What is the path forward for City College?

The passing of Props A and 30 was celebrated many times at last night’s City College Board of Trustees meeting, but the party over the voters’ support didn’t last long. About 30 students and faculty from CCSF’s Fort Mason center came out to speak to the Board in support of keeping the center and its programs open — despite the fact that, as Board President John Rizzo said, there is no proposal to close Fort Mason. Several Board members, and the new Interim Chancellor, Dr. Thelma Scott-Skillman, commented on the effective organizing and affecting speeches, especially coming after a barrage of emails about saving Fort Mason to the Board.

Once the meeting got back to the agenda, it was clear the Board is still on a path to reform the college and meet the March 15 accreditation deadline, keeping the college open for our students and community. But — as Angela Thomas, representing the college’s classified staff, asked last night — where does this path lead?

It should be clear to anyone watching City College closely that big changes are happening and that the stakes are just as big or bigger. Vice Chancellor Peter Goldstein told the Board last night that student enrollment is down — 10 % in credit classes and 15% in noncredit — more than the reduction in course sections the college had to make this fall. That means there are fewer students per class compared to the last few years. If that’s also true in the spring semester, the state of California, which funds community colleges based on how many students they teach, will give the college less money. Less money means less classes and it can turn into a vicious cycle of fewer students leading to less money leading to fewer students leading to . . . as the college gets smaller and smaller.

To reverse this trend, the college has to prioritize high-enrolled classes, de-prioritizing low-enrolled classes, basically spending the same amount on teaching while increasing the number of students we teach. And it has to happen now — the schedule for the spring semester is already out and students have begun enrolling.

Last night, the Board also gave final approval to the college’s new, streamlined governance system, creating one “governance council” — a sort of super committee for high-level decision-making. This replaces dozens of committees from the old structure that  maximized input from faculty, but was also cumbersome, confusing, and inherently built to protect the status quo. In theory, the new governance structure should be more transparent, more efficient, and promote changes that support student learning. How the new system will work in practice remains to be seen, but it can’t be worse than what we had before.

I support reforming the college and change for the better. But it’s not clear to me or to anyone I’m talking to where all this change leads exactly. Are we going to be a permanently smaller college? Are we going to offer fewer programs? Are we going to operate fewer locations? Are any parts of the college going to expand? Are we going to continue to offer the range of student support services — often so crucial for our students — that we currently do? Equally or more important, since the Board has made it our top priorities, how are we putting students first and closing achievement gaps at the college?

No one is answering these questions and the many others from people in the community and at the college. The folks supporting Fort Mason were relieved that the Board was not voting to close Fort Mason last night, but they want to know if that ever will be on the table.

People at the college are talking about working together to save the college, but mostly I hear about what not to cut and how important each part of the college is. I agree that every part of the college is important to someone and that they have the right to say what it means to them. I have yet to see anyone articulate a vision for the college that meets the accreditation requirements for fiscal responsibility, academic accountability, and decision-making efficiency.

Until a coherent, responsible, realistic vision is articulated, the college will continue to endure the uncertainty (and hour-long protests at Board meetings) we now have. The uncertainty is bad for morale and, we now see, bad for student enrollment.

I’m looking for the path forward.

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