Monday, September 24, 2012

Name the Elephant

City College of San Francisco, the largest insitution of higher learning in California, and the provider of Adult Education in San Francisco, is in jeopardy of losing its accreditation.

This crisis is much in the news lately.

First, some Friendly Fact Reminders:

1.  Adult Education is provided under the shelter of either high school districts, as it is here at the San Mateo Adult School and in most locations across California, or community college districts, as it is in San Francisco. 

2.  What happens at CCSF is what happens to Adult Education in San Francisco, a large city with a great need for Adult Education of all kinds.

3.  And what happens at CCSF is also a indicator of what may happen to the other legs of the chair that is California's public education system.

On September 14th, Robert Shireman's September wrote a piece,  Broken System Dooms CCSF, in the San Francisco Chronicle's Open Forum.  Mr. Shireman blamed CCSF's accreditation problems on shared governance.  (Shared governance means CCSF is run not just by administrators but by faculty and students, as well.)  He didn't mention the fact every branch of our public education system - K-12, Community College, State University, University of California, and Adult Education has been hacked with budget cuts for years now. 

Senator Leland Yee's wrote a strong reponse.  In his piece, Faculty Voice Key to CCSF Future, which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle September 19th, he named the elephant in the room. 

That elephant has a first name.  It's B-U-D-G-E-T.

And it has a last name.  It's C-U-T-S.

Here's the piece in its entirety:

Before my election to the Legislature, I was fortunate to serve as a faculty member at San Francisco City College, teaching psychology and assisting students - many of whom were English-as-second-language learners and socioeconomically disadvantaged - toward their goal of achieving the American dream, beginning with a college education.

Robert Shireman's Sept. 14 Open Forum commentary ("Broken system dooms CCSF") inaccurately alleges that the City College of San Francisco academic senate is responsible for the accreditation challenges that the district is confronting and calls for the end of shared governance. He is attempting to argue that if faculty would get out of the way, management could fix everything.

Shireman's accusations against the faculty are untrue, and his solutions are damaging and undemocratic.

As a faculty member, I had firsthand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities that my students faced and, as such, was able to work with the academic senate, our campus' representative faculty body, to ensure that curriculum development, academic policies and program review took students' needs into account.

Shared governance, which includes faculty, students, management and staff, was developed to transform community colleges from their original role as extensions of K-12 education. The goal was to place community colleges in concert with other segments of higher education in which all players, not simply administrators, have a stake. Faculty members are the central players in community colleges on matters of teaching and learning. Effective program review, appropriate curriculum development and, most important, student success all require a strong faculty voice.

Shared governance is the process by which faculty input is transmitted and is the process by which students are given a voice in their education. Removing shared governance from our community colleges would degrade the quality of education for the approximately 2.5 million students enrolled in our community colleges throughout the state.

The accreditation challenges faced by CCSF and other colleges are severe and can be attributed to myriad issues, the foremost being the almost impossible task of maintaining access for students in the face of devastating budget cuts. Improving education outcomes, easing processes for students and ensuring the soundness of educational quality are all priorities for the accrediting commission - just as they are for faculty academic senates. The process for CCSF to emerge from its accreditation challenges is a long one but one that requires the knowledge and contributions from all segments of campus life. This is the discussion already occurring at CCSF, and it needs to continue.

Overturning this requirement for CCSF is not only misplaced, it is a cynical move to remove the voice of educators from education. Our students will be the ones to suffer. Downgrading their educational experience to the old junior-college model profoundly diminishes the value of their college degree - exactly what the accrediting commission wants to avoid.

We are all aware that CCSF is confronting a monumental challenge, and I join with all those committed to serious and meaningful improvements. Suggestions like those proposed by Shireman, however, have no place in a serious discussion of moving forward. Under no circumstance should we downgrade our colleges by silencing those on the front lines of the teaching and learning experience. Our students are committed to achieving the American dream, and it us up to our institutions to get them there.

Leland Y. Yee, a psychologist, serves in the California Senate.


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