City College’s board of trustees should be restored

At its meeting next week, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors will consider a resolution that continues the reign of the Special Trustee with Extraordinary Powers at City College of San Francisco and thus continue the suspension of the college's democratically elected board of trustees. This is an egregious disregard for democracy as well as the will of the San Francisco voters.

In March, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution asking the Board of Governors to return the CCSF's elected board of trustees to power no later than this month. By ignoring this resolution, state Chancellor Brice Harris is not only slapping the face of the supervisors but the voters as well.

The Board of Governors claims that it suspended the board of trustees because it was wracked with divisiveness and was unable to make crucial decisions in a timely fashion, thus impeding progress toward retaining accreditation. We now know that the true reason for this decision was that Harris believed that this extraordinary act would save the college, and that Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges President Barbara Beno had led him to believe this.

From his declaration in the city attorney's lawsuit against the ACCJC:

“If I had known … there existed no opportunity to preserve accreditation … I would not have asked … to take the extraordinary step of setting aside the locally elected BOT and to elevate the special trustee to one with extraordinary powers.”

Even to take the extraordinary step of installing a special trustee, the Board of Governors had to take the extraordinary length of an emergency amendment to its regulations. It added the criteria, “threats to accreditation.” Formerly, the only justification to install a special trustee was fiscal insolvency. Despite common misconceptions, CCSF was not financially insolvent.

No elected body should be deprived of power by an entity that is elected by no one. When this happens at the level of a democratically elected national government, we rightfully identify it as a coup. If dysfunctionality is a reason to disband an elected body, the U. S. Congress would be at the top of the list. No one would seriously suggest this. Why should it be acceptable in the case of our local community college board? CCSF is a public institution, mandated by law to be governed by an elected board of trustees. If board members are inept, we have a means for addressing that — an election.

If usurpation of democracy is not enough of a reason to end the reign of the special trustee, consider this: During the special trustee's reign, CCSF has experienced a dramatic drop in enrollment, drastic cuts to classes and student services, a demoralization of faculty and an ill-conceived reorganization of the college that had no basis in the realities of CCSF itself, its complexities, or its history and traditions. The great diversity of the communities and constituencies that CCSF serves and the values of inclusiveness and social justice characteristics of San Francisco, were ignored or, worse, dismissed.

Furthermore, the special trustee has utterly failed in the very reason he was ostensibly brought in: to retain accreditation.

The expression of democracy that is manifested in the CCSF BOT is no less precious than that experienced at the state or national level. I would argue that it is more so. Local expressions of democracy are significant because through them, ordinary citizens can effect real changes that are immediate, visible and are the means through which popular participation in government is realized. The time has come for that which belongs to the citizens of San Francisco, and has been taken without their consent, to be returned.

I, along with some of the disempowered trustees as well as faculty and students, will be travelling to Sacramento to voice my objections to this crime against democracy. I hope many will similarly raise their voice on this crucial issue.

Tarik Farrar is chair of the African American Studies Department at City College of San Francisco and a member of Save CCSF Coalition.

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