Cry for help unheeded at CCSF 

click to enlarge Pamila Fisher, former CCSF leader, quickly appealed for help to save the school's accreditation, but emails show meaningful aid didn't arrive until Brice Harris became state chancellor in November. - BETH LABERGE/2012 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Beth Laberge/2012 S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Pamila Fisher, former CCSF leader, quickly appealed for help to save the school's accreditation, but emails show meaningful aid didn't arrive until Brice Harris became state chancellor in November.

Three days after receiving word that City College of San Francisco would receive the most severe sanction issued by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, interim CCSF Chancellor Pamila Fisher asked state education officials for help.

She didn't get the help she sought.

"I know everyone is trying hard to help City College," Fisher wrote on July 6, 2012. "But getting a report 6-8 weeks following field work may be too late to be of real assistance.

"We have only 3 months to prepare a feasible plan. We are facing huge political resistance from just about every constituency. There are things that need to be said by an outside neutral reviewer. That would at least help provide an easier beginning to some very tough discussions, let alone decisions."

Fisher hoped to hasten a review of school finances by the state's Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team. When the team's report eventually arrived in mid-September, it supported the commission's earlier criticism of CCSF's finances and overall viability. Eleven weeks earlier, the accrediting commission had found fault with many aspects of college operations, giving officials there one year to implement 14 separate reforms or face the effective closure of the school.

But by the time the team's report finally arrived, battle lines were already in place at CCSF, where campus opinion was overwhelmingly hostile to the commission's recommendations, which spanned everything from finances to planning, governance to technology resources. Within months, college trustees had adopted a new mission statement and created a plan to track student learning. But more controversial ideas, such as changing the school's administrative structure, met with resistance. Even today, the college is still negotiating with two of its unions.

This political climate ultimately produced a series of reforms deemed insufficient by the commission, which now intends to pull CCSF's accreditation next July unless the college successfully appeals the decision.

In email correspondence between CCSF and administrators of the California Community Colleges system — which were obtained through to a public records request by The San Francisco Examiner — Fisher was the only official to display an initial sense of urgency.

When reached by phone, Fisher declined to comment on the emails, directing all questions to the current administration. But the record shows her request to expedite the state's review of CCSF finances went unheeded.

In fact, the emails released by the state Chancellor's Office suggest that system officials didn't write to CCSF administrators again until more than a month later, when state Chancellor Jack Scott asked the school's board of trustees to request a special trustee to advise it.

"This model is viewed favorably by the Accrediting Commission as evidence of substantial commitment to improvement," Executive Vice Chancellor Erik Skinner wrote on Scott's behalf.

Scott's advice seemed to be a straightforward way to provide CCSF with help. But the recommendation did not arrive with all the information needed to persuade trustees to give an outsider veto power over their decisions. The absence of such information led to a two-week delay as the elected board members asked questions.

"All said they supported it but the most resistant one lobbied his colleagues to give the public more time to give input about it," Fisher wrote to Skinner with alarm. "They raised all kind of questions such as who selects the special trustee and who pays for them and how long do they stay and can they kick them out when they want. So I am supposed to get them more answers."

A review of all these accreditation-related emails between campus and system officials — and, later, the office of Mayor Ed Lee — suggests that meaningful assistance did not arrive until current California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris replaced Scott last November. Shortly thereafter, the volume of communication increased significantly as state officials began a concerted campaign to help save CCSF.

Email records also show city officials were informed of City College's plight. Lee's office appears to have begun corresponding with the state chancellor in October, long before CCSF students and faculty upset with the commission's ruling began publicly lobbying The City to step in.

State legislators were also kept up to date, but while many sought information regarding City College, a CCSF official griped that few took action. According to one email from Skinner to Fisher's replacement, Interim CCSF Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman, the reaction at the Capitol remained, "CCSF got itself into this mess, they need to fix it. No excuses. No bailouts."

College administration and state officials have vowed to move forward with a road map for improvement. Work to improve the college continues as they review and appeal the July 3, 2013 decision to terminate CCSF's accreditation.

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Wednesday, Sep 28, 2016

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