By Sara Bloomberg
The City College community was shocked in July when the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges threatened the school with potential closure but how to move forward is proving just as controversial.
At a special meeting on Sept. 11, the Board voted 6-1 to invite a so-called special trustee to help get them through the accreditation process but a group of around three dozen students and Occupy supporters vehemently disagreed with the decision.
They demanded the board reject any special trustee and, after the board voted, called for their resignations.
If the board had voted no that night, the state chancellor’s office would have imposed a special trustee who would be given far greater powers to override the board’s decisions—a fate experienced by Compton Community College before their accreditation was revoked in 2006.
Trustee Chris Jackson was the sole dissenting vote on the board that night.Although he isn’t opposed to a special trustee on principle, he expressed uncertainties about the process, including the cost to the school, the time frame of the contract and the role that the trustee would play.
“I have some serious concerns,” Jackson said as the audience cheered. “I would like to know what the procedure is to remove the special trustee.”
Protesters insisted that there is a third option and denounced the presence of any special trustee as fundamentally undemocratic.
“The responsibility of the Board of Trustees if they really want to respond to saving our school is to say, wait a second everything going on here is illegitimate,” City College student Eric Blanc told The Guardsman before the meeting began.
“We need to slow down and reassess how (…) we’re actually going to be able to save our school and what we need to do to fix the problems, including the funding problems, which are coming from the state,” Blanc said.
After nearly half an hour of emotionally charged public comments, demonstrators initiated an occupy-style “mic-check.”
Police officers began shoving the demonstrators, many of whom were students, out of the room, while the majority of the board and the chancellor simultaneously fled out of the room for a recess.
Protesters took over the remaining vacant chairs and slammed down the president’s gavel and voted to commence a “People’s Board of Trustees.”
Jackson and his fellow trustees Anita Grier and William Walker stayed in their seats and watched and listened as the protesters voted to appoint themselves as the special trustee.
They also called for solidarity with the teachers’ strike in Chicago.
“This is a very difficult decision I have to make. While I can’t do what I really want to do, I certainly felt that I could stay and listen to what students were saying,” Grier told The Guardsman as the rest of the board and the chancellor filtered back into the room and reclaimed their seats.
Even after the board reclaimed their seats to resume the meeting, protesters formed a semi-circle around them.
They chanted “shame on you” after the board cast their votes and called for all of them, except those who they said had sided with students and workers that evening, to immediately resign.
But not everyone agreed with their tactics that night.
The audience eventually asked them to sit down, a request which they respected, and the board continued to discuss and eventually passed a new budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
SEIU Representative Angela Thomas spoke for nearly five minutes, ignoring the two-minute public comment rules, and yelled at the students as she accused them of being selfish and short-sighted.
“Where were you when my people were taking cuts?” she asked them. “Put your attitudes in check. I don’t have time to fight folks that ain’t my enemy.”
“I got to get to March 15,” she continued, referring to the commission’s final deadline for the board to prove that the school deserves to remain accredited. “None of us here are happy. None of us.”
The SEIU represents non-instructional workers, including technology staff, custodians and administrative assistants.
In a moment of light-hearted banter, Board President John Rizzo offered Thompson an I.O.U. for staff raises.
Alisa Messer, president of the AFT local 2121 which represents faculty at the school, also spoke beyond her allotted two minutes and asked the protesters to think twice about their demands and tactics.
“We support CTU,” Messer said, “but their situation is not simply our situation. It does however speak to what’s happening to public education and educators all over this country and we need to continue to work on that together” as instructors, workers, students, board members and San Francisco residents.