immediate, open discussions. The administration agreed, and this will allow a significant number of members to attend the talks. This then becomes part of a mobilization that addresses both working conditions and the campaign to retain the school’s accreditation. The local hopes to secure a good agreement as quickly as possible and then put renewed effort into the accreditation fight.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) announced in July that it was giving City College of San Francisco (CCSF) one more year to make changes demanded by the Commission or lose accreditation. Loss of accreditation means loss of standing as an institution of merit in the educational world. This affects everything from transfer to four-year schools to employment possibilities to obtaining government aid. A loss of accreditation could mean the closure of the school, a widely respected institution that has never been so sanctioned in more than seventy-five years of operation.
Why has this challenge been thrown down by the ACCJC to one of the biggest and most successful community colleges in the country? “If they can take you down, they can take us all down”, is the refrain heard from community college union activists statewide. CCSF is a tall tree in a forest that union-busters and privatizers would like to cut. Hard won, decent working conditions at CCSF for all teachers, including part-timers, support high standards at other schools. By the same token, a lowered standard at CCSF would pull down everyone else. This alone is reason for the conservative ACCJC, run by deposed community college administrator Barbara Beno, to target the school.
The CCSF community has also fought the mania for standardized testing and defended its democratic governance structure. This is unacceptable for those attacking the public education system on behalf of for-profit schools, educational testing companies and corporate “reformers”. Under the direction of the ACCJC and its allies, CCSF has now been stripped of its elected Board of Trustees and put under the authority of a thousand dollar a day “Special Trustee”. It has also been told to make more changes than already made in the last year of accreditation review. Many of the changes demanded are couched in subjective language and hard to satisfy. For instance, a visiting evaluator praised the school for tremendous progress on evaluating student learning, but this wasn’t good enough for the Commission. Reforms in governance have also been implemented, but these were judged insufficient because they preserved the faculty’s right to elect Department Chairs.
CCSF is not a perfect institution. But none of its problems, many tied to $53 million in funding cuts during the recession, rise to the level of denying accreditation. Especially now that the labor movement and its allies won voter support for Proposition 30 and San Francisco’s Measure A last fall, which will bring the college some $20 million a year, there is no call for punitive sanction. What AFT 2121 and its labor and community allies seek is use of the money as the voters intended, for the students and those who work hard to educate them. Thousand dollar a day administrators, expensive consultants and overfull reserves are not how student learning needs will be served. They will be served by keeping the doors open, giving fair compensation to the workforce and restoring community and voter control.
Ultimately, it will take a united effort to save CCSF. AFT 2121, its labor allies, the Save City College Coalition, elected officials and community supporters are all in motion and demanding that the school’s accreditation be restored. Defend public education, Defend City College!