Were CCSF budget decisions irresponsible, or principled resistance to the downsizing of California's community colleges?
"Despite that large and somewhat intentional reduction, we still serve 20,000 annually throughout the city. By comparison with our very large ESL Department, the English Department serves only 7,000," Lopez said. "How could we abandon those who are most educationally needy and often desperately poor in favor of those who are less needy?
"We need to step up adult education across the board," she said. "The problem is all the pressure to do less and to fund less of this type of education."
SMOTHERED ON ALL SIDES
The accreditation commission is an independent body, but it's been pressured too.
"In the current climate of increased accountability, our regional accrediting associations find that tight spot to be more like a vice," a commission newsletter said in 2006. "On one side are forces at the national level ready to throw out regional accreditation in favor of a federal approach; while at the local level, they are faced with institutions resistant to rapid change and increased scrutiny."
In the past year, private entities ponied up thousands of dollars to help usher in a new numbers-based approach to education. In 2011, a 20-member body comprised of public and private representatives was charged with evaluating the community college system.
Called the California Community College Student Success Task Force, its creation was mandated by the state, but to many people it reeked of privatization.
Several private organizations funded the task force's work, including the Lumina Foundation, an educational research and grant-making institution with ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a controversial lobbying group for private interests that authored the Stand Your Ground gun law.
By fall 2011, students, faculty, and administrators across the state began to question the task force's methods and recommendations, which initially included proposals to cut many non-credit and enrichment courses, restrict financial aid, prioritize transfer students, and cap the number of units one person could take.
Under the veil of increasing so-called "student success," the task force was asking schools to prioritize limited funds and change their missions to once again become "junior" colleges — a fate that City College has refused to accept.
City College's Board of Trustees passed a resolution in November 2011 opposing the task force, nearly unanimously, with Ngo the sole dissenting vote. Then-Chancellor Don Griffin warned that the task force's agenda was a transparent attack on open access that would disproportionately affect poor people and people of color, imploring the board to reject its recommendations.
"They're talking about taking over the vehicle of community colleges and turning it into something else," Griffin said. "We have to take a hard stand because everybody around the state is watching City College of San Francisco."
Students and faculty at City College joined the fight. They spoke out at Board of Governors meetings in Sacramento. They wrote letters, emails, and scathing editorials. The school's student-run school newspaper, The Guardsman, led a statewide campaign opposing the task force.
Despite the public's concerns, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors adopted the task force's final report in January.
"As wonderful as open admissions is, if it's a false promise to an objective, it fails," Peter MacDougall, Board of Governors member and task force chair, said at the January meeting.
"Our objective is to have that promise realized, that's what the recommendations are intended to achieve."
Ultimately, the initiative succeeded, shifting priority enrollment to students who are freshly in the college system. The Task Force report is now Senate Bill 1456, sponsored by Sen. Alan Lowenthal and commonly known as the Student Success Act of 2012.