By Emily Margaretten
Invoking a sense of déjà vu from the proposed faculty cuts of last spring, the District announced a plan to layoff 50 full-time faculty members and five administrators for the 2022-2023 academic year, citing the need to balance its budget deficit and appease external accrediting agencies.
The plan would result in the layoff of more than 300 instructors, as labor regulations stipulate that part-time faculty must be laid off before full-time faculty in departments slated for reduction.
Given that there is a budget surplus this year, AFT 2121 President Malaika Finkelstein described the cuts as unwarranted. “The college does not have a budget mandate for these layoffs,” Finkelstein said.
Chancellor David Martin discussed the college’s finances in a virtual budget forum that was attended by more than 280 people on Feb. 17. The presentation prioritized the reduction of full-time equivalent faculty (FTEF) as the basis of cost savings for the college.
The chancellor’s budget projected a 30 percent reduction of FTEF, from approximately 1,105 FTEF to 777 FTEF, over the next five years. He linked the downsizing of City College to the state’s implementation of the Student-Centered Funding Formula (SCFF), which uses metrics like student enrollment to determine funding allocations.
City College operates under a Hold Harmless provision that allows it to receive approximately $10 million more in funding than it would receive from SCFF, at least until fiscal year 2024-2025 when the safety net of Hold Harmless no longer applies.
To reach comparable funding levels with SCFF, the college would need to increase its full-time equivalent students (FTES) by 20 to 25 percent or from approximately 16,000 FTES to more than 19,200 FTES, according to the chancellor. He did not foresee this kind of growth happening and said incremental increases to FTES would not help revenue while Hold Harmless was in effect.
Not sold on the Chancellor’s presentation, many faculty questioned the financial figures and called for a process of independent verification.
“I walk in multiple spaces, and one thing is consistently true,” said Patricia Nunley, a professor in the child development and family studies department. “No one trusts us to manage money. So, it seems to me we need a way to independently verify any numbers that come officially from City College.”
Ronald Richardson, an instructor in the English department whose position was threatened by the layoffs, expressed concern about the lack of institutional motivation to increase enrollment and the cyclical role this played in the downsizing of the college.
“There’s no incentive to increase enrollment,” Richardson said. “And so that’s why it’s okay to continue to cut classes, which causes enrollment to fall, which causes us to cut more classes, which causes enrollment to fall, leading us into a death spiral that is going to jeopardize all of our jobs.
In his budget projections, the chancellor referred to findings from external agencies that faulted the college’s deficit spending and cash reserve balance, which was below the minimum floor of 5 percent.
The Financial Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) recommended that the college adjust staffing and other expenditures in a letter to the chancellor last year while the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) put City College on its enhanced fiscal monitoring watchlist.
Faculty meanwhile challenged the legitimacy of these claims. Professor of Music Madeline Mueller pointed out inconsistencies in previous FCMAT and ACCJC reports, including falsified data that later became the basis of the state takeover of City College.
“The 2012 negative accreditation attempt against City College was manufactured,” Mueller said in a letter to the chancellor. “CCSF had no fiscal crisis in 2012 (proven later in two courts of law), plus a subsequent FCMAT Report issued in 2016 that … gave the College a clean bill of fiscal ‘health.’”
Taking matters into its own hands, AFT 2121 created an alternative budget last fall that identified areas where the administration over-budgeted expenses and under-budgeted revenue.
“With AFT corrections and the unexpected state COLA [Cost-of-Living Adjustment], the District is positioned to end the current fiscal year with a surplus AND a fully funded reserve,” the document stated.
Questions about faculty cuts
The methodology the chancellor used to determine which departments would be selected for reduction raised questions as well. “He didn’t actually give us the criteria,” Finkelstein said. “He didn’t compare the departments he chose to the departments he didn’t choose.
“Martin told us he was looking at departments that don’t offer a lot of degrees or certificates in the credit programs,” Finkelstein continued. “Well, he didn’t give us a ranking, and we don’t know how he measured that.”
Colleges that confer more degrees and certificates and have students transferring to four-year institutions receive more funding from SCFF. But if implemented, the layoffs spanning 18 departments would reduce the number of degrees, certificates and transfer credits the college could offer.
Reductions in theater arts and world languages and cultures would eliminate certificates in acting and French while other departments would not offer as many classes to fulfill general education requirements.
“If we reduce our faculty this much, we’ll be shutting students out,” said English instructor Tehmina Khan.
“If we shut them out of English 1A and 1B we delay their degrees and we delay their transfers [to four-year colleges],” Khan continued. “But more importantly we delay the development of these important skills.”
English as a second language (ESL) had the largest number of proposed layoffs, consisting of 7 full-time and 85 part-time instructors. But based on the FTEF budget the administration gave to department chair Jessica Buchsbaum, it would be possible to rehire all the full-time faculty.
“It’s very confusing,” said Buchsbaum. “It doesn’t match up. And there’s a reason for that. It seems the chancellor is expecting to hire those full-time faculty back as part-timers.”
This would contravene educational codes and challenge the sanctity of tenure, according to Finkelstein.
“Tenure is a contract, and they can’t just decide it’s done,” Finkelstein said. “It would be national headlines. City College would be the school that tried to break tenure.
“City College is not ready for that fight,” she added. “And if they think they are, they are very, very wrong.”
When asked if the college would rehire full-time faculty as part-time faculty at the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 24, the chancellor said, “That would be illegal and is not the plan.”
But Vice-Chancellor of Finance and Administration John al-Amin provided a slightly different answer at the Associated Students Executive Council meeting on Feb. 25.
When pressed about the staffing of classes after the layoff of full-time faculty, al-Amin said, “It’s not reclassifying them as part-time faculty if you bring back part-time sections in that area, and they’re on a layoff list. Then you have to offer them that opportunity.
“It’s not about breaking tenure,” he continued.
“So, looking at what schedules are being offered and looking at where we will have part-timers, that will be part of the direction given to the Office of Instruction,” he said.