By Erin Blackwell
Art department Chair Anna Asabedo retires at the end of spring semester, and Amy Diaz-Infante was poised to run the Ocean Campus printmaking shop — until March 3, when along with two other 2018 department hires, she got a pink slip.
As a woman of color with a BA from Yale and an MFA specializing in printmaking from Rhode Island School of Design, Diaz-Infante brings expertise and diversity to the art Department. She is one of 163 full-time City College faculty being laid off to avert a projected shortfall of $33 million at the end of the next school year.
“We have paid for faculty and administrators to sustain a non-supportable class schedule,” said Interim Chancellor Rajen Vurdien in a March 9 press release. “In order for this institution to be able to serve the community and future generations, we must reduce salary expenditures.”
To achieve this goal, full time equivalent faculty (FTEF) will be “discontinued or reduced” on the basis of “least senior,” in “specific disciplines,” according to the press release citing a Feb. 25 Board of Trustees resolution.
Not everyone appreciates the solution promoted by Vurdien. Business instructor Michael Needham identified the structural bias of the administration’s business plan, and explained it in an informative video. Rebuild City College has proposed alternative ways to meet the shortfall that would retain the essential breadwinners, the faculty.
Creation of Chaos and Panic
City College’s art department, popular for its motivational instruction of traditional media, has been struggling to preserve its full complement of disciplines. Last fall they were at a “skeletal” 13 full-time-equivalent faculty (FTEF), according to Diaz-Infante.
“For Fall 2021, it went down to 10 [FTEF],” Diaz-Infante said during a two-hour interview. “Now, on top of that, we’re receiving these pink slips, and this notification that they’re recommending a further reduction of three.” This would leave the art department with seven FTEF, about half the previous year’s allotment.
Numbers are only part of the story. Diaz-Infante ran the spacious Fort Mason print shop until the Board of Trustees voted to close it last summer after 40 fecund years. “All that history, all that space,” she sighs. Now there’s only the cramped Ocean Campus shop, idle since COVID-19 hit campuses a year ago.
Department chairs claim they were not informed of the proposed cuts to full-time faculty, according to Stephanie MacAller of Rebuild City College. The latest last-minute layoffs are eerily reminiscent of then-Chancellor Mark Rocha’s so-called “midnight massacre” of 350 class cuts on the eve of registration for Spring 2020.
“The unilateral cuts were not in consultation with department chairs. It was a unilateral rather than a collaborative process,” said City College Professor Leslie Simon.
As a member of the Academic Senate executive council, an elected body of 29 teachers, Diaz-Infante is frustrated by the administration’s failure to communicate. “It feels like this creation of chaos and panic is a way of carrying out these cuts and reductions without saying, ‘We’re just trying to shrink the college,’” she said. “Instead they’re saying, ‘No, we want the college to grow, but we don’t have the money for it.’”
“That’s the disconnect. That’s what’s frustrating. It feels like we’re not being honest with what’s happening here, in these conversations,” Diaz-Infante said.
Access to Education
Diaz-Infante worries the proposed cuts will negatively impact hard-won diversity. Because the administration is laying off teachers quantitatively, based on seniority, the diverse group of 2018 hires will be the first to be laid off. This is inconsistent with the administration’s stated commitment to equity, according to Diaz-Infante, who said, “Equity is about understanding the inherent disadvantages and discrimination that exist in the system we live in, so there can really be an even playing field.”
Diaz-Infante was born in Salinas, CA to Mexican American parents. “I was a first-generation college student. I was lucky to get a scholarship to a four-year college.” Although Yale University initially said her application would not be accepted without the application fee, instead they surprised her with a scholarship.
“I understand a lot of the barriers our students are facing — being first-generation college students, coming from immigrant families, being students of color, not being represented in the classroom,” she said. “Even though I did not go to community college, my mother raised five kids and worked full-time and took, like, one class a semester for a decade, to get her degree.”
Diaz-Infante sees past her personal pink slip to the big picture. “Is there someone here who doesn’t want a City College? That doesn’t want free education? Is the focus just churning out degrees? And certainly, getting degrees and certificates is part of our mission. Also part of our mission has been to provide education for lifelong learning.”
The passionate printmaker’s questions concern the future of San Francisco and by extension other towns whose community colleges are vulnerable to cuts. “CCSF is the poster child for community colleges, not just in California, but nationwide,” said Chris Weidenbach, English department chair at Laney College in Oakland. “They have been targeted by privatizers and austerity advocates, the way large, exotic animals are targeted by big-game poachers.”
The Donahoe Education Act of 1960 proclaimed the mission of community colleges to “advance California’s economic growth and global competitiveness through education, training, and services that contribute to continuous workforce improvement.”
Diaz-Infante feels these goals are today more relevant than ever. “Why do we not want to have an educated public? Why would we not want people to pursue a career change, or personal development, or growing their personal knowledge? It feels like there’s a bigger conservative push to tamp down access to education. And who can access education.”