By Alexander Tidd
Typically, being a member of any college or university’s board of trustees means taking on a good deal of responsibility for the school, faculty and student body’s well-being. However, City College’s Board of Trustees finds itself in an arguably precarious position.
With their power stripped by the California Community Colleges Board of Governors last summer, these officials have been forced to find new ways to continue to serve the school.
The Board of Trustees typically meets at least once a month to address various issues brought on by students, faculty and the public at large.
Now the trustees are taking on more individual roles, finding their own ways to make an impact on one of the country’s largest community colleges.
“Special Trustee (Robert Agrella) has taken on all our responsibilities. There are no board meetings anymore,” John Rizzo, City College Board of Trustees president said. “So I’ve been doing other things. I was highly active in the search for a chancellor, for instance, which was about a five-month-long period to find Chancellor Art Tyler.”
Despite being officially stripped of his power, Rizzo does his best to stay informed and involved.
“I want to keep up to date on what’s going on so I’ll go to semi-public meetings the college has, like a budget presentation they did in September,” Rizzo said. “I’m taking notes. I also went to a governance meeting, where a lot of matters are discussed. I want to keep abreast on what’s going on with City College.”
Rizzo also meets with Agrella to weigh in on selective issues.
“I keep in touch with the special trustee to find out what’s going on and give my opinion sometimes, if I think I can help,” Rizzo said.
Despite the broad breadth of knowledge encompassed by the board of trustees, Rizzo feels they are unlikely to return to power any time soon.
“There are many variables involved, but I think before [reconvening the board] can be considered, the accreditation question has to be settled,” Rizzo said. “As we get closer to getting our accreditation back, I think the idea of a board will rise. To be accredited, the college needs a board, so a board will be reinstilled at some point, but I think we won’t really know until a decision on our appeal is reached.”
With a timeline for a return to power relatively uncertain, other trustees are following Rizzo’s lead in finding alternative methods to positively influence City College.
“Since we aren’t meeting, it’s more about individual activism, individual advocacy,” City College trustee Chris Jackson said. “I recently sat on a panel with the Latino Democratic Club, just talking about what’s going on at City College and what the impact will be on folks who live in the Mission and the Latino community.”
Jackson feels it is of paramount importance to keep San Franciscans informed about events as they unfold.
“We are going out there, educating the community on City College and, quite frankly, some of the negative impacts that this accreditation process and current administration will have on students and on the community at large,” Jackson said.
At the top of Jackson’s list is making sure the public is aware that, as it stands now, the plan of action requires downsizing courses offered and even the potential closure of several campuses in order for City College to restore its accreditation.
“I strongly believe we are in an era where they are trying to downsize our college. They are trying to ration our education and cut back on what we offer. We have historically been a college who has offered non-credit courses like ESL and GED courses. A wide variety of classes to a wide variety of people in a wide variety of communities here in San Francisco,” Jackson said.
“The current administration, the state and the accreditation commission don’t want us to do that. They want us to focus on students transferring to four-year colleges and universities, and they don’t want us to focus on so many students.”
Jackson said he feels that most troubling of all is the prospective closure of several City College campuses, which would mean potentially denying higher education to communities who need it most.
“There is a proposal coming down the pipeline to close the Southeast campus, the Alemany campus,” Jackson said. “The Southeast campus serves a historically low-income, African-American community. There are no other academic institutions in the area, and some students can’t travel because of safety issues and because of general-life issues. To deny an academic education to that community is very worrisome.”
For these reasons and more, trustees like Rizzo and Jackson see it as their duty to do all they can to ensure the best possible outcome for City College and its community.
“What we are doing is getting out there, advocating to save City College and all it stands for,” Jackson said. “And that means saving City College the right way. We are making sure we have a mission statement that is inclusive, a mission statement that is representative of our values as San Franciscans. We are out there talking to our community and making sure they know we can fight, we can advocate and we can put pressure on folks to change what is happening.”