Faculty, staff, and students at the City College of San Francisco held a press conference on Wednesday to outline their concerns following the college’s years-old accreditation battle, which has damaged the college’s enrollment, school officials say.
“If you think it’s hyperbole to say it’s a crime scene, it’s not,” said Tim Killikelly, president of the faculty union.
Since 2012, the city college has experienced a 28 percent drop in overall enrollment, symbolized on Wednesday by 25 empty chairs that were blocked off with police caution tape. Each chair represented 1,000 students, showing the more than 24,000 who have left in the last four years.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges sanctioned the college in 2012, citing financial and administrative problems, and then voted to revoke the college’s accreditation status entirely for 2014. However, a court injunction kept the college open and public pressure prompted the accrediting commission to give the college an unprecedented “restoration status,” under which it remains fully accredited and has until January 2017 to meet the commission’s requirements. This time, if the commission chooses to terminate accreditation, there will be no option for appeal.
The commission will visit the college from October 10-14 to make its final decision regarding accreditation. Meanwhile, staff and students have been struggling to deal with the extensive ramifications of the accrediting commission’s actions.
According to a document prepared by Save City College’s research committee, the African-American student population has declined by 38 percent, its Native American population has dropped by 37 percent, the number of Filipino students is down by 31 percent, and the Latina/o population has fallen by 18 percent.
The panelists said on Wednesday that the loss of students of color mirrors the changing demographics of the city as a whole.
“The attack on City College is the attack on San Francisco,” said J.J. Vivek Narayan, a student organizer and member of the Solidarity Committee. “Pushing out students and laying off teachers is the same as gentrification and displacement of our communities in San Francisco.”
The speakers also described the self-perpetuating spiral created by the precipitous drop in enrollment: The loss of enrollment-dependent state funding leads to a loss of retention programs and outreach services. Without these resources, the college loses more students, and in turn, it loses more funding.
The college has also lost 12 percent of its faculty, and 774 courses have been cancelled. Earlier this year, the administration announced that it would cut 26 percent of its courses by 2020.
The 2013 decision to revoke accreditation prompted the state chancellor’s office to take over the school and pack the administration with an almost entirely new staff.
“Most of [the new staff] are gone because they were so inept,” said Dr. Tarik Farrar, a faculty member of CCSF’s African American Studies Department. “[They] made such a mess of the school.”
But the panelists noted that even though most of the new administrators have since gone, a new ethos prevails – one that emphasizes budget austerity and explicitly prioritizes students likely to graduate and move on to lucrative careers.
“This corporate model of education, it’s all about workforce development and [serving] the private sector,” Narayan said. “In that model, marginalized students are to be pushed out because they’re seen as liabilities.”
This new model is completely antithetical to the school’s proud history of serving immigrants and providing non-credit courses to inquisitive people in the community, the panelists explained.
“There were people who were in citizenship programs, people who were retired, or worked long and hard and simply wanted to take a cooking class. And all of that was okay because CCSF was a community college,” Farrar said. “It served the city of San Francisco in that capacity, and the city of San Francisco appreciated that greatly.”
The panelists condemned the accrediting commission for its unmatched record of sanctioning community colleges and its history of legitimizing for-profit institutions, including Corinthian’s Heald College, which was later shut down after the federal Department of Education fined the parent organization millions of dollars for fraudulent advertising.
“We have called for the immediate de-listing of the ACCJC so that they will be gone and they will not have this culture of fear over City College of San Francisco and all the community colleges here in California,” Killikelly said
The commission has been widely disparaged by a number of state and federal agencies, including the California State Auditor, the California Community College Chancellors Task Force on Accreditation, the federal Department of Education, three members of Congress, and the chancellors and CEOs of California Community Colleges, and many have called for it to be supplanted by another organization.
All of this is promising for the students and faculty who have been battling the accrediting commission for the past four years.
“What we’re asking for is to reverse the destruction that’s been done by this four years of state takeover, living under the shadow of the ACCJC,” Farrar said. Above all, he said, they’re fighting “to keep the ‘community’ in community college.”
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story indicated that CCSF’s accreditation had been revoked in 2014 and did not note the college’s current fully accredited status. The story has been corrected. We regret the error.