Faces of City College

By 
Ruth Tam
SF Public Press
 — Jul 19 2012 - 11:13am

After a harsh accreditation review detailing financial and administrative failures, City College of San Francisco has been given a year to prove itself worthy of accreditation or face the risk of closure. Though the school's community has promised to fight the criticisms with change, it will be an uphill battle for all those involved. In the struggle to keep the school’s doors open, it’s been frequently reported that the possible loss of accreditation would affect over 120,000 City College students, faculty and staff.  Here, in their own words, are some of their stories.

 

Ana Sauceda, 30 — Student

What are you studying?

I’m studying biology to pursue a career in the medical field.

Do you have an outside occupation?

I work as a waitress.

Are you full-time or part-time?

Full-time.

Why did you enroll at City College?

I hadn’t been in school for a while but I knew I needed to go back and finish my education. It’s a highly respected school and for most students in my position in San Francisco, you don’t even think twice about it.

Did you anticipate the negative accreditation report?

You know, not in that form. I did know that City College had been facing a lot of challenges. Last year, there was this huge culmination of events. Our professors were telling us every semester that we might not have summer session and classes were being cut. What’s surprising to me is that this isn’t for a lack of academic integrity or the strength of our programs. It feels very frustrating that we’re being penalized for our funding being cut.

If City College lost its accreditation, how would that affect you?

I’m graduating next spring, so hopefully I will have transferred to another school. But even if the worst-case scenario happened, it wouldn’t have any effect on the credits I’ve earned here. I know the school is respected among universities in California. What’s so upsetting is that the opportunity I was given to receive such a high-quality education might be taken away from others. And it hasn’t been just any education; I’ve had some of the best professors that really rival experiences at top universities. What makes City College professors different is that they don’t have to worry about any research or publishing. Their sole job is to serve their students so the faculty has become highly skilled at teaching.

Do you have confidence in the school’s current leadership?

I honestly don’t know much about the governing board. What I do know from talking to some of the faculty members is that this idea of shared governance is really important to what makes City College what it is. I do have faith that they can get it done.

One criticism of the school is that there’s not enough evidence that it adequately prepares students for life after City College. What are your feelings on this?

City College serves a lot of non-traditional students, myself included. If someone looked at my transcript, they would see a lot of withdrawals, a lot of times where I tried to go to school and I just couldn’t make it work. City College doesn’t turn their back on their students. They say, “Keep trying. We’re going to get you there.”

What is the best idea you’ve heard to save City College?

I think that we’re looking at two paths that we’ll have to take simultaneously. The administrators need to do everything they can to not lose accreditation.  The other path involves looking at the bigger picture. We need to start combining forces with alumni, UC and CSU campuses and people in the community. People need to come together and make public education a priority.

Are you optimistic for the future?

I am. In the long run, I think San Francisco has the potential to be a leader in this. We’ve led the country in so many other ways. We decided that we were going to provide affordable healthcare to everyone in the city. I think San Francisco could really rise to the occasion and say, “We’re going to make affordable education a priority, despite what’s happening to other community colleges.” That’s what I hope.

 

Dr. Craig Kleinman, 47 — Instructor

What do you teach?

English and I coordinate the English labs and technology.

Do you have an outside occupation?

I’m a jazz bassist.

Are you full-time or part-time?

Full-time since ’96.

Why did you start teaching at City College?

I had just finished my Ph.D. at Rhode Island and was offered a tenure-track job. San Francisco’s a very literary city. I’ve taught in other parts of the country and it can be dull, stagnant, Wal-Mart and NASCAR-centered. San Francisco has its issues of haves and have-nots, but it’s not a boring place.

Did you anticipate the negative accreditation report?

I didn’t see the Show Cause report coming, but I thought there was going to be a good chance we’d get put on probation. We’re spread out too much and we don’t have that enough management to handle a place this big. There are times where I’ve thought, “Who’s running this place? And why is it so difficult to do this thing that should be very simple and even a joy to do?” In spite of a lot of chaos, tension and ideological feuds, in terms of instruction, we are still strong. It’s just been harder to do with the chaos around us.

If City College lost its accreditation, how would that affect you?

Like anyone else, I dread not having a job, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. That would be scary and devastating. But I hope it would turn into a rebirth with some forced, necessary changes. I know how hard I work and how hard people in my department work and it will be kind of a drag to have to explain what’s going on, but I actually welcome some of the change.

Do you have confidence in the school’s current leadership?

I like the interim chancellor and our student trustee a lot. I have a lot of doubts about the other trustees and whether or not they’ll pull it together. We need more people with a nuts-and-bolts sense of what we have to do instead of worrying about being nice.

One criticism of the school is that there’s not enough evidence that it adequately prepares students for life after City College. What are your feelings on this?

I can counter that with a lot of examples. I recently ran into a former student who’s my age and now in the graduate child development program at San Francisco State. I asked her if my introductory literature class had been any help. She said it had helped more than any of the upper level courses at State in terms of the critical thinking, rigor and the use of technology. I know the criticism is misguided, but the whole school needs to do more with tracking.

What is the best idea you’ve heard to save City College?

We need to craft a list of 10 institutional learning outcomes that can be tracked in all of the programs. That way, when all of the programs are revising their outcomes, they can match up their goals with the institutional learning outcomes and we can feel like much more of a unified force. I think we really need to revisit the cost of non-credit courses and our different campuses, and some real assessment needs to be done.

Are you optimistic for the future?

Yeah. I think this will turn out to be very healthy. There’s stuff that’s overdue and I think it might be uncomfortable and it will mean new layers of work for many of us, mentally and psychologically, but it’s gonna turn out to be a healthy thing.

 

 

Chrisann Branchcomb, 23 — Student

What are you studying?

Interior design.

Do you have an outside occupation?

Not now, but I used to work at Banana Republic.

Are you full-time or part-time?

Full-time.

Why did you enroll at City College?

I used to live in the Philippines, so I was coming in as an international student. Regarding residency, City College was the only option available to me. I decided to finish my credits here.

Did you anticipate the negative accreditation report?

No, but some of the classes I was taking had to get cut because of the budget.

If City College lost its accreditation, how would that affect you?

It would be hard to find another City College. I would have to travel far to just to go to school.

Do you have confidence in the school’s current leadership?

I hope that they can save the school. It’s crucial that City College stays here with us.

One criticism of the school is that there’s not enough evidence it adequately prepares students for life after City College. What are your feelings on this?

Well, the reason why so many students take classes here is because they think it’ll prepare them for State or a UC. For me, personally, I think City College is a pretty good school. They only lack some materials for students because they need more money. But other than that, it’s easy to transfer.

What is the best idea you’ve heard to save City College?

As of now, there hasn’t been a really good plan yet. I heard about increasing tuition fees, but that’s not a good idea. A lot of students wouldn’t be able to afford that.

Are you optimistic for the future?

Well earlier in the year, all of those City College accounts got hacked. Since I heard about that, I feel like it’s been downhill for City College. You can’t hope for everything to be OK. You still have to think about what the students will be able to do. You need to have a Plan B. I don’t have one now but it’s good to think about it.

 

Hal Hunstman, 45 — Instructor

What do you teach?

Math.

Do you have an outside occupation?

No.

Are you full-time or part-time?

Full-time.

Why did you start teaching at City College?

When I found City College, I knew I had found my home. I was immediately comfortable and loved working with the broad diversity of students. I learned, and continue to learn, so much from them every day. Now, I love City College and hope to finish my working life teaching at the college. I started as the coordinator for the Math Lab in March 2002 and was hired as full-time faculty starting in the fall 2006 semester.

Did you see this  report coming?

Prior to March I did not see it coming. In the past, accreditation has been taken seriously, but has mostly not affected the everyday life of a teacher or student at CCSF. I was there in March when the accrediting visiting team gave the verbal report of their findings. At that point, it was clear the report would be critical. I've been waiting since then to see exactly how critical.

What would the loss of City College's accreditation mean to you personally?

I don't think it's going to come to that. But, if the college lost accreditation, everything is uncertain for me. I could lose my job. Or, if I keep my job, I could have my pay and/or benefits reduced. I might also report to someone else. Basically, my entire work life could change.

How do you feel about the school's current leadership? Are you confident in their ability to 'save City College'?

I believe Chancellor Fisher’s no nonsense, get it done approach is right on target. While some of the other leadership in the college grumbled a little about the report at first, what I see right now is everyone coming together to address the recommendations and save the college. The time line is short, but we can do it if we stay focused. We can come out a better, more flexible, more responsive, more accountable college for our community.

One criticism of City College is that it doesn't provide evidence that it is adequately preparing students for success after graduation. How do you feel about this?

We could definitely do a better job with this and other data, tracking whether or not our classes and programs prepare students for their lives after school. We do some of it and there are other data we don't track, partly because it's often hard to get data on students once they leave the college. Still, I know we can do better, especially analyzing and discussing the data we do have.

What's the best idea you’ve heard to save City College?

Just get to work addressing the recommendations.

Are you optimistic for the future?

I am optimistic. I went to a meeting at the college to organize work groups and we're getting to work on the recommendations. The attitude there was positive and collaborative. As long as we stay in this mind frame, we can make the changes we need to address the recommendations and be an even better college for San Francisco. The biggest concern I had after the meeting was the lack of student voice there — the only student there was our student trustee. Chancellor Fisher said there would be more opportunities for students to become involved. I hope that’s true and that students take advantage of them. Students are the reason we exist and are the most important part of City College.

 

Carlos Saenz, 20 — Student

What are you studying?

Ethnic studies, Latino studies specifically.

Do you have an outside occupation?

No.

Are you full-time or part-time?

Full-time.

Why did you enroll at City College?

I had the option of going to Sonoma State and other similar colleges. But I’ve lived in the city my whole life — pretty close by in Excelsior actually, so I know this area really well. But aside from all of that, I’ve known about City College for the longest time and I knew that they had a huge variety of classes. But I chose this college because I didn’t know what my major was going to be and what I wanted to pursue. I came here to explore that and I knew that I’d save a lot of money coming here instead of going to State.

Did you anticipate the negative accreditation report?

No, I didn’t. I knew they had had problems with money. It seems like that’s been an issue for like, forever, so I never paid any attention to it.

If City College lost its accreditation, how would that affect you?

I love taking classes and learning, but I’m coming here so I can transfer to UC Berkeley. I’d have to find another school, probably San Mateo or something. It would be a huge inconvenience. Aside from all of that, I really like it here. I like the people, the teachers. My first year here, I fit right in. I like City College not only as an academic institution but socially, too. I enjoy the interactions I’ve had with people here. That I would miss. But I wouldn’t stay here just to get to know people, you know, I have to stay focused.

Do you have confidence in the school’s current leadership?

I’m confident in the students. As for the chancellor … I tend to have more confidence in the mass than in one person.

One criticism of the school is that there’s not enough evidence that it adequately prepares students for life after City College. What are you feelings on this?

I don’t think that’s true. If you take transferrable classes here, they’re really intense. To be able to excel here, you have to be organized. There are certain skills you have to have. You can’t procrastinate. You have to stay focused. I’ve been here for two years already. I could have been out of here by now but some of those skills I had to learn the hard way.

What is the best idea you’ve heard to save City College?

I haven’t looked at it too much, but I’ve heard about them moving around money and cutting classes. I haven’t heard any option that anyone would be happy with. It’s like, which is the least bad option?

Are you optimistic for the future?

Yes, very.

Read additional interviews and ongoing multimedia coverage of the City College crisis online.