What now for City College of San Francisco after the court injunction?
By Lalo Gonzalez and Micheal Madden, CCSF students and activists in the Save CCSF Coalition
After many months of grassroots mobilization to save City College of San Francisco (CCSF), a Superior Court judge has granted a partial injunction that bars the ACCJC (Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges) from finalizing any plans to terminate the school’s accreditation. This is the first major victory in the fight to save CCSF from budget slashes and shut-down. It is a reflection of the changing tide of debate around the school and the slow turning of the tables against the ACCJC thanks to the independent organization and mobilization of students, community members, teachers and their unions Judge Karnow, who presided over recent hearings on the lawsuits against the ACCJC and their activity concerning the evaluation of City College, stated in his ruling that, “There is no question . . . of the harm that will be suffered if the Commission follows through and terminates accreditation as of July 2014. Those consequences would be catastrophic. Without accreditation the college would certainly close and about 80,000 students would either lose their educational opportunities or hope to transfer elsewhere; and for many of them, the transfer option is not realistic. The impact on the teachers, faculty, and the City would be incalculable.”
The injunction halts all preparations for school closure in their tracks until a ruling on the activities of the ACCJC’s evaluation process is determined in June 2014. The judge’s motion affects only the ACCJC’s evaluation of CCSF, while a demand made by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sanctioning all decisions made by the ACCJC across the state was not granted. The judge also rejected the ACCJC’s attempt to dismiss the suits. The American Federation of Teachers lawsuit is now combining its lawsuit with Herrera’s, putting its weight behind the successful injunction.
The significance of the injunction is three-fold: (1) it prevents the ACCJC from finalizing any decisions regarding CCSF, (2) it further delegitimizes the Special Trustee Bob Agrella and the elimination of democratic decision-making at CCSF, and (3) it provides the AFT 2121 teachers union and student organizers a semester to focus on strengthening rank and file mobilization.
The Effect on CCSF
The ACCJC is a private body that oversees 112 community colleges in the state of California, as well as schools in Hawaii and other Pacific islands. Since the commission’s placing of CCSF on “show cause” a year and a half ago, the rulings of the ACCJC have been used as a justification by the newly imposed CCSF administration to implement destructive measures to the school’s nine campuses, attacking resources for students of color, the elderly and the disabled, and enforcing wage and healthcare cuts to the teachers and staff unions on campus.
The imposed accreditation crisis has been the cover for the systematic dismantling of the school under the pretext of “dysfunctionality and wasteful spending.” This excuse was also used to implement attacks on the democratic organization and bargaining ability of the faculty’s Council of Department Chairs, and eventually allowed for the liquidation of the school’s city-elected Board of Trustees and its replacement by a one-man “special trustee”: Bob Agrella.
However, this recent injunction has directly undermined the pretext of the ACCJC’s unquestionable judgment, contributing to the public perception of this commission as an irresponsible body that has “no room” for including those most affected by their policies — teachers, staff and students. The truth about the broader agenda to downsize CCSF, to lay off faculty and staff, to shut out tens of thousands of students from working class communities is becoming more visible.
What is the reaction from the state and those figures who are calling the shots at CCSF?
Surely those who have professed time and again their deep and caring commitment to the school’s well-being would be over-joyed at the result of the injunction, but that is not the case. “The ruling doesn’t affect me at all,” said Special Trustee Robert Agrella, “I was brought in to meet the accreditation standards, and that is exactly what we’re doing.” Similarly, Brice Harris, chancellor of California’s community college system, expressed in a letter addressed to Herrera his opposition to court involvement to save CCSF.
Both Harris and Agrella, the former directly appointing the latter to handle the dirty work of dismantling CCSF, are blaming CCSF, not the ACCJC, an organization that is facing three different lawsuits, received warning from the Department of Education to clean up its own act, and has been found to have shredded all of their important documents concerning the evaluation of City College.
Despite the latest victory, the administration continues to follow the ACCJC’s impositions, passing egregious policies aimed at limiting accessibility for the most marginalized students. Beginning Spring 2014, the administration will be enforcing a Payment Policy requiring students who do not qualify for financial aid to enroll in a corporate-sponsored payment plan with a debt collection agency known as Nelnet Business Solutions. Students will need to pay 20 percent of their total tuition fees just to register, then pay the remaining balance in a rigid installment plan by the end of the semester. Undocumented students will be particularly affected by the new policy and have already begun organizing against it.
Students who default on their payments are susceptible to late fees and being barred from enrolling in the following semester. Placing the blame on working class students is illogical given the state’s role in divesting in public education. In fact, within the last four years, state policies have resulted in a $53 million funding drop for City College. The new payment policy is an attempt to shift the financial responsibility away from the state and onto the individual. And, the accreditation process is the smokescreen used to impose these Draconian policies.
Build an Independent Movement
Undoubtedly, the recent ruling against the ACCJC, despite some shortcomings, is a major victory. But there are serious limitations to relying on the courts. If the lawsuit succeeds, which it may if pressure from below is continued and deepened, it will not result in the removal of the Special Trustee and reinstatement of the democratically elected Board of Trustees. Nor would it roll back the austerity measures and crippling layoffs to professors and staff. Therefore, it is imperative that the union utilize its resources to prepare itself for mass mobilization, in conjunction with the students, to raise their demands for a reversal of the destructive policies of recent months and years.
Given the groundswell of support for CCSF, Democratic House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi was forced to speak in favor of the ruling, breaking her silence for the last year and a half while the school was suffering under direct attack. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who was taking direct pressure from the movement to defend the school last semester, has still taken no public stance against the ruling.
The student-teacher movement has led the charge and has forced politicians to react to the issues affecting the school. While holding office in the city and a supermajority in the state legislature, the Democrats have refused to lift a finger against some of the most serious attacks on public education. Only when the movement created a public relations problem for these politicians were they forced to make declarations of support. The pressure placed on City Hall by the Save CCSF movement has played a critical role in determining the outcome of Herrera’s and AFT’s cases, and was influential in the filing of the three lawsuits.
The student movement, motivated by a string of victories, and guided with a militant fightback perspective, could not only roll back the severe cuts and policies stemming from the accreditation crisis, but can set the precedent for a statewide mobilization in defense of public education. Such a perspective will only be successful by establishing a real mass student organization.
As mentioned before, the removal of the sanction against CCSF does not result in the rolling back of the austerity measures imposed by Bob Agrella and the administration. Therefore, it’s imperative that we mobilize around concrete issues that have had an adverse affect on specific sectors of the student population. Students must organize and build up a base, department by department. The fight to abolish the new payment policy and ensure open accessibility is crucial. This is a struggle not only to keep CCSF open, but to ensure that it remains accessible and affordable for the diverse working-class communities of the Bay Area.
The struggle at City College is a microcosm of a much larger attack on public education. Therefore, these mobilization efforts are significant in the sense that they may provide a glimpse of future struggles across the state.