BY RICK BAUM
For the Fall 2019 term, the administration at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) made drastic class cuts to address a claimed deficit of as much as $50 million. There were about 15% fewer classes than the previous fall term with the number of part-timers going from 868 in 2018 to 766, with many keeping their jobs having a reduced schedule.
What the administration refuses to acknowledge is that their policies have exacerbated the deficit by discouraging students from enrolling, which is the key source of state revenue to the college.
Initially, almost 10% fewer classes, 2,190, were scheduled for Fall 2019 compared to 2,432 for the Fall 2018 term. In mid-summer, long before the start of the fall term, the administration prematurely cut many of the scheduled classes claiming they would not reach the 20-student minimum required under the faculty union contract.
However, many students do not enroll until right before or even after the term starts. Hence, many of the cut classes would have reached 20 students had the administration allowed more time. Last year, one of my classes had enrolled only 7 students ten days prior to the term start date. Fortunately, that class was not prematurely cancelled. By the second week of school, 24 students had enrolled.
The administration justifies cutting classes early claiming that students will have a chance to find another class. However, many students have tight schedules and can’t or won’t enroll in another class.
Administrators will also claim that if they wait to cut classes until after the term starts, students will be less likely to enroll in another class. This should come as no surprise because by then, many classes are fully enrolled.
The cancellation of scheduled classes results in chaos and the loss of potential students. A more reasonable approach is to let classes run with only 15 students, the past minimum requirement. This ensures the integrity of the schedule and of the college. Students are not lost.
Many of the cuts were irrational. Classes have been cut that historically have large enrollments and bring in more money than they cost to run. By cutting these classes, the administration increases its claimed budget deficit, which becomes an excuse to cut even more classes in the future.
Fourteen Human Biology classes were offered for the Fall 2018 term. In Fall 2019, only 10 were scheduled. Two weeks before the start of school, all 10 classes were full with some having waitlists. What do students do who need this class—enroll at another college or wait a term or two? This results in many potential students being turned away and probably deciding to forego enrolling at CCSF. Revenue is lost.
The department chair did not view fewer Human Biology classes as a problem since other Biology classes can fill a transfer or graduation requirement. He wrote:
By restructuring the number and timing of the Human Biology sections and directing students to these “other” biology course options, I was able to have full courses in several different areas of Biology with fewer students remaining on the waitlist than in past semester. It was a win-win for our department and the college.
These wins are a loss for the students on the waitlist. Furthermore, we do not know how many students, when trying to enroll in Human Biology, never bothered adding their name to a waitlist.
A most troubling example is what happened to an Aircraft Metals class. It was fully enrolled with a full waitlist two months before the start of the term. As described by the faculty union, AFT 2121:
…the administration ordered the department to make cuts, in spite of high student demand, and in spite of the 25% reduction that the department had already suffered…Instructor Wai Lam, a mechanic for United Airlines, says his employer is constantly hiring qualified mechanics, but now, instead of stepping into those high-paying jobs at the end of the fall term, his 25 students must wait until Fall 2020 to take his class and qualify for those jobs.
The CCSF administration intentionally and/or as a result of its incompetence has discouraged students from enrolling by not fixing the college’s problematic online registration system. For years, even some faculty using this online system have been unable to register for a class. During three recent terms, the add system failed to work during at least part of the first day of classes.
The CCSF administration also discouraged fall enrollment by not making the printed class schedule available until after students enrolled in the spring term left for the summer. Furthermore, as stated on the college’s website, they only distribute the schedule to each campus and San Francisco’s Main Public Library. They do not bother distributing it to branch libraries or other popular venues in San Francisco.
Additionally, the cover of the printed schedule does not clearly indicate it’s a schedule of classes! The biggest letters on the top center of the Spring 2019 cover was the confusing word “TenaCity” with each set of four letters in two different fonts and colors. In smaller and thin print at the top were the words class schedule. For recent terms, the cover picture is of one young person with an indecipherable background and no indication that the individual is a student.
The Spring 2018 schedule lacked a banner on the cover letting people know that San Francisco residents pay no tuition. There was such a banner on the Summer 2018 schedule when free tuition was unavailable.
Unsurprisingly, a faculty member on the college’s enrollment management committee recently posted that “Our overall FTES [the source of most of the college’s revenue based on the number of units students are taking] is 11% below last fall. We have fewer empty seats but also fewer students.”
These results demonstrate that the administration is wrong to claim that classes can be cut yet enrollment can increase. Remaining classes are fully enrolled resulting in them being unavailable for other students. Less revenue is generated. The administration will then use the lower revenue as an excuse to subsequently schedule even fewer classes that would have been taught by part-timers.
CCSF’s students are predominantly working-class students of color. The cuts reduce their educational opportunities and reinforce and perpetuate structural racism. Nevertheless, the administration claims to put students first and to be in favor of student equity efforts which are obviously undermined by large classes.
CCSF is likely to be entering a continuous downward spiral in which classes are cut so less revenue is generated prompting the administration to cut even more classes each term. The college is being simultaneously downsized and, with more of the remaining classes being put online, college property will become more available for private “developers” who lust after the limited property in what may now be the wealthiest city in the world.
During the fall 2019 term, despite the claimed deficit, the administration tried to secretly push through a massive pay increase for itself even though their average salaries are among the highest in the state. Had the salary increase been enacted, according to AFT 2121, some administrators would have had a raise of as much as $100,000. A pushback resulted in a “reduced” 10% raise.
In mid-November, out of the blue, the administration announced a new deficit of $13 million. To “solve” this deficit, without consulting department chairs or others, they unilaterally cancelled almost 300 classes listed in the printed Spring 2020 schedule that were mostly to be taught by part-timers. The Older Adult Program lost 90% of its classes. In some of these classes, people learn how to maintain their balance and prevent falls. The loss of these classes will presumably result in shortening their lives.
A grassroots emergency funding campaign was launched calling on the city of San Francisco to provide $2.7 million to restore the cut classes. So far, it is being supported by 7 of 11 supervisors, but is facing a veto threat from the mayor. A decision will soon be made.
CCSF’s chancellor has harmed this campaign by sending an email to city officials discouraging them from providing any money, an act that one might expect would lead to his immediate dismissal. That has not happened.
The chancellor did issue an official statement in November on this new deficit writing, “Finally, we continue to focus on additional revenue opportunities including growing enrollment, …and leveraging District real estate assets.” (emphasis added)
The college is being run by a Chancellor who will often say what people want to hear—that he seeks to grow enrollment. However, the reality is that with the support of the elected Board of Trustees, the actual policies show that there is a greater interest in downsizing the college, selling-off its property, cutting classes and the educational opportunities of students, and reducing programs and classes that are mainly taught by part-timers.
Rich Baum has been a part-time instructor teaching Political Science at City College of San Francisco for over twenty years. Since the early 1980s, he taught in eleven other colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has published articles that can be found online at Counterpunch, Monthly Review, and New Politics.