Demonstrators gathered outside City College's Mission campus on Wednesday afternoon, protesting the pending closure of the school's last ESL classes on the city's west side. Photo by Anna-Luisa Brakman

Dozens of City College students, faculty, and recently elected College Board members gathered outside the Mission Campus on Valencia Street Wednesday morning to protest an administrative decision that will close down the last remaining free English as a Second Language courses available on the west side of the city. Students from 23 countries, including China, Mexico, Mongolia, Japan, Peru, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Cuba and Ukraine gathered to demand reconsideration of the decision. 

In October, City College announced that it would cut its non-credit English as a Second Language program at the John Adams Campus in the Panhandle, effective next semester. The courses are an especially vital resource for Asian immigrants, who comprise two-thirds of the Richmond District’s 30 percent foreign-born population. With approximately 30 to 40 students in each of these classes, the impact of the John Adams program’s closure on the immigrant population is hard to overstate.

John Adams ESL students protest outside the CCSF Mission campus. Photo by Anna-Luisa Brakman.

Wednesday’s protest was held in the Mission, because that campus is the site of key City College administrators’ offices. 

Denise Selleck, an English as a Second Language instructor at CCSF since 1991, highlighted the need for these classes on the west side of San Francisco. 

“Eighteen percent of Richmond District residents and 27 percent of Sunset residents are limited English proficient,” she said. “A majority of our in-person CCSF ESL students now come from the west side of San Francisco.”

ESL students from several CCSF campuses across San Francisco gathered to rally the administration to reverse their decision to close the John Adams ESL program. Video by Anna-Luisa Brakman.

Some, like Richmond District resident Wooyoung, will no longer be able to attend English as a Second Language classes at all. 

“Unlike other classes, [for] English learning it’s very important to really meet people and talk a lot. If the classes [at] John Adams Campus disappear, I definitely cannot go to far campuses […] it’s the only campus in the west side of San Francisco. Please continue classes at John Adams campus.”

Catherine, an au pair who moved to San Francisco from Mexico four months ago, relies on the English as a Second Language courses offered at John Adams to learn English.

“I take my ESL classes at John Adams during my break because it’s close to my work. I don’t have enough time to travel to another campus.”

If the decision to close down the John Adams program isn’t reversed, Catherine will no longer be able to take English classes.

English as a Second Language Department Chair Jessica Buchsbaum told Mission Local that the administration’s decision ignores student need and vocal opposition to the closure of the program. 

“There wasn’t a rationale given. I was told it would be an initial conversation, but it didn’t feel like an initial conversation. It felt like a directive.”

Budget shortfalls have plagued City College for years. Over the past decade, the school has twice nearly lost its accreditation over budgetary concerns and fiscal mismanagement. With the failure of November’s Proposition O, which would have generated an estimated $37 million annually for City College, the administration has cited budget management and ‘decreasing enrollment’ as an impetus for the John Adams’ English as a Second Language program closure. But this year has hit such programs especially hard, and the City College of San Francisco Faculty Union, AFT 2121, argues that the College is cutting these courses in the midst of budget surpluses.

“They absolutely have been running surpluses,” math professor Clare Heimer told Mission Local.  “The college is very clearly fiscally solvent. They’re running huge surpluses. The idea that they need to be running huge surpluses year after year? Other colleges don’t do that and they get accredited just fine.”

In 2019, proposed pay hikes for top administrators, which coincided with slashed course offerings, sparked outrage at City College. In October, credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the school’s financial status to “stable” from “negative.”

This year’s estimated actuals (which have not yet been audited) showed a $3.6 million surplus, on top of balance sheet expenditures that speak to the college’s fiscal surplus. Included in this year’s budget was $1.9 million in “unallocated costs,” as well as about $8 million in a “transfer out” to the College’s cash reserves.

“In other words, they are setting aside money literally for nothing,” Heimer said. “It’s this kind of thing that they’re engaged in — this kind of cutting of the college’s actual educational functions in favor of this balance sheet improvement to satisfy creditors.”

The decision to close down the courses at John Adams came amidst already dire overcrowding of English as a Second Language courses at City College’s Mission campus.

“Ideally, there would be 25 students in a level 1 or 2 ESL class, but on the first day at one ESL class in the Mission, 90 students showed up,” Mission instructor Armen Hovhannes said. “Two months into the school year, there were still 75 students on the waitlist for introductory ESL classes at Mission campus, and hundreds more had already been turned away.”

Fanny Suk Fun Law, a ESL instructor at John Adams, speaks at the protest. Video by Anna-Luisa Brakman.

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  1. It’s important to note that community colleges used to rest on “five pillars” which focused on providing service to the broader community including a big component of academic courses aimed specifically at folks that intended to transfer to a four year college or university. Recently, the mission was reduced to ONLY that! Which means a top-down de-emphasis of critical services such as non-credit ESL. You know, the type of thing that helps you on your job that very afternoon. Folks need to protest that in Sacramento as well as in San Francisco. I’ll try to figure out exactly where but it wouldn’t hurt to start with you representatives in the State Legislature.

  2. The most recent “poll” on City College, Prop O on the Nov ballot, a parcel tax for City College, failed by 63-37%. The measures in support of the library and public schools won with 82 and 77%. Our three new trustees will have to adjust their rhetoric; they will be faced with the choice between bleak and grim.

  3. Fear not, English learner friends! I’m an ESL teacher. I’ve taught in five countries. I’m not free, but only $5 per hour IF 12 or more in a class. (First class free though.) And my lessons are more engaging and relevant than what City College uses. Y si, hablo español. Sign up here: ________________________ .

  4. Personally I hate to see ESL classes cut. But there’s no way City College can cut ANYTHING without protests. The school went through an era of pandering to everyone, and doesn’t have the money for it.

  5. Please!!!! Could you please keep our ESL Noncredit classes and our teachers at the City college. I would like to keep my ESL classes.