The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

San Francisco Community College between Two Enemies

Jun 9, 2014

For almost two years, San Francisco Community College, the largest community college in California, has been under a state of siege. In July 2012, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges dropped a bombshell. It put the college under a “Show Cause” status, the highest level of sanction short of stripping it of accreditation – saying to the college, “Show us why you shouldn’t be closed.”

The commission found no problems with the college’s quality of education. On the contrary, it praised the college for the quality of its educational programs, libraries and counseling services. Instead, the commission condemned the college for a “lack of governance,” that is, mainly for running a budget deficit.

Funding Slashed

Of course, the main reason for the deficit was the fact that over the previous three years, between 2008 and 2011, the California state government – with Democrats in control of both houses of the state legislature – slashed funding to all its community colleges. This forced those colleges to drastically reduce the number of classes that they offered, while carrying out mass layoffs, causing enrollment throughout the system to plunge by hundreds of thousands of students.

But apparently, the class reduction at San Francisco Community College was not as severe as at other schools – which led the commission to threaten to close the entire school. So, the chancellor of the state community college system appointed a “Special Trustee with Extraordinary Powers” in order to supposedly “rescue the college.”

He proceeded to cut programs and classes drastically. Enrollment was quickly slashed from close to 90,000 down to 80,000 students. Hundreds of teachers and staff were forced out. Poorly paid part-timers took the place of many full-time staff. And everyone – except top administrators – was forced to take big pay and benefit cuts.

Democrats Pretend to Rescue

The Accrediting Commission continued to threaten it would yank the community college’s accreditation. At that point, some Democratic Party liberals intervened. In November 2013, the San Francisco City Attorney filed suit against the commission. In January 2014, a Superior Court judge granted an injunction to keep the community college open through a trial, now set for October 2014.

But even if the community college is allowed to remain open, it continues to shrink under blows coming from two sides.

Attacked by Private Interests and False Friends

On the one hand, San Francisco Community College is under a full attack by the Accrediting Commission, a private company that operates under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Education. In fact, the commission is little more than a stalking horse for some of its big financial contributors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is pushing the same kind of agenda at community colleges as it has at K-12 schools – that is, to increasingly gut and privatize education. The commission also gets financial support from the Lumina Foundation, which is funded by the biggest student lender, Sallie Mae – which obviously has every interest to push more and students out of community colleges into expensive private schools, in order to sell more student loans and make a greater profit.

But on the other hand, there are the false friends in the Democratic Party who promise to “save” the college and keep it open, even while they have imposed one budget cut after another, bleeding the community college system of money and resources.

For the working class population that depends so much on the community college system, this is a fight for the education, job training and culture that the capitalist class continues to try to take away.