By Garrett Leahy
On March 12, roughly 200 City College faculty, union workers from SEIU Local 87, which represents custodians and janitors, and faculty from the College of San Mateo and University of San Francisco gathered in solidarity to oppose City College faculty cuts.
Responding to cuts approved by the City College Board of Trustees earlier this month, those gathered called on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to help save programs and faculty which could be lost come May 15 when cuts are finalized.
As it stands now, no layoffs have actually been carried out, as the City College faculty union, AFT2121, enters negotiations with the college administration ahead of the May 15 effective date of the layoffs. The union hopes to reduce the total number of layoffs and maintain certain programs which are under threat by drastic cuts, including Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS) and English as a Second Language (ESL) departments, slated to be reduced by 40 and 20 percent, respectively.
A large portion of these cuts do not appear on the report issued by the college’s administration, which only lists pink slips issued to full-time faculty and does not include the layoffs of many of the part-time faculty from those departments, according to Malaika Finkelstein, a part-time instructor in the DSPS department and president of AFT2121.
“The full-time layoffs are more splashy because they have to issue legal layoff notices. Part-timers like me, they don’t have to issue a notice, they just do it,” he added. “The numbers are even more extreme with part-timers, we’re talking something like 500 part-timers laid off.”
Although there is no formal record which lists all part-lime layoffs at this time, Finkelstein estimated that a total of 60% of all college faculty will face cuts at the end of this semester based on Fall 2021 budget allocations for all departments at City College.
Rosie Zepeda, Director of Media Relations at City College, said that the claim that City College’s administration were effectively laying off 60% percent of faculty was “misinformation”, saying that it is currently unknown how many part-time faculty would be laid off. Zepeda said that City College plans to maintain all existing programs, and if more full-time faculty are laid off, then less part-time faculty will be laid off so as to maintain staffing for programs, and vice versa. Zepeda added that the number of full-time faculty who will in fact be laid off come May 15 is still also unknown, because that depends on the outcome of the negotiations happening between the union and the administration.
“There’s misinformation saying that we’re cutting 60%, but with the pool of part-timers, we don’t know…whatever the final number [of full-timers facing cuts] is in May, that’s going to have an effect on [the number] of part-timers. There may be some departments that might lose part-timers and there might be some departments that lose full-timers, that number of [part-timers] may have to be increased to maintain the program,” said Zepeda.
As of now, negotiations have only just begun, with the first negotiations open to all AFT 2121 members held on March 5 and the second on March 16 — a preliminary outline was the only apparent result; no proposals have been made. What the union is eager to see, however, is a proposal centered around boosting enrollment based on the use of funds from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), established by the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
“It’s very preliminary, we just need to know where the budget is exactly … we don’t have all the information yet. That’s really where we’re at right now,” Finkelstein said.
In addition to entering negotiations with the college’s administration, faculty called on members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to support the college, namely by securing more funding from San Francisco’s annual budget to be directed towards City College. For the 2020-21 fiscal year, the College received $88,031,470 from local local sales, property, and parcel taxes, and $88,950,176 from the state, according to City College’s 2020-2021 budget.
One department that faces severe cuts is City College’s Phillippine studies department, whose only full-time employee, chair of the department Lily Ann Villaraza, has received a pink slip. According to Villaraza, the department could be severely hamstrung, teaching only a handful of classes after the cuts take effect in mid-May.
“Our department would be able to offer two to three classes a semester, if that,” Villaraza said during an interview held over Zoom.
According to Villaraza, cuts to the Phillippine studies department come at the worst time possible. Seeing the recent surge in Asian American violence in the Bay Area, Villaraza said that classes which teach perspective and understanding about Asian cultures are needed more than ever.
“Several of the last attacks have actually been on Filipinos in San Francisco … what we offer as a department is a space for people to grow their understanding of these communities, but also strengthen their resolve of themselves if they are Filipino,” said Villaraza. “We’re not just an academic department; our faculty, myself and the two other part-timers, we’re engaged with the community.”
District 9 Supervisor Hilary Ronen, who serves the Mission District and Bernal Heights, spoke during a press conference the morning before the rally, affirming her solidarity with City College, and praising the institution as a keystone in economic mobility for lower-income San Franciscans, one that is crucial to the city’s post-COVID recovery.
“It is not okay, at the time we need city College the most to lay off faculty … [we] cannot let this stand,” Ronen said. “I am committed from the Board of Supervisors to work hand in hand with you to make sure that we protect all of the faculty and students at City College.”
She added: “Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because … if we don’t have a strong City College, then we won’t have what we need to in order to come out of this pandemic and rebuild.”
Ronen was unavailable for comment, but her legislative aide, Paul Monge, who works with Ronen on educational policy issues, said in a phone interview that Ronen has called for a hearing to consider revenue-generating proposals for City College, and would involve both AFT2121 members as well as City College administration in coming before the board. The hearing is tentatively scheduled for April 9.
District 5 Supervisor Gordon Mar, whose district includes the Sunset District, said in a phone interview that he trying to expand funding to the Workforce Education and Recovery Fund, a pool of funds drawn from the city’s general budget to be used to bolster the college’s post-COVID economic recovery and will launch in this fall.
The fund was created by an ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors in October, and currently has $500,000 allocated to it, with $100,000 earmarked as money which must be spent on workforce and professional development programs such as nursing and ESL. Mar originally intended the fund to have $20 million allocated to it, but targets were reduced to garner support from other supervisors. Now, Mar seeks to increase funding.
“[The Workforce Education and Recovery Fund] creates a mechanism for the city to invest in City College,” Mar said, adding, “I’m hoping to get a much more significant funding allocation through the city’s budget process over the next three months.”
Mar said that he is uncertain how much larger he wants the allocation to be, but said that the new funding amount, should his proposal to increase succeed, would be effective in July at the start of San Francisco’s next fiscal year.
District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, whose district includes the Richmond District and who has worked for City College in the past as its director of media, also spoke during the March 12 press conference, saying that she is grateful for City College, especially for its ESL program, which her mother, who immigrated from Hong Kong to the US when Chan was 13, took to learn English. Chan’s partner, who is a firefighter for the San Francisco Fire Department, also attended City College for fire science and paramedic classes.
“City College is more than a junior college, it is a community college … my mom, when she came here, didn’t speak a word of English, she took ESL,” Chan said. “City College has meant so much to me and my family.”
Chan had not just praise for City College. Chan also said that she was disappointed with the years-long budgetary crisis that the school is still experiencing, criticizing the state’s funding model which calculates funding allocations based primarily on new enrollment of recent high school graduates and students who transfer to four-year universities, rather than those who enroll in programs aimed at acquiring technical skills, such as vocational training or language classes. Chan also said that the Board of Supervisors should advocate for the college at the state level, specifically around reforming the state’s funding model for community colleges.
“While I really look to the Board of Trustees to guide City College through this hard time … I’m hoping to see how we can advocate for the City College of San Francisco on a state level. I intend to reach out to our state delegates … I do question the existing funding formula,” Chan said. “How can we make sure, especially during this pandemic, how can we channel support to those at community college who recently lost jobs who need to retool their skill sets to find new jobs in emerging industries? The current funding model may not work to fund that support.”
Correction: There was a misspelling of Lily Ann Villaraza’s name in the story. It has been corrected and we apologize for the error.
Fran Smith, Online Editor