Students Struggle to Be Included in Campus Democracy

 

By Claudia Drdul

claudiadrdul@gmail.com

 

City College provides a number of ways for students to get involved and shape the direction of their school, but for many students, the labyrinth of committees and organizations remains difficult to understand or participate in.

Marcos Cruz, a founding member of City College’s Student Assembly, formed the assembly to build a student-centered space for democratic participation, instead of using already established spaces like the Associated Student Council (ASC). 

Cruz has collaborated with ASC in the past, but has also criticised certain structural issues which prevent student participation through already formed systems. 

Both Cruz and Student Assembly member Win-Mon Kyi agree that if the Student Trustee position was paid and received a counted vote on the Board of Trustees, students would feel a greater sense that their choices affect decision making on campus. “I think we should have more student trustees…more student votes in there, not just one,” Cruz said. 

Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations (CCR) states that “the governing board shall not take action on a matter having a significant effect on students until it has provided students with an opportunity to participate in the formulation of the policy or procedure or the joint development of recommendations regarding the action.” 

Although the CCR says that “one or more nonvoting students” should sit on the Board of Trustees (BOT), Student Trustees do “not have the right to vote and shall not be afforded the right to vote by a district.” This means that City College’s Student Trustee Bryan Daly plays an advisory role while all other members of the board have their votes included in the official count. 

The advisory vote itself is not actually considered to be a “right” but in fact a “privilege” that the local board of a college can choose to enact.

Lack of Student Participation

Commonly referred to as the “Nine Plus One” rule, the education code lists 10 different areas of which districts must receive student input on, including “curriculum development,” “courses or programs which should be initiated or discontinued,” and “student services planning and development.”Student seats on Participatory Governance Committees (PGC) fulfills this requirement. 

However, student participation in these committees is considerably low. Five PGC committees have one student serving on them and three committees have zero students serving, as listed on City College’s website. 

According to Student Chancellor Drew Min, PGC seats are “not the only committees” where student seats need to be filled. There may be upward of 80 unfilled student seats including those on the Academic Senate and several city oversight committees. 

PGC meetings are typically two hours in length and occur once a month between 1 and 5 p.m. during weekdays. Students, unlike administrators whose attendance is part of their job description and most faculty who receive reassignment time, are not monetarily incentivized to fill these positions.

Cruz, who has attended several committee meetings said, “you shouldn’t expect a student to just waltz in and know what’s going on or what to say, when it’s a voluntary position.” He added, “I’m not saying we have to pay people like we pay administrators to be in the PGC’s, but it could be a college credit, it could be a scholarship… just that students are compensated one way or another for the time they put in governing for other students.”

Student-led Initiatives

Project Survive and CCSF Collective member Vick Chung feels the system of governance of City College is top down — suggestions are made by students, but the BOT decides, regardless of student input. 

In order to combat this, Chung has been organizing Participatory Governance Orientations in conjunction with CCSF Collective and the Higher Education Action Team (HEAT) in order to fill spaces on various campus committees. During the month of November, Chung held several successful orientations and has a list of 21 students waiting to be appointed to committees. However, this process is not simple. 

These students must be appointed by the Associated Students Executive Council, which is a part of ASC leadership, so that a recommendation can be made to administrators on their behalf. However, for students to be appointed, the meeting convened must reach quorum, meaning that the minimum number of council members (currently nine) must be present in order to approve appointments.

Chung believes that “because so many decisions [are] constrained to meeting quorum and being on the agenda” measures are not always passed in a timely member. Part of the incentive for students to join committees is priority registration, which for the Spring semester, has now passed. 

ASC President Angelica Campos believes the key to students participation in these areas is “to empower students to feel comfortable speaking in these spaces.” 

Alongside Chung, Campos is working on a plan to connect students with faculty members who already sit on these committees using a mentor-mentee program.

Obstacles to Change 

ASC itself also has historically low turnout rates for their own elections. On Sep. 24 and 25 special elections were held to elect student government representatives to three unstaffed City College locations. Chinatown President Ziqing Yu received 8 votes, Evans President Paul Nguyen received 9 votes and John Adams President Orlando Galvez received 18 votes. 

In Spring of 2019 the election for Student Trustee, a position which represents students across all City College campuses and center received between 200 and 300 votes, according to Min. 

Low voter turnout rates can be attributed in part to a culture of nihilism across campus. “I think it’s easy to see City College as a place that you just pass through and never look back on your way to a UC or on your way to a job. But the truth is that a lot of people at City College do spend a lot of time here and a lot of things they do are more community oriented,” Cruz said. 

However, both Chung and Campos relate low participation to the overworking and underpaying of ASC representatives. Chung asked, “how can a student go to school full time and be asked to be a part of ASC?.”

Ocean Campus ASC members are required to work 15 hours per week, but only the President and Vice President receive scholarships at the end of their semester. 

“A lot of this is free labor,” Campos said, and is working on a resolution so that senators also receive a scholarship for their time and effort. 

Although ASC is typically the structural forum for student participation, student organizer Jess Nguyen believes that “you cannot break the master’s house with the master’s tools.” 

Although she believes students are using avenues like public comment at BOT meetings meetings and working within ASC to pass resolutions, she says a change to the student constitution is necessary to “reflect student ideals and voices”. 

 

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