A Fight for the Soul of City College of San Francisco

A Fight for the Soul of City College of San Francisco

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Above: CCSF Faculty Union President Tim Killikelly (standing) speaking at a press briefing last Wednesday on a pending visit by the ACCJC.

SAN FRANCISCO — This week a team from the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) is visiting City College of San Francisco. The team is expected to produce a report that will help guide the ACCJC in a decision that will determine the school’s fate.

But under a new ACCJC policy, the visiting team will not include recommendations in its final report, and that has supporters of the school crying foul.

“Why do they even bother to come if they are not going to be able to make recommendations?” asked Tim Killikelly, president of the faculty union at CCSF, adding that the reason given by the commission for the policy is to “avoid perceived inconsistencies” between recommendations and ACCJC’s decisions.

Killikelly called the policy change “outrageous,” pointing to an earlier visit back in 2012 by an ACCJC team, which at the time recommended a lighter sanction than what the ACCJC ultimately issued. The “show cause” decision surprised many and cast a cloud over the school’s future.

Wynd Kaufmyn, who teaches engineering at CCSF and is a member of the Save CCSF Coalition, was more blunt in her assessment of the change. “It’s not meant to be a legitimate accreditation process. It is just to give the facade of it.”

Killikelly and Kaufmyn were among a panel of speakers at a press briefing last week to discuss the visit, which will last from Oct. 10-14. The briefing was held at the school’s Mission campus, and was organized by the Save CCSF Coalition and the Diversity Collaborative, a group of faculty and students representing the school’s diversity studies programs.

“Regardless of what the ACCJC is going through, we have to meet every area they have criticized,” said Edgar Torres, chair of the Latin American Studies program at CCSF and former chair of the Diversity Collaborative.

Torres was referring to a 2015 decision to put the school on “restoration status,” in which CCSF must be in full compliance with the agency’s requirements or face closure.

Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi and Jackie Speier are among lawmakers that have called for the ACCJC to be replaced for practices they say violate the agency’s policies regarding transparency and due process.

But Torres added the school doesn’t have the luxury of waiting around to find out what the ACCJC’s own fate might be.

“It’s difficult because restoration status … calls for us to be 100 percent compliant. And that is what is the scary part,” Torres said. “No one can be 100 percent compliant.”

Killikelly concurred. “No one knows what full compliance means,” he said.

The visit by the ACCJC evaluation team comes at the tail end of a four-year long battle between the commission and CCSF. That battle started back in 2012, when the commission’s controversial leader, Barbara Beno, put the school under its toughest “show cause” sanction.

Beno announced her retirement last month and will be stepping down in June 2017, after the ACCJC makes its decision on whether or not to keep CCSF’s accreditation. That decision is expected in January. And under the terms of restoration, CCSF will have no means of appealing the decision with the ACCJC. Their only option would be to go through a federal court.

Since 2012, CCSF has seen a dramatic drop in enrollment, leading to losses in revenue and near bone-deep cuts to faculty, classes, and other resources that speakers at the briefing say are essential to San Francisco residents.

Susan Lopez is the school’s adult enrollment coordinator. She said since 2012 there has been a loss of 13,000 non-credit students, many of them low-income immigrants and seniors who depend on language and health classes. “Most of [CCSF’s] students don’t come as graduating high school seniors,” she said. “They’re adults. We’re a community college, not a junior college.”

Win Mon Kyi, a student at CCSF and member of the Diversity Collaborative, said that since it was put on show cause, CCSF has seen a 38 percent drop in African American enrollment, a 37 percent drop in Native American enrollment, a 31 percent drop in Filipino enrollment, and an 18 percent drop in Latino/a enrollment. She added the losses amounted to over 24,500 students.

Torres said many of the students impacted are those most at risk. He explained that cuts to faculty, classes and counselors, as well as changes to how and when tuition is paid, created serious “bumps in the road” for already struggling students, many of whom rely on ethnic studies classes to “find their identity and gain a foothold” in their education.

“Ethnic studies programs have lost proportionally more students than any other department,” said Torres. “A lot of the students in the department come from at-risk situations, either academically or financially.”

CCSF student organizer JJ Vivek Narayan said the ACCJC’s actions mirror the wider impacts of gentrification in The City.

“This is a tale of two cities,” he told reporters. In one, there is “CCSF, Inc.” a vision of the school where students who are “seen as liabilities” are pushed out along with city residents unable to keep up with soaring rents. “Our vision,” he said, “is high enrollment, lifelong learning and community involvement.”