Days after City College of San Francisco was notified that its accreditation will likely be revoked next year, supporters of public education took to the streets, their chants fueled by outrage and disappointment.
“It’s really important to understand that this decision is not yet final,” said Lalo Gonzalez, member of Save CCSF, a coalition of students, staff and faculty members who organized in response to the accreditation crisis. “I think this (protest) is a great representation of how mad the city is.”
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), a private accrediting agency that is authorized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), announced its decision to “terminate accreditation, effective July 31, 2014,” in a written statement addressed to Interim Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman on July 3.
Shortly before the July 9 protest, the CCSF Board of Trustees—deemed ineffective—was replaced by a state-appointed special trustee, Bob Agrella, who was granted sole decision-making power over the college.
Despite proactively working to meet the ACCJC’s demands, members of the dismantled governing board stand now side by side with students, faculty, and staff to call the commission’s legitimacy into question.
“I think the ACCJC was irresponsible and wrong,” said Trustee Rafael Mandelman. “I am going to do whatever I can over the next year to make sure that City College stays open and ACCJC shuts down.”
The ACCJC placed the college on a show-cause sanction July 2012, citing major managerial and financial shortcomings. Of the 14 recommendations that the school needed to correct in order to remain accredited, only two were met, according to various reports.
Union files complaint against accreditors
In April, the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and AFT 2121, the school’s faculty union, challenged the Commission’s actions by filing a third party comment and complaint with the commission and ED.
“(The ACCJC) is overreaching what their focus is supposed to be on, which is quality of education, and they are discussing how much teachers are being paid,” Gonzalez said. “We believe that it is an illegitimate institution.”
The complaint includes charges that the commission operated under a conflict of interest—Peter Crabtree, the husband of ACCJC President Barbara Beno, was part of a team of reviewers that visited CCSF earlier in the year.
ED released a statement promising to “thoroughly review” the complaint, stating that even though ED does not have authority to “reverse, revise, vacate… or dictate” the accrediting comission’s decision, CCSF may “appeal an adverse accrediting action for review by an independent appeals body.”
Member’s of Save CCSF argue that the commission’s main focus should be on the quality of education and programs that benefit the community—including English as a Second Language (ESL), Lifelong Learning, and GED programs—and that pressuring the school to meet ACCJC’s standards has caused more harm than good.
“This is not about academic performance, it’s not about supporting the students, it’s not about funding…this is about profits,” said CCSF Student Trustee Shanell Williams. “This is going to open up the floodgates for us to really start fighting against the privatization of our public resources.”
School to be stripped of core values
The approximately one thousand protesters who gathered at the Downtown campus, represented only a sliver of the 85,000 students and 3,000 faculty currently in jeopardy of losing their jobs and access to affordable higher education in San Francisco.
“It’s discouraging to see that the interest rate (for student loans) went up on July 1, and then to see this happen,” said Mari Garcia, who plans to enroll at CCSF in the Fall. “If CCSF really does close, then thousands of students—elderly students, young students, immigrants—where are they going to go?”
The CCSF community has fought long and hard to ensure diversity, access and opportunity throughout its campuses.
In 1960, the California Master Plan for Higher Education set the tone for a level of commitment to ensuring access to higher education—values reflected by the programs offered at CCSF.
The plan, signed into law during the administration of Gov. Pat Brown, established a framework for the University of California, California State University, and California Community College systems, ensuring the availability of higher education “to all, regardless of their economic means” and stressing that “academic progress should only be limited by individual proficiency.”
Josh Pechthalt, president of CFT, explains how it “was a vision of free and low cost education—(for) those who needed to get a degree, seniors who wanted to come back and learn…veterans coming back, workers who needed more skills.”
“We’ve been doing that for 50 years…but this commission has decided to … change the vision of higher education for California. We cannot allow that to stand,” he added.
CCSF supporters are urging state legislator involvement in what many assert is a national agenda of privatizing public education that has befallen the college.
“It’s part of a national plan to attack public education,” said Bill Shields, chair of Labor and Community Studies at CCSF. “This is what happened in Chicago—the mayor took away power from the elected board, closed down a whole lot of schools in Latino and African American neighborhoods…slated for gentrifying development.”