By Ellen Yoshitsugu
There were patches of tall weeds on the Ocean Campus and Cloud Hall looked semi-abandoned, but inside the building the classrooms were full of students. College was in session, but the third week of in-person learning revealed some problems with the complex business of getting the school’s physical and digital systems up and running smoothly.
Across the college’s centers, classified employees staff in-person services, maintain online infrastructure and computers, provide health services, keep the buildings operational, provide campus security and more. A lack of people in classified positions, due in part to layoffs and retirements, contributed to some significant problems as the campuses reopened after the pandemic closure.
Short staffing is a big issue everywhere, not only at the colleges and schools that the large union local represents across northern California, but at the cities and counties they represent as well, said Jenny Smith-Camejo, spokesperson for SEIU Local 1021.
At the Link Center, a small computer lab in MUB 301 that is home to community health worker certificate programs and the Way-Pass program for formerly incarcerated women, students have been unable to login to the RAM portal since early August.
Students can “login, but once they click the RAM portal to add a class or drop a class or change to pass no pass or a grading option, any activity within their RAM portal cannot be accessed. And that’s a ticket,” said Andrew Ciscel, a management assistant for the health education department.
Ciscel said he has filed two help desk tickets, called and emailed the help desk many times, and talked with them in person. He reached out to other student computer labs. “Somebody said they have like 800 open help desk tickets,” said Ciscel. “Apparently all student computer labs have the same ‘image’ that is out-of-date. Student lab computers haven’t been updated since pre-pandemic.”
“They are just overwhelmed and don’t have the staffing,” according to Ciscel. However, a staff person at the IT department said that they are fully staffed and “doing the best they can.”
Ciscel said that with so much of the school online now, the student labs really need to be functional, especially for the students who don’t necessarily have computers or smartphones.
Before the Labor Day holiday some students created a flier calling on students to contact Chancellor Martin and ask him to fix the problem immediately. Regina Islas, a student in the community healthcare worker certificate program, wondered when there are so many help desk tickets, then how is it decided which ones are done first?
“That an essential student service is not given priority is mind-boggling,” said Islas. “This is disenfranchising the students who rely on the labs.”
The cleaning and maintenance employees, who also are classified staff, have been struggling too.
“We still have the same number of buildings to cover, even if there are fewer people in them,” said a custodial staff member. “We still have to open, lock, secure and clean those areas.
We can’t keep up a good level of cleanliness and safety in the buildings if we don’t have the staff to do it.”
They explained that if there is no plumber available to fix a clogged toilet, then an entire bathroom needs to be closed. If the sewer line backs up then an entire building might need to be closed forcing students to use a restroom in a different building.
“We shouldn’t have dirty windows, dirty floors and dirty restrooms at City College. It’s frustrating,” they said.
Eleven custodians were laid off last January, and a few more have retired or resigned since then, according to a document, presented at the Board of Trustee meeting on Aug. 25.
According to those interviewed for this story, there were not enough classified employees in several departments to provide some essential services for City College. It did not appear that the college was seeking to hire more.
A number of administrators have not responded to emails or phone messages. The City College chapter of SEIU 1021 declined to comment for this story.