Death by 1,495 Cuts
Chancellor Mark Rocha’s plans to change City College ended hundreds of educators’ careers, as well as his own
Story by Meyer Gorelick
Profiles by Steven Ray
Illustrations by Jennifer Yin and Bobby Ramirez
In the name of budget balancing, Chancellor Mark Rocha cut over 1,400 classes and 300 teaching positions over the past three years, yet City College of San Francisco still finds itself in financial turmoil.
Rocha, who resigned on March 16, targeted part-time teachers by either reducing their course loads or eliminating their positions entirely, and made unilateral decisions without student, faculty or community input, gutting and sometimes eliminating entire departments.
Days before Thanksgiving, on the eve of registration for the spring 2020 semester, Rocha’s administration eliminated 345 classes to address a $13 million budget deficit. This “midnight massacre” was the latest in a series of cuts that rocked the CityCollege community.
Supervisor Shamann Walton attempted to restore those classes with a $2.7 million bridge fund, but Rocha wrote an email to the Board of Supervisors urging them to allow administrators to handle budget issues internally. He framed the class cuts as part of a long-term plan.
Due to Rocha’s email, the bridge fund fell one vote short of a veto-proof majority among the Board of Supervisors, and Mayor London Breed struck it down on Valentine’s Day.
“Using General Fund Reserve dollars as a band-aid for long-term structural problems does not help City College,” Breed wrote in her veto message. She said the problem requires a more long-term solution.
“It was one of the hardest conversations that I’ve ever had. It’s not how you envision the end of a 40-year career.” — Anna Asebedo
Rocha’s solution, referenced in his email, never came to fruition. In March, the City College Board of Trustees approved a $340,000 resignation settlement to be rid of him once and for all.
“I will miss guiding the College through its challenges, but believe this is the right time for me to prioritize my family who needs me,” Rocha said in a press release after his resignation.
The college and the Board of Trustees declined to comment on why he resigned, citing that they are not allowed to discuss personnel issues.
His departure came after a series of harmful actions toward the college he was appointed to guide and serve, including the midnight massacre and his rejection of bridge funds.
The entire metal arts department was cut, all but two of 54 older adult department courses were wiped out, the engineering department was reduced by 40%, and 43 art department classes were axed. Part-time instructors were hit especially hard.
“What they want to do is be in the classroom being really good teachers. Having to just fight to get to the starting line to do that is really taking a toll on our morale,” says AFT 2121 President Jennifer Worley.
Many instructors aren’t just losing morale, but losing their jobs entirely. Despite their fight, some didn’t make it to the starting line at all this spring.
These cuts, as did the hundreds made before the midnight massacre, disproportionately impacted part-time faculty, many of whom lost their healthcare benefits and/or their livelihoods. The lack of forewarning left teachers like Anita Toney, Anthony Ryan, Kari Orvik and Dierdre White hurt and reeling. Steven Ray profiles these four instructors who were impacted, in the story below.
Although the spring semester cuts were framed as part of a thought-out plan, nothing was shared with faculty or students and the cuts were pushed through at the last minute.
Even the Department Chairperson Council, which must be consulted before any change to curriculum, wasn’t given any warning. It was a clear breach of
Worley says AFT 2121 knew that the shortfall existed when the spring budget was proposed. They spoke to the administration about it, but their warnings fell on deaf ears.
“The big problem with the cuts from our perspective: A: was that they happened. B: that they were completely planned. They were foreseeable but presented as unforeseeable. And then C: that they were done in such a targeted way,” Worley says.
She believes the administration chose to wait to address the deficit until the final hour and made cuts in an inequitable way, without any stakeholders at the table.
“They created a crisis, and then at the last minute targeted programs that they wanted to get rid of.”
Months before these latest cuts, Rocha’s administration got in hot water for another last-minute proposal, this one intended to line pockets atop the academic hierarchy. They proposed six-figure raises for administrators this past fall. In many cases the pay increases were over 100% higher than the previous year.
“I’m appalled, I’m outraged and I’m angry,” student Claudia Anderson told the Board of Trustees at a meeting in September 2019. “I don’t object to administrators getting a raise. I object to the way it’s not transparent—and the amount.”
In the end the raises were not approved. Yet the fact that they were slipped into the proposed budget at the last minute while part-time teachers were losing their jobs and benefits upset many City College community members.
Multiple department chairs say it is unfair and incorrect to chalk up the deficit to teacher salaries, when enrollment is paramount to funding, and eliminating programs limits the amount of courses students can sign up for.
“We’re funded by the state based on our enrollment,” Worley says. “Cutting classes, cutting faculty, that means we’ll have less enrollment,” which means less funding.
“I was panicked, because I was counting on both the health insurance and the salary.”
— Kari Orvik
“An analogy if you were talking about your personal finances would be: well, my commute is really expensive, so I’m just gonna go to work two days a week,” she adds.
Enrollment went down about 7% for the spring semester.
Worley says eliminating classes is an unacceptable solution, “We want to maintain full programs … not shrink them down and then have to put the resources back into building them all up from scratch.”
This wasn’t the first college where Rocha drew the ire of faculty and students. In 2014, he stepped down as president of Pasadena City College, after receiving two votes of no confidence from faculty there, and one from the Academic Senate, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Pasadena City College faculty cited his failure to consult with them regarding major decisions. Enrollment dropped nearly 13% during his tenure there.
Despite this, he was brought on in 2017 as chancellor at City College, when the Board of Trustees voted 6-1 to appoint him, ignoring vocal opposition from AFT 2121. He had more experience than other candidates and trustees felt that he had learned from his mistakes and was prepared to lead City College.
Less than three years later, the Board reversed course, this time voting 6-1 to approve his resignation settlement. Rocha received one year’s salary and benefits, six months less than he was entitled to, and an additional $35,000 in unused vacation pay and compensation for certain unspecified expenses. The agreement means neither party can file suit against the other in the future.
City College will be paying Rocha and a long-term interim chancellor for the next year as it grapples with its significant financial issues.
City College’s underfunding dates back to the accreditation crisis that began in 2012. Former vice president of the Academic Senate and Department Chair Council Madeline Mueller has been music department chair for 35 years and has seen administrations and crises come and go. Mueller says this current budgetary purgatory the college finds itself in began when the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, ACCJC, commenced a five-year attack on City College, which nearly resulted in its closure.
Mueller is not alone in saying that the accreditation crisis was a first attempt at forcing City College to abandon its mission and become a junior college. She believes recent cuts made by Rocha’s administration reflects a similar hostility to the community college model that is trickling down from the state level.
In 2013, the ACCJC announced that they would revoke City College’s accreditation the following year. Mueller says they fabricated an excuse to come in and threaten accreditation.
The action against City College was the most egregious example of a pattern of harmful behavior, as the ACCJC had imposed sanctions on 60% of California’s Community Colleges.
The ACCJC faced scrutiny from the local to the federal level and was immediately hit with three lawsuits from faculty, students and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
Herrera argued in his injunction that the commission allowed political bias to influence their decision. Several members of the commission and ACCJC President Barbara Beno were supporters of the Student Success Task Force, a statewide initiative to shift schools from the community college model to the junior college model, limiting college access to students who aren’t seeking to transfer to a four-year institution.
City College is the epitome of a community college, serving older adults, English as a second language students, full-time workers and various lifelong learners.
In January 2017, the ACCJC announced that City College would retain itsaccreditation, but the damage had already been done.
Enrollment dropped by nearly a third in those five years, from 83,401 in 2011-12, to 58,239 in 2016-17. Due to the financial model for funding of community colleges that existed in California, this took a significant toll on state funding for City College. It dipped 9% in the first year of the accreditation crisis alone.
A new funding formula was implemented by the California Community College State Chancellor’s office in 2019.
The new Student Centered Funding Formula from the state allocates 70% of funding based on enrollment, 20% based on service to low-income students, and 10% based on student success in terms of achieving degrees and transferring to four-year schools.
Shifting the emphasis from enrollment to additional criteria poses a significant challenge to City College. It limits funding for non-credit classes and punishes the school for serving community members who are not seeking transfers, a large part of the student population at City College.
The formula’s calculation for low-income students is based on qualification for Pell Grants, and doesn’t take into account the cost of living in San Francisco. City College students may be scraping for rent, but they don’t fit the state’s definition of low-income. A coalition of Bay Area community colleges are working to amend this part of the formula.
Giving extra funding to schools for serving low-income students should be an incentive, not a punishment, and at the K-12 level in California it is.
“They say ‘we’re funding you 100% but if you serve lots of low-income students you’ll get a little more,’ but for community colleges, they say, ‘well if you don’t serve lots of low-income students we’ll fund you less,’” says Worley.
To increase enrollment, the Free City program was implemented in 2017. There is a misconception that this program has contributed to the current financial crisis, when in fact, the program is entirely funded by an annual allocation from
San Francisco’s general fund.
Enrollment has only increased to about 62,000 students since the program was first implemented, a far cry from the robust enrollment of 90,000 the school had 10 years ago.
City College students may be scraping for rent, but they don’t fit the state’s definition of low-income.
Stability funding from the state was put in place as a buffer to the financial impact of the accreditation crisis, but that ran
out in 2017.
Trustee John Rizzo says the debacle City College finds itself in is due to the end of stability funding combined with low unemployment rates. He says this typically corresponds with lower enrollment at community colleges. This theory will be put to the test with unemployment skyrocketing due to COVID-19.
Former chair of the older adults program, Dr. Wood Massey, voiced his concerns about what these cuts will do to the mental health of older adults at a press conference in December, held to protest the demolition of the older adult education department.
“Isolation is a killer. These class cuts will kill older adults,” Massey says, referencing the dire consequences of taking away what could be an older adult’s only connection to community.
There are efforts underway to address the budget shortfalls at the state and local level. Supervisor Gordon Mar is spearheading the Community Higher Education Fund, CHEF, which should appear on this November’s ballot as a City Charter amendment guaranteeing $42 million in funding for classes and student services. It would secure permanent funding at the city level to supplement the recent decline in state funding.
“CHEF is a way for us as a city to show that if the state is no longer supporting these community-oriented classes, we as a city are going to invest in community college to make sure it continues serving the needs of our community,” says Mar’s Youth and Education Policy Legislative Aide Alan Wong. Wong is running for a seat on the City College Board of Trustees in November.
AFT 2121 has gathered over 2,000 signatures for a state initiative to restructure corporate taxes to secure additional funding for education. As of now,
corporations like Walt Disney have not had to pay their fair share in property taxes. In November, the hope is that this protection will be repealed, generating billions of dollars for public education in California. This combined with the
CHEF fund would contribute about $50 million annually for City College,
according to Worley.
With Rocha out, new leadership on the horizon and sufficient long-term funding in the works, perhaps this institution, maimed by hundreds of small but significant cuts, will begin to heal.
Then City College could once again be the beacon of opportunity for every San Francisco resident, including the community’s most vulnerable.
On May 8, short-term Interim Chancellor Dianna Gonzales wrote in a newsletter that City College faces a possible $27 million reduction in state funding due to COVID-19, and further shortfalls due to a reduction in local revenues. She wrote that several part-time instructors were notified that they will not have classes for the fall 2020 semester.
Anita Toney, Printmaking Instructor, Art Department
Anita Toney invested 40 years of her life in teaching art, first at San Francisco Community College and then at City College of San Francisco when the two merged in 1990. Her career evaporated on Nov. 20, 2019 when she was among dozens of part-time faculty cut loose with no warning.
“One of my students sent me an email saying that she could not find my class on the online schedule. This was very peculiar as days before, it was there,” she writes via email. Toney first thought it was a computer glitch. Later that day she found out through a conversation with her department chair that the cut was real.
Despite making a 12% reduction in its class schedule, cutting 863 classes for the 2019-20 academic year last January, City College had a projected $13 million shortfall heading into the registration period for the spring 2020 semester, according to the San Francisco Examiner. The school administration chose to eliminate that shortfall by cutting faculty salaries and benefits.
Just days before Thanksgiving, and the day before spring registration opened, the school cut an additional 345 classes, without warning the City College community nor consulting its 46 academic chairs. The cuts were a gut punch, hitting part-time faculty especially hard.
“I was outraged,” Toney says. “The unprecedented last-minute massive cut was a blow for me and my students. I could not believe it was really happening. Many of my fall students had planned to continue with a second semester and were quite devastated.” She says she has no way to replace the lost income.
Art Department Chair Anna Asebedo recalls the day she had to break the news to Anita Toney, “It was one of the hardest conversations that I’ve ever had. It’s not how you envision the end of a 40-year career.”
Anthony Ryan, Printmaking Instructor, Art Department
A lonely washout booth sits in the former screen printing room at Fort Mason, waiting for students who can no longer make use of it. Much more is now stored away, gathering dust.
The screen printing class was taught by Anthony Ryan, one of 107 part-time faculty members who were impacted by the cuts. Ryan lost his only class at City College. Due to the timing, he didn’t have an opportunity to make up the difference by being hired to teach at another school.
Ryan was brought on in 2015 to create the Screen Printing program at Fort Mason Center. He and colleague Robin Kaneshiro dedicated months to building the studio from the ground up, for no pay. They acquired equipment, worked with Buildings and Grounds to build print stations and with Disabled Students Programs and Services, DSPS, to improve accessibility for disabled students.
He taught Beginning Screenprinting and Intermediate Screenprinting for seven semesters in addition to teaching a summer printmaking class and continuing education classes in the studio. His classes were popular, filling up every semester with additional students being waitlisted. Ryan was a finalist for a full-time position in 2018.
Thinking of all the effort put in to get the class up and running, Ryan says of the cancellation: “It is just a very cold-hearted thing to do to professionals who are committed to the institution.”
“It was more than a job for me,” he adds, “To be able to donate my time and my expertise and to offer free classes and screen printing, in the city that I live in. What can be better?”
His wife had to take on more hours at her job in order to help cover expenses after his class
Ryan feels that City College is losing something special with these cuts. “It represents decades of people investing their time and energy into building this thing, you know, that’s important to the community. And it feels like that’s being squandered,” he says.
Constantly being devalued by the administration, “It just kind of wears you down,” Ryan adds.
The printmaking class gave him stability. He could count on this one class that he really loved.
To make up for his lost income, Ryan wants to offer workshops on his own. To that end, he’s taking a small business course online at—you guessed it—City College.
His studies will be put on hold though, as all business department courses have been removed from the summer class schedule.
Kari Orvik, Photography Instructor, Photography Department
For the fall 2019 semester, lab hours in the photography department were cut so severely that Kari Orvik, a part-time instructor and lab supervisor, lost her health insurance. When the sudden late-November round of cuts hit, she lost her job.
Orvik was hired in 2017 to teach Beginning Photography after being a student in the photography department from 2000-2004. She also worked as a lab supervisor. Additionally, she taught self-portraiture and introductory design classes. In the spring of 2019, one of her classes was cut, but she was able to keep her benefits through her work in the lab. The following fall, her lab hours were cut enough that she lost her eligibility for benefits.
When the spring 2020 schedule came out, Orvik was set to teach two beginning photography classes in addition to being a lab supervisor, which would be enough to renew her benefits.
During this time, she paid $650 a month for continuation of her healthcare through COBRA, as she was under the impression that she would be eligible for healthcare in the spring.
Then the week before Thanksgiving, her entire spring schedule got wiped out. She was told that her classes had to be given to teachers with more seniority.
“At first, I was panicked, because I was counting on both the health insurance and the salary. But, then I was pissed. I was really angry at the timing of it. This was something that had been coming down the line that was going to impact so many people and they waited that long to let people know.”
As with Ryan, the timing didn’t afford Orvik the opportunity to apply for teaching jobs elsewhere.
Providing a view into the lives of part-time teachers, City College Teachers Union AFT 2121 President Jennifer Worley says “the thing that was so egregious, just from the point of view of workers, was that this happened in late November. We would have gotten our spring class schedule in late September or October, so that we know what we’re teaching.”
Based on this understanding, teachers would accept or turn down offers to teach additional classes at other institutions. Because of the timing of these cuts, it “was too late to get other work. They suddenly had the rug pulled out from under them, and in some cases, it meant they lost their health insurance and lost their kid’s health insurance, so that meant they were really suffering,” said Worley.
Orvik had changed careers from the nonprofit world to photography because City College offered her the chance to go to school while working full time. It allowed her an affordable and accessible way to explore and develop her creative potential.
To be able to return as an instructor “is really powerful,” she says. “It was something that I was really looking forward to being able to do for a long time.”
Orvik has a lot to give back, as do the other instructors at City College. “They’re dedicated to their students … and it’s really a shame,” she says.
Orvik has supported herself through teaching, exhibiting her fine art and growing her portrait business with private commissions in an effort to replace some of her lost income, although that work is unpredictable. Teaching had given her a way to cover her basic expenses. She expressed dismay at the loss of that revenue for artists, allowing them to both cover their expenses and have an opportunity to share their expertise.
The Bay Area is a visually-oriented nexus of art, media and technology, but the school’s place in it seems to be lost on the administration. Their decision to remove art classes from the curriculum “is a disconnect,” she says.
Deirdre White, Art Professor, Art Department
Deirdre White has taught a variety of classes including painting, figure drawing, and mixed media at City College since 2005. She and her husband lost their health insurance when her figure drawing class was cut in November. Not only was her annual income halved, she’s now paying about $450 per month out of pocket for Covered California.
With the cancellation of all summer session studio classes, she, like Ryan, will be left with no summer income. Fortunately she is teaching two spring classes at the University of California, Davis, and was hoping to pick up more classes at other institutions going forward, but with the COVID-19 shutdown, nothing is certain.
“In the past few years, things started to stabilize a little bit, after the accreditation crisis of 2008 and I got insurance here,” White says. “I didn’t feel like I had to panic all the time, every year about, okay, what’s my projected income? Where am I going to be working? Am I going to be making enough?”
Then in November, “Just when everything felt like I could finally relax and breathe, the rug was pulled out from underneath me,” White says.
She found out that one of her classes was cut in an email on Nov. 19 from Art Department Chair Anna Asebedo. White had just bought her husband an iPad for his birthday. “I remember that ‘cause I was feeling kind of flush and I was like, ooh, I’ll buy him an iPad because I’m not worrying about money right now,” she says.
When she got the email from Asebedo, White was in disbelief. Toney, Ryan, White and Orvik feel the same. “We’ve invested so much in our students, and we have too much at stake to abandon them,” White says.
“The department and everybody cares about City College. It’s such a microcosm of the city in such a special way that you can’t not be invested in it … It’s an abomination to take these classes away,” she adds.
Professor White had accrued enough seniority in recent years to expect a teaching load large enough that she would qualify for healthcare benefits through the school. She said the administration did not like that. According to White, they cut faculty with benefits claiming they couldn’t afford them.
When asked if she felt targeted, she responded: “Absolutely.”
She, like Ryan, feels devalued, as though “you don’t deserve a safety net or to feel secure.”
She is anxious about the future. “I don’t know what’s coming up in the fall,” she says. Beyond her UC Davis classes, White has nothing lined up.
“One of the hardest things is to just go to work and pretend like everything’s okay.”
The already-stretched finances of part-time faculty will be stretched further by the pandemic. Making ends meet in an already expensive city will be that much harder.