Ten months ago, when Chancellor Pamila Fisher of City College of San Francisco received a package from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, she knew her school was in trouble.
Fisher, who had agreed to serve as CCSF’s interim leader for about six months while the institution searched for a new chancellor after the retirement of Don Griffin, knew nothing about the pending document or the accrediting team’s prior visit.
“I knew the college was facing a huge fiscal crisis, but I hadn’t even heard the word ‘accreditation’ until I received that package in the mail,” Fisher said in October, days before her appointment was set to end. “So we went to work on that immediately.”
The document that arrived at Fisher’s office last May was a scathing review of CCSF’s governance, finances, technology and student outcomes.
The report essentially gave the college 14 ways to reform itself or risk loss of its accreditation. If the institution were to lose its accreditation, it would jeopardize its federal funding, grants and student aid, and the school could be forced to close following a final decision from the commission in June.
To avoid that fate, many administrators, teachers, staff and students banded together to move swiftly on recommendations ranging from layoffs, financial reform and campus closures to tracking student learning outcomes. But the reforms, which must be presented to the commission by Friday, are highly controversial with labor groups and some students.
Thelma Scott-Skillman took over for Fisher in November on an interim basis, and college officials eventually suspended their search for a permanent chancellor until after the accreditation process is completed.
Administrators took on the college structure as one of the largest physical reforms under the re-accreditation process. The goal was to streamline CCSF’s structure, which means that dozens of department chairs are headed back to the classroom. City College now has 61 department chairs, not all of whom will remain in that position.
Instead, many of their duties will be handed over to eight newly created dean positions.
The trustees also voted to close the Gough Street campus and move classes from three instructional sites. More such closures could be on the table.
But work remains to be done, much of which involves college finances. Two accrediting commission recommendations were highly critical of the way the school handles its funds and reports its financial situation.
College administrators say the hang-up is CCSF’s collective bargaining system. Since the largest portion of the school’s $186 million budget is employees’ pay and benefits, its 1,600 instructor contracts must be changed for the school to meet the standards outlined in the accrediting report, the administration says.
Faculty and staff already received an 8.8 percent across-the-board pay cut, and an additional 5 percent cut is expected next fiscal year. Additionally, 34 employees have received layoff notices since the start of the year.
But more tough decisions and major cuts need to be made to meet accreditation requirements, CCSF spokesman Larry Kamer said.
“When you start talking about saving money in the collective bargaining process, you’re talking about people’s wages, the way they work and the amount they work,” Kamer said. “There is no magic formula. It’s a time for sacrifice, and the balancing act is how much sacrifice gets us to our goal.”
A plan to get the college on track financially was introduced Feb. 28. It includes increasing the school’s reserve funds and money spent on maintenance, technology and professional development. It also lays out how the college will use funds from Proposition 30 and Proposition A, education-related tax increases approved by voters in November.
“We’ll be on track for this district to have a $10 million reserve,” said Peter Goldstein, vice chancellor of finance and administration. “We’ve been operating on a thin margin. We did not have the extra money for reserves. We had to take as little as possible out and we’ve had to cut so much.”
Many of the college’s critics, though, say these funds should be used for adding classes and keeping teachers, not just for reserves.
“Prop. A was to enable us not to have to downsize the college,” said Alisa Messer, president of the teachers union American Federation of Teachers Local 2121. “This is a slap in the face of San Franciscans who wanted to maintain the institution and the quality education we offer.”
Messer said the college has already made too many overreaching demands of its employees.
“We’ve taken a number of cuts and stepped up significantly over the last couple of years,” Messer said. “And most recently, without agreement, the administration has imposed significant cuts.”
Some faculty members wary of all the changes have formed a group called the Save CCSF Coalition aimed at reversing cuts and continuing to make City College affordable and accessible.
“Accreditation is being used as a weapon against public education,” said Nancy Kato, a student and coalition member. “They’re trying to shut down what 73 percent of voters who voted for Measure A — who said, ‘We need a college that is diverse.’ If we don’t stand up against this criminal procedure … we’re going down like a sinking ship.”
On Feb. 21, students held an overnight sit-in protest at the administrative building to protest the changes occurring at CCSF. The group of 30 said they weren’t leaving until their demands were met. Hours into the protest, Scott-Skillman agreed to meet with the group several days later.
The demands included reversing layoffs, restoring student services and hosting town hall meetings with students.
But Shanell Williams, Associated Student Council president for the Ocean campus, said the administration was not receptive to those demands.
“We want to figure out solutions that are affordable and don’t affect students,” she said. “But we got a blank stare. They said they can’t reverse the cuts.”
Another protest is planned for Thursday.
Kamer said that while the administration hears the demands, they should have been voiced much
earlier in the process.
“This has been upsetting to many people; I get that,” he said. “But this decision came down eight months ago and there have been all kinds of opportunity for people to participate in the work groups and offer suggestions.”
Despite all of these challenges, administrators and the board of trustees remain optimistic that what they have done thus far will at least give the college more time to complete the changes.
“I’m hopeful,” board President John Rizzo said. “We have made a lot of changes and continuing to make changes, and certainly things are a lot better than they were a year ago at this time.”
The final 250-page document was approved Feb. 28 and will be submitted to the accrediting commission by Friday.
Recommendations of the accreditation report
In as close to English as possible, here is a distillation of the commission’s advice to CCSF:
Recommendation 1: Mission statement
- City College of San Francisco’s mission statement should be changed to hone priorities and goals that support and improve its academic programs based upon “a realistic assessment of resources.”
Recommendation 2: Effective planning processes
- Revise City College’s planning process to look at revenues and expenses at each campus and site while also assessing instructional planning, staffing requirements, provision of student and library services, and the needs of its facilities.
Recommendation 3: Assessing institutional effectiveness
- Create and implement a thorough process to review all courses and programs and assess the performance of students who pursue them.
Recommendation 4: Student learning outcomes
- Identify the goal of all instruction at the course, program, certificate, degree and general education levels and devise a way to determine whether students are attaining those goals.
Recommendation 5: Student support services
- City College should assess the effectiveness of student support services based on student learning outcomes.
Recommendation 6: Human resources components of evaluation
- Evaluations of faculty members and other people directly responsible for student learning should be based partly on an assessment of their effectiveness in helping students learn.
Recommendation 7: Human resources
- City College should assess whether the size and training of its current staff and administrators supports the institution’s mission and purpose.
Recommendation 8: Physical resources
- Long-term planning and budgeting processes should incorporate all the costs truly required to appropriately operate and maintain the school’s owned and leased facilities.
Recommendation 9: Technology resources
- Develop a comprehensive plan for equipment maintenance, upgrades and replacements and truly integrate them into CCSF’s budget process.
Recommendation 10: Financial planning and stability
- Allocate financial resources based upon the school’s mission statement. Increase the school’s financial reserves to a prudent level to allow it to meet financial emergencies and respond to unforeseen circumstances without excessive, short-term borrowing. Effectively manage the financial impact of its unfunded, long-term liabilities.
Recommendation 11: Financial integrity reporting
- Use the resources necessary to provide accurate and timely reporting of financial information.
Recommendation 12: Leadership, governance and decision-making
- Bring in outsiders to teach the school’s governing board, chancellor, faculty, staff and students about “their defined roles of responsibility and delineated authority in institutional governance and decision-making.”
Recommendation 13: Governance and Structures
- City College must improve its college governance structure to ensure the process does not create undue barriers that hold up decisions, plans and initiatives.
Recommendation 14: Effective board organization
- City College’s board of trustees should follow its own policies and bylaws and develop procedures to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of its policies and practices.
Source: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
A nerve-wracking year
A timeline of key dates in CCSF’s efforts to renew its accreditation:
- Team from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges visits CCSF
- July 10: Report publicly issued to CCSF asking it to “show cause” why it should not lose its accreditation
- July 10: Trustees given presentation on their roles throughout accreditation process
- Aug. 6: State Chancellor Jack Scott visits CCSF
- Aug. 14: Trustees vote to revise college mission statement
- Aug. 27: A plan to reorganize the administrative structure is presented
- Aug. 29: Trustees agree to suspend search for a permanent chancellor to concentrate on accreditation
- Sept. 11: Trustees agree to bring on special trustee as an ‘adviser’ during the accreditation process
- Sept. 18: A scathing report on the college’s finances is released by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team
- Sept. 27: Board of trustees agrees to close several campuses and sites
- Oct. 2: New interim Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman appointed by trustees
- Oct. 15: City College submits an action plan to the accrediting commission detailing how the college will address the 14 recommendations
- Oct. 25: Board agrees to close some child care programs; policies introduced to revise participatory and collegial governance; board of trustees approves administrative restructuring; City College officials learn the college is in danger of missing target enrollment
- Jan. 7: Special trustee tells the California Community Colleges’ board of governors he doesn’t believe CCSF will meet March 15 deadline
- Jan. 18: CCSF releases first draft of its reports to commission
- Jan. 24: New state Chancellor Brice Harris visits CCSF to warn students, faculty and administration the college is “not too big to fail”
- Feb. 11: Second draft of reports out
- Feb. 28: Final administrative structure approved, which includes laying off for 18 administrators
- Feb. 28: Approval of final reports to commission
- March 15: Deadline for CCSF officials to submit final report to accrediting commission.
Source: City College of San Francisco
A potential death sentence
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges oversees schools in the western U.S., including California’s 112 community college districts. Here’s a look at sanctions in the state since January 2012. All colleges are still operating. The last college in the state to close was Compton College in 2005.
PLACED ON WARNING
Lowest level of severity
- Barstow College (June 2012)
- Columbia College (January 2012)
- Fresno City College (January 2012)
- Reedley College (January 2012)
- Solano Community College (January 2012)
- West Los Angeles College (June 2012)
PLACED ON PROBATION
Greater level of severity
- Modesto Junior College (January 2012)
- Shasta College (January 2012)
- Yuba College (January 2013)
PLACED ON ‘SHOW CAUSE’ STATUS
Greatest severity short of loss of accreditation
- City College of San Francisco (June 2012)
- College of Redwoods (January 2012)
- College of the Sequoias (January 2013)