Saving City College

Disparate groups are coming together to help rescue the threatened institution. What are they up against?

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Students and faculty engage with passersby in front of CCSF Mission campus during Sunday Streets Aug. 5 event.
PHOTO BY ARA BLOOMBERG

news@sfbg.com

CAREERS AND ED City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is fighting for its life, and that struggle has turned old enemies into new allies. Suddenly, past differences seem less important than the need to work together, bringing a new sense of unity and purpose to the troubled community college.

In June the school was sanctioned and ordered to "show cause" from the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, putting it on the brink of losing its accreditation — certification necessary for the college's degrees to be worth anything and for the school to secure federal aid (see "City College fights back," July 17).

Twelve workgroups comprised of faculty, staff, administrators, students, and college board members are working feverishly to prove by October that the school is making major progress. Otherwise, it could face dire consequences.

While few people with any education or political background believe the school will actually close, there are serious consequences if its accreditation is revoked. A special trustee assigned by the state chancellor's office could assume the powers of the college's board or the school could be merged with another community college district.

The only college in California to ever suffer both of those fates was Compton Community College in 2006. Though the two colleges serve wildly different communities, many speak of their fates in the same breath. Its shadow hangs over City College like a ghost of what is to come.

WORKING TOGETHER

The newfound sense of common purpose was displayed on Aug. 1 in CCSF conference rooms, where once-battling special interest groups and employees gathered to tackle problems that have plagued the school for years.

The feuds aren't just of interest to political geeks and college insiders. Infighting and a dysfunctional governance structure had stalled the school from tackling urgent issues, according to the accrediting commission.

"During interviews, criticism regarding the efficiency of the institutional governance process was revealed. The criticism centered on the length of time to reach a recommendation. It was also noted that there may be misunderstanding regarding the role of a recommending body versus a decision-making body," according to the commission's report.

That snippet of the 66-page critical report represents years of strife at the school, not only among the school's elected trustees but also between the board and other college groups on issues ranging from placement testing to school site closures.

The 12 newly formed workgroups — constituted by the Chancellor's Office and comprised mostly of faculty, administrators, and trustees — met to discuss issues and make recommendations to the system's decision-making authorities: the Chancellor's Office and Board of Trustees. One of the workgroups is in charge of evaluating that very decision-making system, with 14 people from different college constituencies hashing out a new style of democracy for the school.

At their first meeting, the members brought in stacks of papers to hand out — research on best practices and policies in college governments around the state and the nation. This particular workgroup discussed how an ideal student government should run, and how to enact those changes at City College.

The workgroups are brainstorming sessions, and each one has a different task ahead of it, including how to measure student learning, leveraging technology to streamline the school, facilities planning, and fiscal planning. Each workgroup acts independently, although some themes and members overlap.

The Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet and report on the progress of the workgroups on August 14 — the day before fall semester classes begin.

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