In the face of protest, City College moves forward with tough decisions

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PHOTO BY PETER MENCHINI

The City College Board of Trustees passed the college’s budget and new mission statement yesterday, as well as a proposal to request a special trustee to work with the board as they face an accreditation process and dire financial situation.

The special trustee will advise the board on decision making. But they also have the power to overrule board decisions, something opponents called an undemocratic process.

About 40 of those opponents stormed the meeting. The activists, from the Save CCSF coalition, surrounded the trustees and, when several walked out of the room, sat down at their meeting table.

“I propose that we convene the People’s Board of Trustees. All in favor, say aye,” CCSF journalism student Alex Schmaus declared with a bang of the board's gavel.

The “People’s Board of Trustees” then passed a few proposals. They passed a proposal that “students appoint ourselves special trustee and oppose any other kind of special trustee,” and that “we stand in solidarity with the teachers’ strike in Chicago.”

The dissenters left the table voluntarily, but were briefly confronted by campus police when they continued to march, chant and hold banners inside the meeting room.

Afterwards, the Board of Trustees resumed their meeting. Trustees William Walker and Chris Jackson voted against calling the question to vote on the special trustee, citing a lack of sufficient information about the powers of the special trustee, such as details about how and when their vote would supersede board decisions and the process for firing the special trustee.

The proposal to invite a special trustee passed 6-1, with Chris Jackson voting no.

“This is a monumental step for the lack of information we have in this process,” Jackson told the board concerning his vote.

Video by Joe Fitzgerald

Tension and passion at the meeting underlined the community's commitment to CCSF and dismay at the situation it faces. As SEIU 1021 representative Angela Thomas said during public comment, “None of us are happy. None of us.”

Save CCSF certainly isn’t happy. Many students involved had already been fighting the Student Success Act, which prioritizes those students who get through school in two years rather than those who take longer, as well as those in non-credit classes, ESL classes, and lifelong learners. Now, they fear that the accreditation process will cause City College to make cuts along similar lines.

“We are not a junior college. We are a community college,” said Shanell Williams, Associated Students president at Ocean campus.

Teachers and staff are also hurting. The 2012-2013 budget, passed at last night’s meeting, includes reductions in pay for both groups of college employees. During public comment at the board meeting, American Federation of Teachers 2121 Alisa Messer engaged the protesters in dialogue.

“Difficult decisions are coming down on us. We need to fight against them when appropriate and work with them when appropriate,” said Messer.

“The faculty of this college has voted for the pay cut at 89 percent. We did it because we love this college and we want to turn it around,” she later added.

Thomas also made comments directed at the protesters. “I see the same things you guys see,” she said. But she added that the trustees were forced into difficult decisions, and called protesters' anger towards the board misplaced.

“I don’t have time for fighting folk that ain’t my enemy,” said Thomas.

At the meeting, the board also approved a revised mission statement. The new mission statement does not mention lifelong learning as a goal of the college, a concern for some of the public present at the meeting.

“I’m a senior who found City College towards the end of my career. We have a lot of seniors who are lifelong learners. And the mission statement just got rid of them,” said Al Yates, Vice President of the Associated Students at the Southeast campus.

One of the disagreement that permeated the meeting was the choice between working together to meet the accreditation requirements or coming together to protest and somehow resist those requirements, which many in Save CCSF say could lead to austerity measures and privatization.

Board members delayed the vote on the issue of requesting a special trustee at their last meeting after a smaller protest. They were provided with a packet of documents with information about the special trustee, but some critical questions remained unanswered.

The special trustee will advise the board on decision making. But they also have the power to overrule board decisions--to “stay and/or rescind board actions where such actions are inconsistent with the developed recovery plan, accreditation standards, and the fiscal health of the district,” according to a letter from Executive Vice Chancellor for Programs Erik Skinner.

What process and criteria define that “inconsistency” remain unclear.

“We can only go on the language that we have in the letter. We don’t have any additional or special knowledge other than what the state chancellor has told us,” said City College spokesperson Larry Kamer.

Those questions may come to the forefront as the board selects and begins to work with a special trustee.

“Now that the vote passed, its important to have an open and transparent process to select the trustee,” said Jackson after the meeting.

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