by Jandean Deocampo
The conference room looked more like a war room scene from a movie than the site of a City College Board of Trustees meeting.
Cameramen checked their machines. Soundboard technicians busied themselves over dials and switches.
They were all waiting. Waiting for the hush, the brief silence that would signal Board President John Rizzo to announce the beginning of the Jan. 24th meeting.
A crowd of 20 consisting of spectators, faculty, students and journalists gathered behind the elevated red seats and square tables reserved for the Board and their guest, California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris. Harris attended the meeting for one reason: engaging with local leadership in a conversation on the issue of accreditation.
“Please stand,” said Rizzo, after everyone had settled, signaling the assembly to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. After the pledge, the Board made a few routine decisions on the nature of their agenda, and immediately invited Harris to speak.
Harris took his seat, faced the Board and delivered the disheartening news from a prepared letter.
“Many of our community colleges are facing significant challenges,” he told the Board. “I can assure you, however, that no other community college in the state is in the same peril as City College.”
Harris focused the speech on two facets of accreditation–City College’s documentation of their problems, and the warnings that the Commission gave. Harris closed his speech by urging the Board to work with Interim Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman and Special Trustee Robert Agrella, as well as acknowledging the hard work the college faces.
“It is time for City College to come together to ensure the survival of their college,” Harris said. “I believe there is reason for optimism, as the college works to accomplish the improvements in its planning, policies, programs and finances that will ensure continued accreditation.”
There were a few replies from the Board.
Among assorted thanks from Trustees Steve Ngo, Natalie Berg and Lawrence Wong, Student Trustee William Walker included his concern for transparency of Board and state decision making in relation to the student body.
“There’s a lot that I know, that the 85,000 students of the college do not know,” Walker said. “It would be really helpful in the future if there were some type of resource for students (to help them stay informed about accreditation issues).”
Harris then took his leave and the board meeting resumed.
Toni Mendicino, an Administrations Assistant at the University of California, Berkeley, disagrees with Harris’ statement that City College is not, in fact, too big to fail.
She also feels that the commission was “scapegoating,” or using City College, as an example to other institutions in the state.
“In the most expensive city in the country, outside of Manhattan, we need a working class school,” Mendicino said. “It’s really important to show the Board that the community cares very much about what happens to City College.”
In an interview with The Guardsman, Harris offered his own thoughts.
“The Accrediting Commission is made up of us,” Harris said regarding general resentment toward the commission. “Those of us who are leading colleges, voluntarily go to the commission and ask them to look at our institution. We decide what standard to hold ourselves to.”
Harris wouldn’t comment further on the issue of whether or not City College is too big to fail but acknowledged concern for all three of the schools currently under the “show cause” sanction.
“We have a special trustee in a couple of other locations, with institutions on the same level of sanction as San Francisco,” Harris said. “The way we interact with them may be different, but the approach we take is similar. I think that I am equally concerned with all of our institutions.”
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