Organized labor is weak, and many unions are unable to achieve their primary purposes which include the protection of the jobs held by members and improvement in their standard of living. That hurts the prospects for change that can reduce inequality and begin to provide solutions to other gripping problems.
Aside from the decline in union membership and employer attacks, a source of weakness is the failure of many unions to adhere to democratic principles that involve the membership in shaping decisions and formulating strategies. Instead, a top down approach is employed in which the leadership makes the decisions and essentially tells members to accept them and to help carry them out. This can stymie mobilization. When people own the decisions made, they are more likely to act to help bring about their goals. They are discouraged from participating when goals are put forward without their input, especially if the goals lack a vision to get excited about or are viewed as not worth fighting for.
This undemocratic approach can also put unions in a position where the most they can accomplish is to slow down management from achieving its goals. Unions can be turned into actors, whether intentional or not, who are essentially collaborating with or being a part of management by helping to facilitate management goals.
My experiences as a member of the American Federation of Teachers 2121 (AFT 2121) that represents faculty at the community college where I work, City College of San Francisco (CCSF), illustrate some of these problems. Noteworthy is that my union, which is located in one of the country’s most liberal cities in a state dominated by the Democratic Party, has the distorted image of being seen as fairly powerful, democratic, progressive, and transparent.
CCSF is entering the fifth year of an accreditation crisis that began in July 2012. The college has been threatened with closure. The accreditation crisis has resulted in CCSF, a college that predominantly serves working class students of color, being significantly downsized. The crisis has greatly exposed AFT 2121’s weaknesses that can be partly attributed to its leaders putting forward a vision of limited reforms that accepts the imposition of austerity, and to its failure to adhere to democratic principles. The latter is reflected in the repeated unwillingness of the leaders to involve the members in decisions except to approve and act on what the leaders have already decided.
Background Information on State Desire to Transform Public Education
The crisis at CCSF is an extreme example of the crisis facing public education. Public education is under attack from those seeking to transform our educational institutions so they better serve the interests of business and enable business to get their hands on the property of public schools and on the funds devoted to public education.
A capitalist system is based on the accumulation of capital. Its health requires constant growth motivated by the seeking of profits. In the current scramble to find new sources of revenue and profit, starting around the late 1970s, there appears to have been an acceleration in the process of tapping into the resources used to finance public institutions. For the military, this has resulted in many functions traditionally done in-house now being contracted out to private companies like Halliburton. The same is true with the postal service. We also now have prisons run by private for-profit companies.
Those making decisions concerning the allocation of resources for public are turning over more and more of the property and revenue devoted to it to private interests. A specific manifestation of this trend is the establishment (even in public school facilities) of charter schools, some of which are run by private for-profit companies, funded by money intended for public education. Additionally, public money is being used to pay for high stakes tests designed by private businesses, for the increased reliance on software and online programs designed and produced by private businesses, and for the contracting out to private companies of work previously done in-house such as technology management and custodial services.
At CCSF, during the accreditation crisis, numerous private consultants have been hired. The law office of a private attorney was employed in contract negotiations even though the college had two employees who are attorneys involved in negotiations. The remodeled college bookstore on the main campus has been turned over to a private business. Even the issuing of faculty parking permits is now handled by a private company instead of the campus police.
There is also greater pressure being placed on educational institutions, especially those institutions that serve the working and middle class, to do a “better job” training students so they have the skills demanded by potential employers upon finishing their studies. Simultaneously, there is a de-emphasis placed on a traditional liberal arts education that helps people to become critical thinkers, and responsible and well-rounded citizens.
This training, as opposed to a well-rounded education, is a form of corporate welfare since it frees private businesses from having to incur the costs to train their own employees.
The desire that community colleges provide publicly-funded training programs for the benefit of business has been clearly stated more than once by President Obama when he describes his vision for community colleges.
In his 2012 State of the Union address, Obama stated his desire to have programs at community colleges fill the needs of business and lower their training costs,
“Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers–places that teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.”
In his 2014 State of the Union address, Obama spoke about his goal to connect “companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs.”
The Bush administration, with support from many “liberal” Democrats, called its educational reform program “No Child Left Behind.” The Obama administration latched on to the Bush reforms calling its educational policies “Race to the Top.” The emphasis of both was primarily on K-12 schools. They have resulted in high stakes testing, the growth of charter schools, and a standardized curriculum reinforced by testing.
The Obama administration decided to apply many of the elements of Race to the Top to higher education based on the notion that educational institutions can be improved if they face greater competition. It favored a ranking system based on data driven measurements such as graduation rates and the earnings of graduates as important and useful for determining the quality and success of the programs college’s offer. The rankings could be used to determine the amount of public funds schools would receive. The lower ranked schools would be provided with less funding.
Qualitative dimensions of a “successful” education such as cultural enrichment, critical thinking and more well-rounded publicly-oriented students, matters that can’t be measured, are cast aside.1
Additional goals of the higher education “reformers,” some of which began years ago, are to:
1. Lower labor costs by weakening/eliminating unions that represent educators, eliminating tenure rights, and relying more on low paid easily disposable/replaceable adjuncts to teach classes,
2. Lower the cost and size of physical facilities, by emphasizing a need for students to attend full-time and quickly finish their programs; by increasing and perhaps soon requiring that students take online classes which helps move forward a process for using technology to replace teachers; and by taking advantage of other online resources to guide/counsel students,
3. More fully standardize the education being received by, for example, employing and demanding the online recording of the results of what are called student learning outcomes (SLOs) (the beginning of a path towards high stakes testing) as a measurement to determine if the education being received is “successful” and if teachers are doing a proper job.2 These forms of standardization can be used to discipline teachers and deskill them, rendering them easily replaceable,
4. Add further pressure to make sure students quickly chose a major and complete their education,
5. Impose what are viewed as successful management techniques in which a school is run like a business, with power and control at the top and a top down authoritarian management decision-making approach. This is perceived as a proper model, especially for imposing cost-cutting measures or austerity, as governmental support for public education declines.3 The CCSF administration has been attempting to consolidate more power at the top and rid CCSF of what is considered inefficient, (i.e. more democratic) decision making practices.
6. Eventually use technology in the form of online classes and other services to replace faculty and staff and to justify reducing/eliminating colleges’ physical facilities. The argument will be made that these changes are being implemented to hold down the costs of an education. To sell online classes, arrangements will be made so classes are taught by academic “superstars” who currently work at Ivy League or other prestigious schools. The sales pitch will tell students that they will now be paying low tuition for a first class education provided by faculty who work in the most prestigious colleges in the country.
Most current faculty will see changes in their jobs. They will aid the online classes taught by academic “superstars” by being made responsible for holding discussions, answering students’ questions, and grading papers, while tests without written statements will be graded automatically online. This will result in faculty jobs being deskilled and degraded to justify lower pay.
While we are still inundated with rhetoric advocating the importance of an education, there is a growing, often unstated recognition that many future labor markets are in the service sector and other occupations that do not require college degrees.4 Thus, putting resources into higher education that educates those who will be working at jobs not requiring a college degree is seen as wasteful and as a reason to downsize colleges or eventually close some of them down.
As is typical with capitalism, actors within its institutions can have contradictory goals. While there are pressures to downsize colleges, the student loan industry is seeking expansion.
There is an advantage to business of too many students being trained in the skills they desire. This results in glutted labor markets that enable businesses to pay lower wages and make greater profits.5 At the same time, colleges training an excessive number of potential employees is costly.
Another trend in education favorable to businesses as well as the government and non-profits is the expectation or requirement that students perform unpaid or low-paid internships in order to earn a degree and/or gain experience that is necessary for a landing a job in the future. These internships are a source of inexpensive labor that can displace more highly-paid labor and further benefit the bottom line of businesses. The need to do internships reinforce class barriers. Those with fewer resources might not be able to afford or will have to go into debt in order to be in a position to devote time to an internship.
State Government and CCSF’s Accreditor Embrace Pro Business Reforms
CCSF, in particular, is the biggest single community college in California with the most diverse programs. If it can be transformed in ways favored by the powers that be, bringing about similar changes to other community colleges will be a cakewalk. Hence, what has been happening to CCSF poses a threat to other educational institutions.
Before CCSF faced an accreditation crisis, the Student Success Task Force (SSFT) recommendations were put forward by the State Chancellor’s office. It provided a blueprint for transforming community colleges in California to “grow our economy” and meet “the demands of California’s evolving workplace,” i.e. better serve the business community. Success would be measured by factors such as the percentage of students earning a certificate/degree, or by the number who are eligible to transfer to a four year college, with a preference that students attend full-time even though many community college students have family/personal obligations and must work to pay for necessities.6
The authors of the SSTF saw themselves connecting with Obama’s goals. In their report, under the title National and State Student Success Efforts, they link their efforts to “Obama’s 2010 White House Summit and ‘Call to Action’ in which he highlighted the community colleges as the key to closing our nation’s (supposed) skills gap.”7
CCSF’s accreditor, The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), perhaps improperly, lobbied in favor of the recommendations of the SSTF. Effective opposition to some of the recommendations of the SSTF was provided by some leaders at CCSF before the ACCJC sanctioned the college.
For some, such as San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrera, the actions of the ACCJC against CCSF, including its threat to close the college, were viewed as an act of retaliation against CCSF for opposing the SSTF.8 Furthermore, CCSF’s accreditation crisis can been seen as having been manufactured by the ACCJC not to close CCSF, but to help pave the way for its downsizing and transformation.
Overview of the Accreditation Crisis at CCSF
CCSF’s student population consists predominantly of working class students of color. The powers that be, especially those who favor greater austerity and downsizing, may not realize, and certainly would never admit it if they did, that they are targeting students with these social characteristics. By doing so, they are reinforcing classism and institutional racism.
An evaluation of a school by an outside accreditor is a good thing. It can highlight problems that need to be addressed. Accreditation assures the public that its money is being properly spent, and should help bring about improvements in the programs educational institutions offer.
Unfortunately, accreditation can also be used as a tool by those with power to force through the transformation of a school so it fits their vision of how a school should be organized and function. That is what has been happening at CCSF, a college that like all large institutions has problems that need to be addressed, but should not be facing an accreditation crisis that many are convinced threatens its very existence.
In the spring of 2012, CCSF was evaluated by an ACCJC accreditation visiting team whose job was to make a recommendation to the ACCJC’s Commissioners before they would decide whether or not CCSF should remain accredited.9
That summer, the ACCJC announced its decision to sanction CCSF by placing it on show cause, its harshest sanction other than closure. A college placed on show cause is required to prove why it should remain open.
Many people connected to CCSF were shocked. CCSF had never before been sanctioned.
More than two years later, we would learn that the ACCJC overruled the recommendation of its own visiting team that had unanimously called for a milder sanction. That visiting team included the husband of the president of the ACCJC.
A year later, in 2013, the ACCJC decided CCSF should be closed as of July 2014, although it did hold open the possibility that it could remain open beyond that date.
Goal of Accreditation and Findings of the ACCJC Visiting Team
The U.S. Department of Education’s “goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality."
The ACCJC 2012 visiting team issued a report with its findings. In its own words, it “confirmed that City College of San Francisco provides comprehensive and accessible student services” and “concluded that the instructional programs in credit and non-credit programs provide high-quality instruction.”10
Doesn’t the above describe a college that is successful at achieving its most important and fundamental purposes of educating and serving students? Additionally, doesn’t the ACCJC visiting team’s conclusion exceed the U.S. Department of Education’s accreditation goal of providing an education of an “acceptable level of quality?” Yet, the ACCJC would decide a year later, in 2013, that CCSF should plan to close the following year.
CCSF’s Administration Acts to Downsize the College and the State Chancellor Takes it Over
The ACCJC held open a possibility that CCSF could remain open longer. Despite that possibility, CCSF’s then interim chancellor, on July 4, the day after the ACCJC’s termination letter, sent out an email informing students that “The Commission has decided to terminate City College of San Francisco’s accreditation effective July 31, 2014.” She encouraged students to pursue their dreams, but did not indicate, as the ACCJC had done, the possibility that the college could remain open beyond that date. This message presumably resulted in many students deciding to leave CCSF or to complete their studies within the next year. The latter may have been reflected in a record number of graduates at the end of the 2013-2014 school year despite a decline in student enrollment of over 10% for each term compared to the previous year.11
At the same time during the summer of 2013, CCSF’s administration either purposefully, or because they are incompetent, failed to distribute thousands of class schedules for the 2013 fall term. Fortunately, many boxes of the schedules were discovered shortly before the start of the term, and were distributed throughout the city by members of the faculty and their supporters.
Almost immediately after the closure decision was issued, California’s Community College Chancellor, Brice Harris, who had been an ACCJC Commissioner for seven years, had the rules altered to enable a state takeover of CCSF. The democratically elected board of trustees was displaced by retired Santa Rosa Junior College President Robert Agrella. Agrella had already been imposed on the college by the state chancellor as a special trustee with veto power over the board’s decisions soon after the college was placed on show cause in 2012. With the state takeover, Agrella was “promoted” and given the comic book super hero title of Special Trustee with Extraordinary Powers. (He would be referred to by a lower-case acronym: stwep.)
In a jointly authored statement, State Chancellor Harris and San Francisco Mayor Lee wrote that this one-man secretive ruler, “a stronger hand,” was needed to address the college’s alleged numerous and significant deficiencies, and make everything right so it could remain open.
As stwep, Agrella favored imposing austerity on employees. Claiming that the college was spending, as of the summer of 2012, 92% of its funds (which is disputed) on salaries, benefits, and retirement, he said that the figure that in 2013 supposedly stood at 89% had to be reduced to around 80%.
What would probably be considered the major decision by stwep Agrella was the hiring of a permanent chancellor named Art Tyler who held a PhD from the for-profit University of Phoenix.
Tyler had a most unusual and questionable background considering CCSF’s crisis. He had been the Antiterrorism Manager for the Air Force. In 2004, he was hired by the State Chancellor to be the Special Trustee at Compton College that had been harshly sanctioned by the ACCJC. (Noteworthy is that Compton’s student population was 95% Black or Latino.) Tyler’s job as Special Trustee at Compton College was to manage and fix the college’s finances. Three months after his appointment, the state chancellor suspended Compton’s elected board while continuing to authorize Tyler’s management of Compton. In June of 2005, the ACCJC concluded the college’s financial problems had not been addressed and decided to close it. Soon thereafter, Tyler departed.
As stwep, Agrella favored imposing austerity on employees. Claiming that the college was spending, as of the summer of 2012, 92% of its funds (which is disputed) on salaries, benefits, and retirement, he said that the figure that in 2013 supposedly stood at 89% had to be reduced to around 80%.
In January 2015, a year and a half after being elevated to stwep, Agrella suddenly resigned without providing a reason. The state chancellor quickly replaced him.
At the beginning of the summer of 2015, the new special trustee, together with the state chancellor, demoted permanent chancellor Tyler without providing an explanation. A new to CCSF vice chancellor of instruction, who had recently resigned from this post, was elevated to the position of interim chancellor, giving CCSF its fourth chancellor since shortly before the accreditation crisis began in the summer of 2012. (Having too many interim administrators was one reason given by the ACCJC for sanctioning CCSF.)
About six months later, the demoted chancellor Tyler resigned after a San Francisco Chronicle article exposed that while he was supposed to be working to correct CCSF’s problems so it would be fully accredited, he instead spent roughly a third of his time engaged in travelling and fine dining on the college’s tab. He failed to account for his expenses that amounted to $300,000 to $400,000 according to the president of CCSF’s Board of Trustees.
As can be discerned from the above, the fight to save CCSF is a fight not just against an accreditor, but also a significant fight against the college’s administration and the state government. California’s state government is largely responsible for the power of the state chancellor and the ACCJC. The latter was granted a monopoly on accrediting California’s community colleges. Standing behind all these state bodies are presumably private foundations, businesses, and the U.S. Department of Education.
Yet, to overcome the accreditation crisis, the response of the faculty union at CCSF, AFT 2121, and the statewide organization to which it belongs, the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), is to focus primarily and narrowly on doing battle with only the ACCJC. They have largely left CCSF’s administration and the State Chancellor alone, even though both are implementing a quite similar corporate “reform” agenda as that favored by the ACCJC.
AFT 2121 and the CFT’s approach has been to devote resources to calling on the courts, government bodies and Democratic Party politicians who usually automatically receive their endorsement when running for office, to do what is right as a means to save CCSF. The unions have not placed a big emphasis on mobilizing people to make demands and to fight all of the forces lined up against them.
In other words, the CFT and AFT 2121 strategy has been to rely on the capitalist state and its institutions, that have much responsibility for the accreditation crisis, to right the wrongs committed against CCSF and to stop the harm being done to those most victimized--students, staff and faculty.
Damage to CCSF, and its Downsizing
Following the accreditation crisis, CCSF has experienced major declines in its enrollment. According to the state chancellor’s office, the annual student count at CCSF went from 90,352 in year 2011-12 to 79,728 in 2012-2013, the first year of the accreditation crisis, and to 65,867 for academic year 2015-2016.12 During the same time period, the state total student count went from 2.43 million in 2011-2012 to 2.34 million in 2015-16. It dropped by less than 4% while the enrollment at CCSF decreased by over 27%, which alone accounted for over 30% of the drop statewide.13
The number of full-time faculty at CCSF has declined from 810 during the fall of 2011, to 754 in the fall 2012 term to 618 in the fall 2015 term.
The number of part-time faculty at CCSF has also gone down from 1,004 in Fall 2011 to 895 in the fall of 2012 to 830 in the fall of 2015.
The number of staff went from 813 in 2011 to 766 in 2012 and down to 700 in the fall 2015, while during the same time the number of top administrators (referred to by some at CCSF as “the wrecking crew”) increased from 40 to 45.
Faculty have been expected to do more work for less pay. As of 2015, the average pay level of full time faculty at CCSF was $81,234, more than $11,000 below the state average in what is perhaps the nation’s most expensive city. During the 2015/2016 school year, the pay of all faculty has been 3.5% below the actual dollar amount they were paid in 2007.
By contrast, as of 2015, the average pay of CCSF’s top administrators was $154,756, more than $13,500 above the state average.
There has been much changeover in the CCSF administration that now consists of many outsiders imposed on the college. Simultaneously, many long-term employees with institutional knowledge about the college have either retired or left, sometimes for higher pay. Many of them have not been replaced.
A greater emphasis has generally been placed on educating students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) while programs in the arts, literature, the humanities, and social sciences have been de-emphasized and reduced.
One example that illustrates this emphasis is the postponement/cancellation of the building of a voter approved and much needed Performing Arts Center by the stwep. Matching money from the state for this project may have been lost.
Additionally, many community college students are lifelong learners. However, unless their education is tied to specific job-related goals, the desire is to rid the college of programs that serve them such as those in music that are treated as wasteful and useless.
Some city leaders of San Francisco and others have been eyeing the property held by CCSF, much of which consists of campuses located throughout the city. The administration has appeared to be secretly cooperating and helping with a process of turning over this public property to presumably benefit private developers and businesses.
Backlash Against the ACCJC
There have been demonstrations against the ACCJC, with the largest one occurring in front of the San Francisco offices of the U.S. Department of Education soon after the announcement in 2013 of the closure decision. It was organized by a group called the Coalition to Save CCSF which, at the time, acted independently of AFT 2121, but is now more like an activist arm of AFT 2121, who did provide some support for the action. For the first time, some politicians who had accepted the decisions of the ACCJC and had done nothing to help CCSF now came out in support of efforts to save the college.
Soon thereafter, through the efforts of San Francisco’s City Attorney, Dennis Herrera, a court ordered injunction was issued preventing the closure of CCSF. His case brought against the ACCJC resulted in a judge ruling in February 2015 that the ACCJC had engaged in “significant unlawful practices” when it decided in 2013 to close CCSF.14 Nevertheless, that court decision did not reverse the ACCJC’s closure decision.
Around the same time that the San Francisco City Attorney launched his legal action against the ACCJC, California’s state legislature, with support from both Democrats and Republicans, voted in favor of auditing the ACCJC. Its report, released in June 2014, found the ACCJC to be “inconsistent in applying its accreditation process” and that it lacked transparency in its deliberations.
Later, political wrangling from politicians, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who represents San Francisco, resulted in the ACCJC granting CCSF more time to correct its alleged deficiencies.
To justify giving CCSF more time, the ACCJC concocted a new policy called “restoration status” for which it received praise from Pelosi. After this policy was accepted by the CCSF’s administration and under it, CCSF was given until January 2017 to come into 100% compliance with all of the ACCJC’s demands as interpreted by the ACCJC, or face closure without a right to appeal the ACCJC’s decision.
Other governmental actions would be taken against the ACCJC. It was found by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to be out of compliance with accreditation rules, and was sanctioned. This could possibly lead to the withdrawal of the DOE’s recognition of the ACCJC, which would probably force the ACCJC out of business.
In August 2015, a state chancellor's task force report found that as currently constituted, the ACCJC “no longer meets the current and anticipated needs of the California Community Colleges” and should be replaced because the “California Community College system and its member institutions have lost confidence in the ACCJC."
All of the above has discredited the ACCJC and could result in the ACCJC being replaced in the future. However, before he retired, State Community College Chancellor Brice Harris stated the replacement of the ACCJC could take anywhere from (unbelievably) 6 to 10 years.15 Despite being discredited, the ACCJC has been “successful” at fostering changes at CCSF and is still currently in charge of determining CCSF’s future.
The ACCJC’s problem may well be that it has been too zealous in carrying out what it sees as its mission, and has stepped on too many toes when sanctioning numerous community colleges. It is under pressure to reform itself. There is a great possibility that its reforms, or appearance of reforms, will satisfy those who will determine its future and lead them to decide that the ACCJC will remain the sole accreditor of California’s community colleges.
The Response of CCSF’s Faculty Union
AFT 2121’s response has almost always been formulated by its leaders. Members have rarely been invited to give input or question what the leaders have decided. The primary venue for member input has been at meetings where there is usually a fixed agenda previously decided upon by the leaders. No or little time is set aside for members to raise issues, except at the end of the meeting, when most attendees are anxious for the meeting to end. When a major discussion takes place, it almost always takes on the form of breaking up meeting participants into small groups with reports back that water down much of the discussion. A full discussion involving everyone in attendance is discouraged. Members are often told that with a pressing agenda to finish, they must move quickly to the next agenda item.
This means that time is not set aside where important questions about strategy and decisions can be discussed by all who are present. Nor is time allowed for assessing past decisions and coming up with possible improvements.
When members are given a chance to engage in discussions in front of everyone in attendance, they may offer good suggestions and even be complimented by union leaders. However, their suggestions are rarely acted upon.
As a result, despite the enormity of the crisis we face, meetings, other than those held on days of faculty gatherings before a term starts, usually attract only 25-30 members who will remain throughout the meeting, despite a total union membership of about 1,100, and faculty numbering over 1,500.
* * *
When the accreditation crisis began in 2012, AFT 2121 was caught off-guard and was unprepared to take on the ACCJC. Many, understandably, were intimidated by the power of the accreditors and feared retaliation for standing up to the ACCJC, retaliation that they believed could result in the closure of the college for which they would be blamed.
What appeared to be the first order of business following the 2012 sanction was to gain more revenue for the college that had been starved of funds during the recession. Proposition A, a local parcel tax, and Proposition 30, a statewide tax the rich proposition, were on the ballot for the November 2012 election. With help from union members, both passed. Prop. A received almost 73% favorable votes despite numerous negative stories about CCSF and its accreditation crisis in the San Francisco Chronicle.
So what was the response of the administration? In an email sent to faculty right after the election, the interim chancellor stated “The passage [of Prop. 30 that could also be applied to Prop. A] does not mitigate the need for continued fiscal and structural reform…required by the Accrediting Commission for CCSF to keep its accreditation.”
Shortly after these election victories that would bring the college more revenue, and despite the purposes that included preventing layoffs and maintaining student support services, the administration laid off over 60 employees in total, including all part-time counselors and many members of the staff (who have their own union with an even greater lack of internal democracy with whom AFT 2121 has not had a close and collaborative working relationship.) Additionally, the administration unilaterally imposed a 9% pay cut on faculty.
The only public response of the faculty union leaders was to file an unfair labor practices complaint that would be dropped in negotiations for a new contract a few months later. The lack of greater union resistance to the imposed cuts and lay-offs sent a clear message to the administration that the faculty union would not be much of an obstacle to implementing their goals and could be bullied and pushed around.
The dramatic decline in student enrollment after CCSF was sanctioned by the ACCJC meant that the college faced cuts in its budget that is largely funded based on the number of units taken by its student population. In the fall of 2013, the AFT 2121 president recognized that, as a result of the declining enrollment, CCSF would soon face a shortage of funds of over $20 million in the following year. This shortage would lead to cuts in classes and the loss of more faculty jobs.
A letter was sent to the AFT 2121 president from some faculty and community members asking her to call on leaders of the California Federation of Teachers to ask them to use their influence to find sympathetic legislators in the state capital to sponsor legislation to provide CCSF with funding and hold it harmless for the damage done to it that resulted in a decline in enrollment.
The CCSF union president basically made excuses to not do anything around funding, claiming this was not the right time even though much of the CCSF community and others could have presumably been mobilized to push for such a measure.
Fortunately, soon thereafter, and probably independently of the union, San Francisco State Senator Mark Leno successfully introduced legislation that provided CCSF with additional funding for three years, with the intention for it to be used to help enrollment grow back to where it had been.
Taking on the ACCJC for the First Time
In April of 2013, out of the blue and before the closure decision, the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) filed a major and extensive complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the ACCJC. It was a strong statement covering the deep-seated flaws of the ACCJC and its questionable accreditation processes that had resulted in it sanctioning more colleges than had been sanctioned by the rest of the nation’s accrediting agencies combined.
Though this action could be seen as taken on behalf of faculty at CCSF, only a small and select group of AFT 2121 members were informed about the preparation of the complaint. The lawyer responsible wanted to keep it a secret. He may have had good reasons. Apparently, the desire was to catch the ACCJC off-guard so it would be in no position to offer an immediate response. However, the ACCJC was presumably well-aware of the harsh criticisms made against it in the report of former CFT president Marty Hittelman.16 Much of the complaint contained similar information.
Many faculty members welcomed the complaint. This is an example of how some actions taken by the union leaders without the members’ input are, nevertheless, welcomed and deservedly supported. This action dramatically reversed the passive approach to the ACCJC taken by AFT 2121 and the CFT until then. However, one would have thought that in a democratically minded union, members who would be impacted by such an action would be given an opportunity to have a say over the decision.
The legal complaint presumably infuriated the ACCJC. Whether it did or not, shortly thereafter, the ACCJC issued its decision calling for the closure of CCSF.
However, AFT 2121 Did Not Take on the Administration or Others in Power, and Avoids Making Concrete Demands
Put in place during the crisis to run CCSF has been an administration that claims to be addressing the deficiencies alleged by the ACCJC. In doing so, it has acted with hostility towards the interests of students, faculty and staff and has caused much damage to CCSF. For example, prior to the ACCJC issuing its July 2013 closure report, a meeting was held with the ACCJC involving the special trustee, who would soon become the stwep, and the interim chancellor. Both did not act as advocates for the college, but instead described what they viewed as deficiencies at the college and incorrectly stated there was an unwillingness to implement necessary changes. What the interim chancellor and special trustee said at this meeting was cited by ACCJC Commissioners as a major reason for their decision to close CCSF.17
In fact, later, in a letter written in support of the ACCJC dated October 11, 2013, the stwep wrote that the report of the ACCJC’s site evaluation team was “accurate,” but in some areas “understated… the depth of problems the college faces.” The interim chancellor wrote a similar letter in support of the ACCJC.
In the summer of 2013, during the question and answer period at a presentation given by the lawyer responsible for the CFT complaint against the ACCJC filed with the U.S. Department of Education, I pointed out to him that the problems we faced at CCSF were also caused by the administration, not just the ACCJC. He responded that he was hired by the CFT to go after the ACCJC, not the CCSF administration. Obviously, rank and file faculty members at CCSF were not involved in decisions made around this strategy.
After the state takeover of CCSF, in the fall of 2013, the AFT 2121 leadership decided to call a Halloween demonstration/rally in front of San Francisco’s City Hall. The purpose of this demonstration was to call on Mayor Ed Lee to “Protect Our City College.” This is the mayor who had recently helped the state chancellor orchestrate a state takeover of the college! And the union’s “demand” was at best vague. It provided no specific actions the mayor could take to protect City College other than that he “preserve all the opportunities” that CCSF provides to residents—something he could say he was doing by supporting the state takeover.
By contrast, earlier, in August 2013, some students organized a sit-in at San Francisco City Hall with clear demands calling on the mayor to drop all sanctions against CCSF and end what they called “the special trustee dictatorship,” actions the mayor probably could not legally take.
In the late fall of 2013, negotiations for a new faculty contract were concluded. The union leadership did not like the new contract, but argued that something better at the time was unlikely and that a rejection would result in a worse contract. They were successful at convincing the faculty to vote in favor of approval. It resulted in a very slight increase in pay. In dollar terms, pay was set to “increase” from 5% less than what it was in 2007 to 4% less beginning in January 2014 with a planned “raise” as of January 2015 leading to it going up ½% from 4% to 31/2% less than it was in 2007.
Around the time the contract was being approved by the faculty, the stwep decided in favor of substantial double digit salary increases for top administrators. This was protested and the union president and executive director crafted an effective letter expressing the widespread discontent about this pay decision that would come to be referred to as “salarygate.”
CCSF Chancellor Tyler responded with a letter in which he claimed “I didn't, nor did they (other administrators receiving the salary increase), come for the money.” He expressed disappointment in AFT 2121’s president and accused her of distorting “the truth” and of having “done the college and your members a disservice.” He called on her to stop her “divisiveness.” For weeks thereafter, a link to his letter was posted on the college’s homepage.
I do not recall any protest or action in response to the chancellor’s letter.
* * *
As was true of the Halloween rally, when union demands are put forward, the language of the demands is vague. For more than a year, the demand concerning our new contract starting in 2015-2016 was that it be “fair.” The specific provisions of a “fair” contract that could be used to evaluate what was achieved in negotiations was never spelled out. This might enable the union leaders to call whatever is negotiated a victory since it results in as “fair” a contract as is possible.
Union Leaders’ Lack of Transparency
AFT 2121 leaders will often accurately accuse others of not being transparent, but it has had transparency problems of its own. Members are routinely informed that the union paid staff and officers are working very hard yet are rarely told about how they spend their time and only learn about decisions after they are made.
In October of 2014, AFT 2121 reported on a meeting that its executive board held with National AFT President Randi Weingarten.18 The meeting was not publicized. This meant that interested faculty could not attend. Faculty were informed later that Weingarten “made a commitment” that the national AFT would “do what was necessary to keep City College open and accessible and to rein in the rogue ACCJC.” The specific details of the commitment were never clarified.
We were also informed that Weingarten, together with AFT 2121 and CFT leaders, had a “productive” meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi concerning the negative impact of the ACCJC and, surprisingly, CCSF’s administration. However, what made the meeting productive and what was discussed were never spelled out to members.
In the summer of 2015, when Chancellor Tyler was demoted and replaced, I contacted the union
vice-president to suggest that the union arrange a meeting with the new chancellor at which members could ask her questions. That never happened. He did mention that some union officers had met with her, but there was no report issued for members to read about what was discussed at the meeting.
More recently, in the Spring of 2016, an election for new officers was held. All officers ran unopposed. None made campaign statements. The results of the election were posted without including the number of votes each candidate received nor the number of members who voted. At a union meeting, a motion was put forward to provide members with the vote totals. Much of the leadership opposed the motion. The motion narrowly passed when a vote was taken. The posting of the vote results, a task that presumably would take little time, took more than a week, and was not announced. One would have to do a search on the union’s website to find it here.
Avoiding the Discussion of Important Issues
In the fall of 2015, CCSF’s administration announced their plans to reduce the number of scheduled classes by some 26%. The cuts would eliminate the jobs of an estimated 350, mainly part-time, faculty members, and severely weaken the union since there would be fewer dues paying members. In December 2015 and January 2016, at the beginning of union meetings, a desire was raised to discuss what we could do to prevent the administration’s planned cuts. The discussion of this most fundamental issue did not take place at either meeting.
The union president asserted, as captured on video, that the administration’s planned cuts in classes is an item that can’t be negotiated saying it is something they are allowed to do. Would he have taken this position were the jobs of faculty on the negotiating team at stake, or if the administration said they planned to cut more than half of the classes? By accepting the administration having a free hand to cut classes even if that is their supposed legal right, wasn’t the leadership of AFT 2121 undermining a key purpose of a union which is to fight to protect the jobs of its dues paying members and not allow management to unnecessarily eliminate them? Additionally, the pay package in contract negotiations offered by the administration was based on it being able to cut the number of scheduled classes. In an April 12, 2016 letter to faculty, the chancellor stated “The District’s offer is partially funded through scheduled reductions in classes.” Didn’t that make the cuts a negotiable issue?
By not making the proposed class cuts a front and center issue, and not demanding that it be negotiated, the union leaders were essentially betraying the needs and interests of many members and the well-being of their own union.
For months after the planned class cuts were first announced, all the union leaders publicly did was to condemn the proposed cuts without putting forward concrete plans to fight and try to prevent them from happening. Finally, at the end of the summer in 2016, the union leaders responded to the administration putting forward plans to begin to cut low-enrolled classes starting August 3, more than a week before the start of the fall term and before many potential students had registered for classes. They put together a grievance condemning the premature cuts. However, a union spokesperson acknowledged that the grievance would not be heard until well after any cuts had already been made.19
Starting in the Spring of 2015, negotiations began between AFT 2121 and the administration over a contract that would expire in the fall of 2015. A tentative agreement, likely to be approved, was reached in July 2016.
During negotiations, the administration engaged in delaying tactics taking months before putting forth its proposals. Despite stating a desire to compensate teachers at a much higher rate, its actual pay proposals would have resulted in a level of pay in nominal dollars barely above where it was in 2007.
The administration’s plan was to shove austerity down the throats of faculty. With the planned class cuts, educational opportunities would be reduced. Those faculty still employed would face a bigger workload as reflected in management’s goal to increase faculty productivity—i..e. classes with a larger number of students. Unfortunately, the tentative agreement (see details later) reflects the administration’s success at achieving most of its goals.
Departing from past practices and before the tentative agreement was reached, AFT 2121 leaders called for striking, but in ways that were problematic.
In December 2015, a vote called by the union leaders took place to approve a planned one day strike over unfair labor practices. The complaint was over two issues not fully discussed with members:
1. Members being filmed by a college police officer at an informational picket and
2. What was viewed as a contract violation when the administration took the unilateral action to send retirees a demand letter for the return of money paid to them for classes they had not taught due to administration errors.20
In the middle of the time allotted for people to vote whether or not to strike, union leaders called off the vote and strike because the administration’s lead negotiator, the Dean of Employee Relations, issued a statement in which:
1. He affirmed that the district had no policy about videotaping picketing but would not compromise “our right to do so in the future if needed,” and
2. He agreed to rescind letters seeking payment from retirees “while reserving our right to make lawful proposals in this area.”
In other words, at best, little was accomplished. The administrator declared they might still videotape pickets and after rescinding the letter sent to retirees demanding money, might still seek to get this money in the future. Nevertheless, union leaders asserted we had achieved a victory, and decided to call off the strike vote.
Following this “victory” and after the winter break, a new vote by ballot of union members was held. The vote was to decide whether or not to authorize the leadership to make decisions over whether a strike could be called. After a big organizing campaign, slightly more than half of the faculty voted, over 800, with 92% voting in favor.
Soon thereafter, the union filed another unfair labor practices complaint and the leaders, on their own, called for a one day strike to protest the administration’s terrible contract proposals. This call to strike, essentially already decided upon, was later approved at a delegate meeting.
In neither call for a one day strike did the union leaders organize a meeting for all members to discuss, affirm, or reject the leadership decisions, and to come up with a strategy.
Two days prior to the planned strike, the chancellor decided to close the college the day of the strike.
When the one day strike/lock-out occurred in April 2016 in front of a closed workplace, spirits were high. The union estimated that more than a thousand people turned out for picket lines at various campuses and for a rally in downtown San Francisco.
Over 1,000 people participating is a large number, but the number of participants has to be put in the context of union claims to have been spending years working on gaining support by organizing members and the community. Despite the college being closed and the fact that there are over 1,500 faculty members, over 60,000 students, and many sympathetic community members who showed their support, shouldn’t they have been able to mobilize more people to participate?
The relatively small number of people participating in the strike action appears to reflect the union’s fear of mobilizing people and being confrontational.
Did Union Leaders Fear Mass Mobilizations?
A small group of faculty on their own organized a number of pickets during the contract negotiations in the fall of 2015. They did so to express opposition to the administration’s “negotiators” who often treated the union’s side with contempt by delaying for months the putting forward of their pay proposals, and providing the union negotiators with questionable budget figures that painted a distorted picture of the college’s actual financial circumstances. AFT 2121’s president would express support and appreciation for the picketers, but the union never publicized the pickets or encouraged members to join them.
The union leaders decided to call for a boycott of the chancellor’s address on the January 2016 flex day (a day of faculty meetings before the term starts) to protest how negotiations were proceeding. However, the boycott was not publicized until a day or two before it was to happen. The reason given was that the union leaders did not want the administration to know about it--which they probably did. Thus, the possibility of mobilizing more people was undermined.
Tentative Contract Represents Acceptance of the Continued Erosion of Members’ Standard of Living
A tentative contract agreement was reached in July 2016. No jobs would be protected. The pay package would leave the purchasing power of faculty pay, after taking into account increases in the cost of living, way below where it stood in 2007. Union literature indicated a pay increase of 25% as of August 2015 would have been necessary to bring the purchasing power of faculty pay back to where it was in 2007.
After the tentative agreement was reached, union literature called the agreement a “victory.”21 The union president contended that for most members, the tentative agreement would result in “at least a 14% increase” by the end of the third year of the contract.
A 14% increase meant that the tentative agreement fell short by at least 11% of restoring the purchasing power of faculty pay to where it was in 2007. The purchasing power of the pay agreed to will presumably be further eroded by inflation during the three years of the contract. Assuming inflation during the three years is 5%, to bring the purchasing power of pay to where it was in 2007 would require a pay increase of 30% by the end of the contract. In itself, this could be insufficient because:
1. Increases in deductions to cover rising medical insurance charges that will not be decided upon until the end of 2016 will presumably further erode the purchasing power of one’s pay;
2. Many faculty are experiencing an increase in the required contribution to their pensions that is deducted from their take home pay. It will have increased since 2007 by 2.25% starting with school year 2016-2017, the second year of the contract.
Taking into account the increase in the cost of living and the above described pay deductions, the claimed 14% pay increase provided union members with a distorted picture. The amount of gross pay on one’s paycheck will, by the end of the contract, go up by some 14%, but the resulting purchasing power of this pay increase will be much less than 14% due to the above mentioned inflation, etc.
Furthermore, the tentative agreement has a provision that will result in reducing pay by 2% at the end of the contract unless San Francisco voters agree to renew a parcel tax in November 2016.
The money raised previously resulting from this parcel tax enacted in November 2012, was not spent by the administration on its intended purposes. As a result, the leaders of AFT 2121 opposed supporting its renewal as recently as June 2016, less than a month before reaching the tentative agreement.
However, with the tentative agreement, the union leaders flip-flopped by agreeing that 2% of the negotiated pay increase would expire at the end of the contract if the renewal of the parcel tax fails to pass in the November 2016 election. In order to preserve 2% of their pay increase, members will now face pressure to support this tax.
The tentative contract agreement also has a provision that 2.68% of the raise will expire at the end of the contract unless enrollment increases. Enrollment policies are largely shaped by CCSF’s administration. Since the accreditation crisis began, they have been responsible for much of the decline in enrollment.22 Thus, having members’ pay determined by relying on the administration to increase enrollment makes no sense.
For many years, a pay increase of 2.6%-4% was lost by members resulting from the freezing of a step increase in pay. In the tentative agreement, the step increase is unfrozen and is included as part of the 14% pay increase. However, the income lost during the years of the freeze is lost forever under the tentative agreement. This is also true for other cuts in pay either agreed to or imposed unilaterally by the administration.23
Left out of the tentative agreement is the administration’s intent to reduce the class schedule by 26% leaving many with a meaningless contract since they will lose their jobs after the class cuts are made. And for those keeping their jobs, their workload is bound to go up as a result of administration efforts to increase the enrollment in each class.
Example of How Union Leaders Allow Democratic Practices When They Don’t Threaten to Overturn Their Decisions
Prior to signing off on the 2016 tentative contract agreement, union leaders did not call for a membership meeting to discuss its contents. Afterwards, they did much to assure approval of the tentative agreement. Faculty were informed that the Union’s Executive Board and Union’s Negotiating Team unanimously recommended its approval.
Members had been informed and would be again that, if they voted to reject the contract, the administration could impose its own contract. The only options then available to faculty would be to accept a presumably worse contract or go on strike to fight for a better contract. A possible prolonged strike would be an undertaking few faculty were prepared to do, especially when its organization would have to be mostly overseen and undertaken by presumably unenthusiastic union leaders and staff. Add to that a further concern hanging over faculty at CCSF. The ACCJC remained in a position to soon decide the college’s fate. A strike could easily provide the ACCJC with ammunition that would allow it to claim CCSF remains a dysfunctional institution and should be closed.
Under the above conditions, the union leaders did not face any risk, barring a miracle, of losing a vote to approve the tentative agreement. A Special Delegates’ Assembly meeting was held that was open to all faculty to make a recommendation to their colleagues as to how they should vote on the tentative agreement. After being told at the beginning of this meeting by the union president that the tentative agreement was an “excellent agreement” and listening to descriptions of its content and what was achieved, the delegates discussed it. Opponents were given opportunities to express their views against the tentative agreement. This turned into a practice of democracy that would have no impact on the leaders’ desired outcome. To no one’s surprise, the delegates’ voted overwhelmingly in favor of recommending that faculty vote to approve the tentative agreement as did a membership meeting the following day.
Resolution Calling for the Full Accreditation of CCSF: An Example that Illustrates Serious Problems Concerning Union Democracy in AFT 2121
Starting in the spring of 2015, a group of faculty and concerned community members with whom I was involved put together a comprehensive resolution (updated version ) calling on the ACCJC to immediately grant CCSF full accreditation. It had been encouraged by an aide of a local member of the state assembly as something the state legislator could consider and possibly pass. The state legislature did neither.
We clearly recognized that the likelihood of the ACCJC immediately granting CCSF full accreditation was remote. The purpose of the resolution was to educate people about what had been happening at CCSF, and show why the ACCJC’s harsh actions against CCSF were unjustified, to point out why the ACCJC should be viewed as lacking credibility, and to mobilize people throughout the state to put added pressure on the ACCJC to fully accredit CCSF.
CCSF gaining full accreditation would also help undercut the CCSF’s administration use of the accreditation crisis as an argument and as justification for many of its policies that have enabled them to consolidate power, make cuts, and to not provide faculty and staff with better contracts.
We succeeded in getting endorsements for the resolution from the chancellor of the San Mateo County Community College District and from former California Federation of Teachers president Marty Hittelman. Additionally, among others endorsing the resolution were the San Francisco Labor Council, the San Mateo County Central Labor Council, the Executive Board of the AFT affiliate of the College of Marin, and the San Mateo Community College Board of Trustees.
At a meeting during the fall of 2015, the resolution was brought before the executive board of CCSF’s local union, AFT 2121. It failed to endorse the resolution. One officer made a motion to approve it, but no other officer present seconded the motion.
Baffled that my union’s officers would not vote in favor of a resolution calling for the full accreditation of CCSF, something they presumably favored, I wrote to the AFT 2121 president asking for an explanation. Receiving no answer after a week, I wrote again. He finally responded “explaining” that the resolution was not passed at the executive board meeting because no one seconded it. He did not offer a further explanation. On the other hand, he agreed to make the resolution an agenda item for the upcoming membership meeting held during each semester.
The day of the membership meeting, the president told me he did not have a copy of the resolution that had been attached to my email to him to which he had replied. Fortunately, I had one, so copies were printed for members attending the meeting. As has been typically the case, few people (20-25) were in attendance when the resolution was taken up at the end of the meeting. After some debate, it was passed by a large majority of union members, with only four union officers and a former officer voting against endorsement.
About two months later, over the opposition of some union officers, AFT 2121 decided to submit the resolution for consideration to the California Federation of Teachers convention that was to be held in March 2016.
Before it would be brought before the entire convention body, it first had to be processed by a convention committee. The person assigned to chair the committee that would deal with the resolution had been the president of my local during the first two years of the accreditation crisis and had voted against the resolution at the membership meeting.24 After some discussion, the committee took a voice vote. A split decision was rendered to not have the resolution sent to the floor of the convention for members to vote on. Instead, the committee decided, without making a recommendation, that the resolution be sent to the Executive Council of the CFT where, during its next meeting, a decision about whether or not to endorse the resolution would be made.
Apparently, committee decisions are supposed to be approved by the convention as a whole. The last day of the convention, CCSF’s union president spoke in favor of the resolution being sent to the CFT Executive Council when, had he spoken in favor of endorsement by the convention as his members had decided, it presumably would have been approved.
Soon thereafter, I sent him an email asking for an explanation as to why he had not advocated for endorsement by the convention. Not receiving a reply, I sent a second letter to which he replied that he had spoken at the convention in favor of the committee decision to send the resolution to the CFT Executive Council “because of the need for flexibility in our strategy against the ACCJC.”
In response, I again asked him to explain why he did not speak in favor of what his members had decided, to fully describe the strategy and its goals, and to explain how the resolution could interfere with achieving them. I received no reply.
About two months later, during the CFT Executive Council meeting, my local president spoke out against endorsement of the resolution. I wrote to a top officer of the CFT asking why he also spoke out against the resolution. He wrote back stating that “The President of the local, Tim Killikelly, argued against the specific actions as not being helpful to the effort. I took his lead on the matter.”
In a subsequent email the same day, this CFT leader wrote that “the resolution called for a particular action on a position that the CFT already held.” The CFT having a position in favor of the ACCJC immediately granting CCSF full accreditation was news to me. Nevertheless, despite the resolution taking a position the “CFT already held,” the executive council unanimously voted to not endorse it.
To bring about the full accreditation of CCSF, the CFT is apparently relying on a favorable court ruling in a case that it brought against the ACCJC in 2013 that may soon be heard. However, no court decision in this case will probably be finalized until well after the ACCJC’s “restoration status” decision in which the ACCJC could decide in early 2017 to close CCSF.
Why Faculty Do Not Speak Out
Why do most faculty accept this lack of democracy and do not speak up?
Part of an explanation has to do with how people are socialized to accept the existing social order and their position in it, and to not make waves.
These days, faculty too often defer to union bureaucrats who put forward a discouraging and narrow vision of what can possibly be achieved. The vision coming from union leaders results in members approving what are at best minor piecemeal reforms, or what are more likely to be outcomes that prevent more from being taken away from them. This leads to a defeatist attitude in which to fight for a grander outcome is viewed as unreasonable and unrealistic. This defeatist attitude is reinforced by the current climate of economic insecurity where many are convinced that a bigger fight places them at risk of losing their jobs.
This defeatist attitude is also encouraged by union leaders who are adept at convincing members they are winning and should accept what are often the goals of management. The union leaders will generally quickly put aside what they view as minor spats with management. They may not see themselves in an antagonistic relationship with management, and will avoid direct confrontations. Ultimately, they will contend that both management and faculty seek similar goals and must work together as a team to be successful.
Other possible reasons include:
1. Many passively support the union leaders’ decisions. Leaders are viewed as being more informed about what members are shown to be complex and hard to understand issues.
Members also defer to the judgements and decisions of leaders when leaders claim that they are putting in long hours—something members are unable or unwilling to do. The hard work claim of leaders, while often true, provides an excuse for them not to take on what might be more effective tasks. It can also be used to browbeat members with the notion that they should help out with tasks decided upon by the leadership, even though they are not provided with opportunities for discussing and deciding if these tasks are worthwhile.
2. Members may be unwilling to risk tarnishing established personal relations by speaking out critically without knowing in advance if they will be supported. When questioning the decisions of those they have worked closely with and even socialized with, they can face negative reactions, including ostracism.25
3. Many faculty see themselves as professionals and not as workers. They have little interest in union activities or view the union as merely a service agency.
4. Some faculty want to advance in their careers and become highly-paid administrators. While remaining members of the faculty, they will support and even help administrators implement their programs and policies even if they are detrimental to the interest of other faculty members.
Other faculty members embrace the “reform” programs of the powerful. For example, at CCSF, many faculty have focused their energy on CCSF fulfilling the perceived demands of the discredited ACCJC even though, were they fulfilled, there is no guarantee that the ACCJC would grant CCSF full accreditation.
5. Full-time teachers with tenure are relatively privileged in our society and make an income far greater than most workers. This leads to a reluctance to “rock the boat.” Some may be scared of losing their jobs, and decide that conforming makes the most sense. They can also hold the reasonable belief that there are not readily available alternative forms of employment that provide a similar level of pay, especially if they are older. This concern is heightened if they currently live from paycheck to paycheck.
6. Many will claim they are too busy and do not have the time to get involved, especially if their work load had been increasing. Others will claim they are too exhausted.
The structure of Community Colleges in California has many built-in limits to what can be accomplished locally by even a powerful faculty union. For most, including CCSF, the budget is largely decided upon by the state government, and shapes much of what can happen in bargaining. The content of faculty contracts is negotiated/decided upon at the district level. That accounts for variations in pay from one of the 72 districts to another.
There are also many divisions among faculty within a district. Perhaps the biggest is the divide between full-time faculty and underpaid part-timers who have little job security. Management can easily play off one set of faculty against the other.
Unfortunately, even within the ranks of part-time faculty are divisions between those highly dependent on their teaching job/s for their livelihood and those who are gainfully employed at other jobs or own a business. Those making most of their money elsewhere may view a part-time teaching job as a side job done for non-financial reasons and/or enjoyment, and may have little interest in fighting to improve working conditions.
Further eroding the time that part-timers can devote to job-related struggles and to what they can achieve in a single district is that some teach in more than one district. These faculty members are called freeway flyers or road scholars because much of their time is taken up racing from one school to another.
A further problem faced by AFT 2121 is that it represents only faculty. There is another union that represents most of the staff and a third organization that represents department chairs, even though they are considered faculty. Greater success could be achieved by having one big union at the college representing all workers, or at least with greater coordination and cooperation among the various unions.
All of the above has resulted in weakening and undercutting the struggle against the attempts to transform and downsize CCSF and threaten it with closure.
Conclusion: Democracy and What Needs to Happen
Some institutions evolve towards greater democratic practices. Others can regress. What can appear to be a fully democratic institution is often an illusion. A union/institution can take on the form of some democratic practices/characteristics, but be lacking in substantive democratic practices in which members have an equal voice over the decisions being made that impact their lives.
The democratic practices of some unions are ahead of others. For example, in the Contra Costa Community College District, at least in the past, whenever any election was held, part-time faculty were given a colored ballot because, unbelievably, their votes counted for 1/3 of a vote of a full-time faculty member. (Ironically, the class I taught in that district was on American Democracy.) By contrast, leaders of AFT 2121 are chosen in elections in which each member has the right to cast a full vote.
Members of AFT 2121 can voice their views at meetings and criticize the decisions of leaders. Presumably, leaders view these and other practices as sufficient for claiming that they oversee a close to fully democratic union.
The above practices are insufficient because AFT 2121 has a union structure and practices that prevent members from being fully in charge of making decisions that impact their lives at CCSF. To make AFT 2121 more democratic, members will probably need to create an organization (there currently isn’t one) to challenge the practices of the leadership. Such an organization would face obstacles such as the entrenched culture and well-organized institutional power of the current leaders who, in recent elections, have run as a slate of candidates to further ensure they achieve a victory and remain in control.
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Democracy requires that decision making power is ultimately in the hands of members and is constantly being exercised by them—an occasional election and being able to express one’s views is insufficient.
To become more democratic, unions need leaders who are willing to give up any power they possess that is not derived from the will of their members, and who are constantly subject to being replaced if that is desired by the majority of members.
Unions committed to instituting greater democratic practices need leaders who play a major role and make suggestions that guide their members. At the same time, the leaders need to institute full democratic practices by seeking to put power in the hands of their members. By doing so, the union itself will become more powerful.
Will greater union democracy place faculty at CCSF in a stronger position, and enable them to more effectively preserve their jobs and improve their standard of living? That is unclear—politics is complicated and full union democracy would only be a first step for accomplishing what is necessary.
However, failure to do so will leave faculty in a weak position with many, under the current circumstances, losing their jobs. Those who keep their jobs will presumably be forced to do more work for less pay. The college will likely continue to be downsized and/or transformed in a way that renders it much different compared to how it was before the accreditation crisis began.
In the meantime, despite all of the union efforts against the ACCJC with help from some Democratic and even Republican politicians, the ACCJC is still in a position to determine CCSF’s future. Additionally, CCSF continues to be run by an administration that has a highly questionable approach to education as it focuses on faculty being more “productive,” with larger classes, and on imposing cuts to implement its austerity policies.
* * *
To counter the negative trends in education, strong leadership in statewide organizations, especially from unions, is necessary to remove current policies that restrict what local unions can achieve for their members and the community in which they are located. These organizations need to stop the practice of supporting most, if not all, politicians in the Democratic Party, especially those who favor the “reforms” that are destroying public education.
More importantly, there is a need to build a mass movement of students, staff, and faculty with community support that fights against what is happening to public education, and that rallies these folks not only locally, but statewide and nationally in an all-out fight for public education and against its privatization and business friendly transformation.
That fight would need to be successful at altering government fiscal policies that keep in place tax breaks and low tax rates for the wealthy, corporate subsidies and bailouts, and that approve the spending of enormous sums on the military, war and prisons which are treated as bigger priorities than public education. Shortchanging public education has resulted in many K-12 schools receiving insufficient funds and in rapid increases in the costs of a college education. This is happening during a time the U.S. is a wealthier society compared to when the costs of college were much lower.
That fight for public education would also need to be successful at altering trends in higher education that rely more heavily on underpaid and easily disposable contingent faculty, while swelling the ranks of overpaid administrators whose jobs are often to impose austerity and force through changes favored by the powerful.
In other words, the organization of higher educational institutions would also need to be transformed.
Ultimately, the fight for public education is a fight for justice and democracy. It’s a fight that out of necessity has to save humanity from environmental disasters and the threat of nuclear warfare, and act to reduce inequality, eliminate poverty, sexism, racism and other social ills. Frankly, its success will require the development of an alternative to a capitalist system.
(Rick Baum teaches at City College of San Francisco and is a member of AFT 2121.
He appreciates the helpful suggestions for this article he received from Ted Hajjajr, Liam McGuire, Jack Gerson and Joelle Deloison.
He can be reached at email@example.com.)
Note: More substantiation for the contents of this article can be found by accessing the footnotes with the resolution.
1. In a private meeting during the California Federation of Teachers convention in San Francisco in March 2016, held between American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and delegates to the convention from AFT 2121, Weingarten referred to Obama’s educational policies as “corporatist.” She did not use that word when addressing the entire convention.
2. On SLOs see page 19-20 in current version of ACCJC Gone Wild at www.accreditationwatch.com
4. See table 6 on Occupations with the most job growth, 2014-24, and the education level needed athttp://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ecopro.pdf
5. The possibility of glutted labor markets is recognized by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
See his column at: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/reich/article/College-degree-not-the-only-route-to-middle-class-6156899.php
Reich discusses what can be the uselessness of a college degree if the intention behind getting educated is to get a good paying job. He advocates for colleges having programs that provide “a world-class system of vocational-technical education” with community colleges playing a leading role. For Reich, “businesses could be advising on the technical skills they’ll need, and promising jobs to young people who complete their degrees with good grades.”
Note: The program Reich envisions does not guarantee jobs upon graduation. It only promises jobs and the promise would only be available to those “with good grades.” Reich, a strong advocate for the Sanders candidacy for president, is demonstrating the utter inadequacies of liberal reformers.
6. Given that the SSTF’s title is for “student success,” opposing it faces an obstacle. See pages 6, 8, 9, and38 at: http://californiacommunitycolleges.cccco.edu/Portals/0/Executive/StudentSuccessTaskForce/SSTF_Final_Report_1-17-12_Print.pdf
8. See San Francisco City Attorney’s legal brief filed against the ACCJC http://www.sfcityattorney.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/City-College-of-S.F.-legal-challenges-presskit.pdf especially the title on page 21: “ACCJC Evaluates City College In The Midst Of this Heated Fight And Sanctions City College In Retaliation For Embracing And Advocating A Different Vision For California’s Community Colleges Than The ACCJC Itself” and subtitle on page 23: “Evidence of ACCJC’s Retaliatory Motivation.”
9. For detailed information about the ACCJC, read the book length article entitled ACCJC Gone Wild by Marty Hittelman who is the former President of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT). Find it and other information at: www.accreditationwatch.com
10. ACCJC 2012 Evaluation Report pgs. 37 and 18 at: http://www.ccsf.edu/ACC/Accreditation%20Evaluation%20Report%202012.pdf
11. Go to: http://datamart.cccco.edu/Students/Student_Term_Annual_Count.aspx plug in Districtwide search for San Francisco CCD, and term search for Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 terms.
12. The decline in enrollment cannot be solely attributed to the accreditation crisis. Others factors include the economic boom in San Francisco that results in fewer people having a need to receive more/new training, the increases in rental housing prices that few community college students can afford and that drives them out of San Francisco, an online enrollment system whose numerous navigation difficulties have discouraged students from completing the process and enrolling in classes, and an administration policy instituted during the accreditation crisis (suspended for the Spring 2016 term) that removes students who have enrolled in classes prior to the start of a term if they fail to pay fees due shortly after enrolling.
13. For annual student count: go to http://datamart.cccco.edu/Students/Student_Term_Annual_Count.aspx plug in Districtwide Search, San Francisco CCD, Annual Search and the Term.
-For state student count totals: plug in statewide, annual and term.
-For faculty, staff and Ed administrators count at CCSF: go to: http://datamart.cccco.edu/Faculty-Staff/Staff_Demo.aspx plug in districtwide search, SFCCD and the terms.
-For pay figures: http://employeedata.cccco.edu/avg_salary_15.pdf for other years, substitute year for 15 in the link before .pdf
14. Decision quoted page 17:
type in case number 533693 and go to Statement of Decision on February 17, 2015
16. Hittelman ACCJC Gone Wild, op. cit.
17. See excerpts of day five testimony of ACCJC commissioners at the hearing in the case brought against the ACCJC by the San Francisco City Attorney at: http://www.cft.org/your-work/community-college/news/924-the-people-vs-accjc-%E2%80%94a-day-by-day-report,-october-27-31.html
18. No longer available—whole statement included here: from AFT 2121 news 10/10/2014
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week AFT National President RandiWeingarten visited San Francisco. During her busy schedule she visited with AFT 2121. She stopped by and spent an hour at our Executive Board meeting. Randi did more listening than talking. She was very interested in understanding the complex accreditation struggle we at CCSF are involved in. She has a clear understanding of the implications of our struggle against the ACCJC, not only for CCSF, but for California and the nation as well. She made a commitment from the national AFT to do what was necessary to keep City College open and accessible and to rein in the rogue ACCJC.
While she was here, Randi, along with CFT and AFT 2121 leadership, met with Minority Leader Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. It was a productive meeting where Randi and others updated Leader Pelosi on the latest shenanigans of the ACCJC from the Herrera lawsuit to "Restoration Status." We emphasized the devastating impact that the ACCJC and administration policies have had on students, faculty and staff.
It was wonderful to have Randi visit and show her continued solidarity with all of us at CCSF.
19. See the first public comment at just past 12 minutes into this video of the CCSF Board of Trustees meeting at:
http://ccsf.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=601 and http://www.aft2121.org/2016/07/aft-2121-files-grievance-over-class-cancellation-policies/
20. This part of the complaint could have generated much negative publicity. The press could have depicted the complaint with a headline: Teachers Expect to be Paid for Not Teaching Classes—No Wonder CCSF is in a Crisis.
22. Here is an excerpt at the bottom of an article in the San Francisco Chronicle in which CCSF’s Special Trustee expresses discouraging words to potential students just before the start of the Spring 2016 term. Seehttp://www.sfgate.com/education/article/CCSF-executive-Art-Tyler-resigns-amid-controversy-6744005.php
“We were in a retreat yesterday talking about the number of administrative vacancies and (Tyler’s resignation) makes it a little worse,” said Guy Lease, the state-appointed special trustee hired to help the college come into accrediting compliance.
He said the college has 19 open positions but that it’s hard for City College to hire and retain administrators while its future remains uncertain.
“We’re not a very attractive partner right now. People don’t know if we’ll be open a year from now,” Lease said. “And it’s expensive to live here.”
23. For history of pay cuts since 2009, see the bottom of the page at: http://www.aft2121.org/contract-salaries/
24. When informed of the need to request a committee assignment, I immediately put in to be on the committee dealing with the resolution. Shortly before the convention, I received a notice that I had not been assigned to a committee.
25. I assume this article will not endear me to the leaders of my union. It will either be ignored or I will find myself attacked for, among other things, distorting the record and fomenting disunity. I would also expect to be attacked for not being a good soldier and helping out with the work being done.