By Victor Tence
Protesting the cancellation of a collaborative leadership development class, members of La Colectiva de Mujeres (The Women’s Collective) disrupted City College’s Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 25 with a sing-in. As the trustees returned from the closed session portion of the meeting, the group entered the main room carrying large signs and approached the trustees while singing loudly.
The cancelled labor and community studies class 104A, Work Tales, focuses on helping students craft their personal experiences and challenges at work into a narrative to be shared with the public. While the class was open to all students, the majority of those enrolled came through partnerships with unions and community organizations such as the Day Labor Program, of which La Colectiva de Mujeres is a partner.
La Colectiva de Mujeres was founded in 1991 to bring immigrant workers off the street corners and into safer, more dignified environments. Members are provided opportunities to work, training in better work conditions, safe and effective cleaning techniques, and understanding of their workers’ rights.
Bill Shields, chair of the Labor and Community Studies department and instructor of the cancelled class, also participated in the protest. He called the cancellation “an attack on our students and our program,” and criticized the inconsistent application of the administration’s policy on low-enrollment class cancellation.
Tom Boegel, Interim Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, said the class was cancelled because only eight students were enrolled at the time. “A determination was made that enrollment was not likely to rise significantly in the last few days of registration.”
However, in an email dated Jan. 12, Shields told Boegel and Yee that 25 students were ready to enroll upon reactivation of the class.
Shields said the policy for cancelling low-enrollment classes has been applied inconsistently across departments.
“Some deans are saying, ‘you got this date to get this many students.’ Other deans are saying, ‘go ahead, build your enrollment.’ Jill Yee was particularly harsh on this. It’s unfair because it’s not consistent and we know of several classes below 10 students that weren’t let go,” Shields said.
Yee declined to comment, saying she was instructed by the administration not to take any interviews or answer any questions.
Shields said that he and community groups invested in the class were shut out from meetings to discuss reactivating the course.
Members of the San Francisco labor movement see the school’s handling of this class as an affront to the work and support that unions have provided City College in the past.
In a letter addressed to Chancellor Rocha, Mike Casey, president of the San Francisco labor council—which includes City College’s American Federation of Teachers Local 2121—wrote, “The labor movement threw down heavy over the past few years to keep City College accredited and help drive the free City College movement… and this is how college administrators re-pay that support?”
Jeff Hamilton, a City College spokesperson, said, “Tom Boegel, has reviewed the situation and determined that the decision is consistent with our procedures regarding the monitoring of Spring 2018 class enrollments and the AFT collective bargaining agreement.
Boegel also declined to comment for this story.
For five years, the Work Tales class was an integral component of the collective’s leadership and advocacy training. The class provided a space for the women to tell their stories of coming from Latin America and trying to establish themselves in the U.S., often without documentation. Two members of the collective who had previously taken the class, Erica Chavez and Lordes Dobarganes, used what they learned to share the story of their struggles at an immigrant workers’ rally in Washington, D.C.
“The class helped us express that we—domestic workers—exist,” Dobarganes said. “We are human beings and we deserve respect. We want to be visible.”