City College board takes first step toward scaling back its mission

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[CORRECTED BELOW] The first step was taken in changing City College of San Francisco’s educational mission at last night’s Board of Trustees meeting, a decision that would drastically alter what programs the college funds and who it serves.

The college’s mission statement is an overarching funding guideline, according to Gohar Momjian, the college’s accreditation liaison officer. She presented the mission statement workgroup’s findings to the college’s board and a packed room of faculty and students last night.

Momjian oversees the 15 workgroups responsible for addressing the major areas the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges told the school it has to rectify. A failure to do so by March 2013 could result in the revocation of the school’s accreditation, which is necessary for the college’s degrees to be recognized and for the school to receive federal funding.

Simply put, City College was tasked by the ACCJC to gets its mission in line with current fiscal realities. The workgroups, tasked with brainstorming ways to reshape the college and meet the criteria of the accreditation team’s findings, will use the new mission statement as a guide for what programs are viable, said Momjian.

So what was cut out of the new mission statement? Completion of adult high school diplomas, GED’s (which help students test out of high school), active engagement in the social fabric of the community, lifelong learning, life skills, and enrichment courses were all dropped from the revised mission statement. [[8/27 CORRECTION: Transitional Studies, which includes GEDs and basic adult education, ended up being in included in the primary mission]].

In their place was a statement making these things “conditional” on available resources. “In addition, the college offers other programs and services consistent with our primary mission, only as resources allow and whenever possible in collaboration with partnering agencies and community-based organizations,” reads the new draft statement of the college’s mission.

Essentially, the college promises to enrich the community only if the resources are available to do so. Students and faculty from classes geared towards older adults and also disabled students came out to oppose changes to the mission statement, and a loss of their funding.

“We have students that will wait 40 minutes in the rain in a wheelchair for a bus to get to class,” Disabled Students Programs and Services faculty Katherine Brown said to the board.

Shelly Glazer, faculty in the older adults program, left the board with a warning. “Here are the almost 2,000 letters written to the Student Success Task Force when they tried to cut our dollars,” Glazer said, dropping the huge stack of paper on the top of the podium. “They need your support, and you need theirs.”

Importantly, English as Second Language classes and basic skills classes were preserved in the primary mission guideline. “There are compromises made in the mission statement. There are things we can do under [better] conditions,” said Momjian in her report to the board. “That was our compromise.”

The board made a motion to approve the new draft mission statement, and voted unanimously in favor. The board will look at a second revised mission statement on Sept. 11, and take a final vote to amend the mission statement on Sept. 27. The draft mission statement can be read at the City College website here.

Forty-five problem areas were found in City College’s financial structures by a financial consulting group at the same college board meeting last night. The findings left the college board nearly speechless once the report was complete.

The Financial Crisis Management Team, known as FCMAT, was paid for by the state community college chancellor’s office and assigned to City College to help it review its finances. This was good timing with the recent accreditation troubles, but officially has no connection to the recent accreditation team visit or with any direction from the state chancellor’s office, FCMAT Chief Analyst Michelle Plumbtree told the college board.

Plumbtree and her associate Mike Hill made the presentation to the board on behalf of the four members of the “financial SWAT team,” as they’ve been dubbed by the board in the past. The report it gave to the board that night was only the tip of the iceberg.

“The report itself is going to be in the realm of 65 pages. There are about 45 specific recommendations,” said analyst Mike Hill. “But we do want to give you a sense of some of our observations first, and some of our recommendations grouped together.”

The hit list was read in a bullet point fashion, and as he rattled off each of the findings, the silence in the room deepened:

  • The district has made a cost structure over time that can't be sustained in this economy.
  • The district opted for short term solutions.
  • Employee contracts have been made without long-term analysis.
  • Decision making has been made by power and political whim rather than logic and fairness.
  • The conduct of key leaders and the culture within the district have greatly diminished the role and the effectiveness of the management team.
  • The district lacks data to assess sites.
  • The district supports much more faculty than its closest peers.
  • There's a history of maintaining a small fund balance, with 90-92 percent of the budget being committed to salary and benefits, the college needs to make adjustments.
  • The department chair structure is not cost effective nor administratively sound.
  • We're recommending a reduction in full time faculty through attrition.
  • We're recommending the district not subsidize categorical programs, and that current subsidies be reassessed (the state cut funding for some categorical programs, like the second chance program, and City College has been eating that cost to the tune of around $20 million a year, according to AFT 2121 president Alisa Messer).
  • Consider either elimination of department chairs or diminish them while empowering deans and giving them the ability to act.”

“There's a lot there, it covers a lot of territory, and you need to see the context and data and analysis in order to have informed questions, or else you'll be spinning our wheels,” Hill said to the stunned board.

Chief Analyst Michelle Plumbtree concluded by cautioning the board against inaction. “The circumstances the district found itself did not happen overnight, decisions made over many years brought you here,” she said. “You're going to have to move quicker than you want to, but that's what's needed.”

“Some of these things are new to me, but some of these things have come up in work groups. Some of these things are things we've known for years,” board President John Rizzo said after the report concluded. Financial administrators at City College declined to comment before the release of the full report. The 65-page final report will be made public on Sept. 18, and given to the college board a few days before that, Plumbtree said.

The City College Board of Trustees motioned to delay one of their most controversial votes at last night’s board meeting.

The board hopes to bring in a “special trustee,” who would be provided by the state, to help guide them through their recent accreditation woes. A special trustee is not simply a guide. A special trustee has veto power over the college board, giving the trustee unilateral decision making powers, according to college officials that night.

Most of the board welcomed the notion of outside help. The board has asked for $1.5 million dollars in cuts that never got made, Rizzo said, arguing for the need for the special trustee.

“It’s an enormous wealth of expertise that we do not have...We need someone from the outside to tell us where that mistake was made,” Rizzo said.

Trustee Chris Jackson wasn’t sure that the board had full knowledge of what it was asking. “I support a special trustee, but I have questions...How long would a trustee be here? What’s the process of asking them to leave?” Jackson asked, to the applause of the audience.

It was student Trustee William Walker who clarified the students’ position. He had a meeting with students the previous day, and they strongly disagreed with bringing in a special trustee to help run the school.

Given the history of special trustees in college districts, it's not surprising why. A report by the LA Sentinel shows the discord brought by one special trustee to the Compton community college district, also facing accreditation woes. To read a report of Compton College’s and how it mirrors City College, check out the Guardian report “Saving City College.”

Special trustee Dr. Genethis Hudley-Hayes, was removed from her position as special trustee by State Community College Chancellor Jack Scott last September, according to the Sentinel article. The article cites multitudes of complaints against her by the community, who wrote a six page letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and Scott asking for Hayes’ removal.

“Who do you serve and why are you here?” Associated Students President Shanell Williams said to the board during its public comment session. “It’s shameful... If you can’t make decisions without a special trustee, then we need a new board.”

Student Kitty Lui said that the board’s decision to bring in a special trustee would undercut the democratic will of the community.
“If you don’t know how to move forward, I don’t know why you’re still here,” she said.

Despite students’ objections, if the board does not choose a special trustee, the likelihood is that one will be imposed on them, Jackson said. The board ultimately decided to shelve the decision until a special meeting on Sept. 11.

Interestingly, the “financial SWAT team,” FCMAT, thinks that a special trustee is a good idea. “To have an outside expert is always good,” FCMAT Chief Analyst Michelle Plumbtree told The Guardian. “Sometimes, you’re just too close.”

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