Community, students confront corporate-backed Accrediting Commission
In July 2013, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), issued a declaration that it would withdraw accreditation from City College of San Francisco (CCSF), a two-year community college with 85,000 students and nine campuses. The declaration is set to go into effect on July 1, 2014.
That declaration followed last year’s order to CCSF, which declared that the school lacked administrative staff with the “appropriate” experience, funding adequate to its mission, had failed to timely provide audit reports and follow directives issued by the Accrediting Commission in 2006.
No warning or indication preceded the 2012 “show cause” order that CCSF was in danger of losing its accreditation. The order did not cite any academic deficiency. Nor did the 2013 ACCJC declaration acknowledge the significant progress that the faculty and staff at CCSF had made in bringing the college’s fiscal affairs under control.
Both actions awakened the faculty, staff, students and community supporters of CCSF to the reality that their community college, like many other public schools, was under attack, kicking off a year-long fight back that has united much of San Francisco around saving CCSF.
There have been mass marches, sit-ins, and popular referendums in support of the school. But so far, city, state and federal authorities have not bent to the mass pressure. Twenty-six City College of San Francisco students and advocates were arrested in late August at City Hall after calling on the mayor to support the school in its fight to maintain accreditation.
Well-loved public institution
CCSF was founded in the 1930s during the depths of the Great Depression as an institution for immigrant and working-class students to gain basic language and job skills to support their integration into the local and national economy. It was tremendously successful at this task, graduating more than 2 million students over the years into skilled labor jobs and admission into the University of California and the California State University systems.
The flood of support that the institution has received from the community demonstrated its popularity. In November, a bond measure to shore up CCSF finances passed with 73 percent of the vote. Across the board, Asian, Black, Latino, and LGBT community groups, along with the powerful San Francisco Central Labor Council, as well as the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, supported the initiative, citing its caring staff and progressive programs.
The attack on CCSF had nothing to do with educational deficiencies. By all accounts, CCSF graduates provided the lion’s share of skilled labor for the construction and retail trade industries, filled the bulk of lower management jobs in the Bay Area hospitality industry and offered one of the best radiology programs in the country.
The attack on CCSF is blatantly political, aimed at destroying the school’s governing structure — which stands in sharp contrast to corporate education “reform” efforts. It is an effort to weaken local labor union strength. Most importantly, it is part of a larger effort to privatize public education, cutting off access to low-cost educational services and programming so as to squeeze additional profits out of the pockets of working-class and oppressed youth.
A different governing structure, curricular openings
In the late 1960s, the whole Bay Area was enlivened by the San Francisco State student strike, including CCSF. Its Black Student Union chapter was led by Black Panther Party members and the campus also saw heightened struggle and short-lived strikes. As a result, the campus instituted Black Studies and a series of other progressive reforms, and that radical tradition continued on within the college.
A 1990 administrative reorganization of the college replaced traditional top-down “professional” administrators with faculty-administrators that actively participated in designing programs, recruiting fellow faculty and advocating for students. Their great failing, in the eyes of ACCJC and its corporate sponsors, was that they prioritized education over corporate interests.
The school expanded physically to nine campuses located throughout the City and on the curricular side adopted Labor and Community Studies, LGBT Studies and Queer Studies.
Presently, CCSF is the primary provider of language skills to the multinational Bay Area working class, and served as many as 120,000 students in a year.
The politics of the ACCJC attack on CCSF
CCSF has been a victim of the basic trends of modern capitalist rule, as the state has gradually eliminated its support for public education, shifting costs toward students.
The economic crisis of 2008 created an opportunity for the accreditation commission to attack not only CCSF but also Compton Community College in Los Angeles and Questa College in San Luis Obispo. It is no accident that all these institutions serve working-class and oppressed youth.
The ACCJC is on a mission to dismantle the “community” in community colleges. Clearly, their education vision is of a “public” university system where the four-year schools largely exclude oppressed youth, and are primarily accessible only to those of a more privileged background. In the public University of California system, only 23 percent of students are Black, Latino or Native American although they make up 48 percent of high school graduates — the largest gap in 25 years.
In the vision, California’s public community colleges are essentially gutted of their curricular independence, defunded and weakened in favor of for-profit skills training programs.
This is similar to developments across the country at the City University of New York. There, the number of African American and Latino students at the City University of New York’s main campuses has dropped sharply. This is part of a long-term effort to roll back the university’s open admissions policy won in the late 1960s after prolonged struggle from Black, Latino and other radical students.
One of the unique features of CCSF has been the leadership of members of the teachers union, American Federation of Teachers 2121, and classified staff union, Service Employees International Union 1021. The “special” Trustee appointed to oversee the interim period after the “show cause” order refused to actively engage in collective bargaining with AFT 2121 and SEIU 1021, instead unilaterally cutting positions in violation of the union’s contract.
The struggle over CCSF has exposed the corporate media as the best ally of the ACCJC and its privatization efforts. The Save CCSF Coalition has done exemplary work in getting out the facts and challenging the misinformation put out by the accrediting commission.
The Save CCSF Coalition has expanded beyond the boundaries of the campus and student movement. It is a battle for the whole city and the state educational struggle, and has involved immigrant, labor, women’s and LGBT organizations. While the ruling class is pressing forward with its aggressive agenda, the fight is not over, and these connections form a foundation to build a mass movement to save and expand public education access to all.