Opinions & Editorials

City College’s Lack of Transparency is a Training Ground for Journalists

By Renée Bartlett-Webber


After only two months of studying journalism at City College, I have discovered that this is likely one of the best places to receive a journalism education. The school has changed drastically over the last few years due to layoffs, mismanagement of budgets, accreditation challenges and more. No heat in classrooms, unintended consequences of layoffs and cuts to classes are just a few stories I have been able to chase down this semester. In addition to unending newsworthy stories, I am faced with the classic obstacles of accessing information, when those in power don’t want you to find it.


Part of journalism is finding the truth through interviews and accessing public information. City College is a public institution that is funded by your tax dollars and therefore has certain legal obligations to provide this information. While it’s easy to find meeting agendas, minutes and approved/rejected action items through BoardDocs, there is substantially more information that the school is required to provide upon request that is almost impossible to access.


With the school’s deferral to rehire a Public Information Officer after more than a year, and no contact information on their public information page, journalists have to resort to the directory to get ahold of the people and information. We must search through the many departments and employees to get to the person who we believe will be able to get us the information we need. Because there is no one responsible for providing us this information, our requests are often left unanswered. San Francisco Sunshine Ordinances require any public records request to be fully answered within a maximum of 24 days, but because there is no one person responsible for receiving and fulfilling these requests, it’s hard for us to even make requests. While it is technically required for a public institution to have a custodian of records, the only way to enforce it is through a lawsuit, which is time- and money-consuming. 


City College does not seem to be unique among community colleges to lack transparency. In fact, Laney College has started the process of suing their administration for that exact reason.

“An Opaque Policy of Opacity” Illustration by JohnTaylor Wildfeuer/The Guardsman


In the process of interviewing faculty, board members and administration alike, I have found a consistent pattern: no one (who is willing to talk to me) is fully knowledgeable on the overarching changes and further implications of our school. Some faculty have asked only to be used as information sources without publishing their name for fear of losing their job. Faculty members who do speak with me are the most cooperative and have offered the most complete information they can, but it often needs follow up from the decision makers. Board member responses to interview questions have ranged from “I’m not sure” to “I will have to be briefed on that before I can answer these questions.” Chancellor David Martin seems to be the most informed and most vocal in pushing decisions through, but he has tactfully avoided speaking to myself or any of my colleagues as far as I understand.


Martin did briefly appear to increase transparency when he held a community budget forum on the 2023-24 budget. However, those in attendance soon found out that this meeting replaced individual budget meetings for all constituent groups, those of whom did not have a say in the agenda. Of particular interest, Martin refused to meet with the local faculty union, AFT 2121, and the classified union, SEIU 1021.


While I do not applaud the obstacles obscuring access to public information, it has certainly provided me with great training that will help me navigate similar challenges in our democracy.


Thank you, City College, for creating such a dramatic environment for me to learn how to overcome bureaucracy and lack of transparency in public institutions. The skills I’m learning to creatively get around the obstacles that impede discovering the truth, I know will truly help fuel me in my journalism career.


The Guardsman