City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is currently threatened by cuts that would reshape the institution as it stands.
On Friday, March 12, some 150 employees and students of the college as well as its community allies gathered at City Hall for a pink slip rally (with a concurrent online press conference drawing over 500 participants) to let the city know what would be lost with such cuts and to fight for much-needed investment in public education.
Both the online and in-person events were led by AFT 2121, the union that represents CCSF’s teachers, counselors and librarians. According to the union’s president, Malaika Finkelstein, the proposed cuts would eliminate 20-30% of CCSF’s academic program, resulting in the erasure of entire departments —such as Philippine studies, the only dedicated program of its kind in the country — as well as around 500 layoffs of faculty and staff, herself included.
“Everyday San Franciscans are served by City College,” Finkelstein explained in an interview. “We train the nurses, paramedics, and firefighters that make the city function; construction workers, hotel workers, chefs, and restaurant workers all come out of City College. You don’t get to live here and not be touched by the school.”
Friday’s in-person event featured an art installation, and its speakers ranged from current students and faculty members to local allies who stood up to share stories of the college’s impact on their lives: chants encouraged the crowd to stand up and fight back and a poem called “The Heartbeat of City College” was read by Tehmina Khan, an adjunct professor of English at the college.
Besides letting the city and its community know what’s at stake, Finkelstein said of Friday’s event that “We also want to show some of the best of City College. We want to show some of the joy, and some of the poetry, and some of the spirit that is our college — because that disappears in the stories sometimes.”
City College also touches the lives of Mills students. Grace Hirschfeld ‘22 took two summer CCSF courses before coming to Mills. One was a sociology course.
“[It] was the most amazing class I have ever taken in my life,” she said. “CCSF is a great [place] for people from all walks of life to be empowered through a free education.”
AFT 2121 initiated the legislation that led to CCSF began offering free tuition to residents of San Francisco in 2017.
“San Francisco understood at the time that education is something worth supporting,” Finkelstein said. “And it’s not just worth supporting, but worth fighting for and worth investing in.”
Hirschfeld is not the only one in her family who has been impacted by the college; her father and brother have also attended.
“CCSF is a chance at a fresh start for many people like my brother, who fell off the train academically in high school due to a concussion,” she said. “[He] now attends UC Berkeley because he was offered a fresh start at CCSF.”
CCSF provides a path for students, like Hirschfeld’s brother, to four-year institutions like Mills. With cuts of entire departments — women’s studies is another at risk — the college’s array of classes in a wide range of subjects would become much more limited, and even some English classes required for degree-seeking students would be severely impacted.
But CCSF provides more than degrees and training of San Francisco’s essential workers: classes in art, music, dance and languages educate San Franciscans like Hirschfeld’s father, Burt, who is currently working towards a film certificate that he may not be able to complete if cuts are made to the cinema department.
“For people who already have a degree, [CCSF] enables them to go back and explore areas and subjects that they didn’t previously have exposure to,” he said.
Longtime CCSF dance instructor, Kathe Burick, led a chant at Friday’s rally: “Arts classes are for the masses!”
Several homemade signs featured scissors and a common phrase used in action against layoffs: “These cuts won’t heal.”
Current CCSF student, Win-Mon Kyi, who takes classes in Asian American studies, believes that investing in public education a matter of priority.
“The pandemic gives new context to what’s being prioritized in our education, and to the programs that we need [in order] to survive and help workers and students,” Kyi said.
Amidst a global pandemic, cuts to CCSF would threaten the nursing program.
“They’re saying that our RN program won’t be able to take new students next spring,” Finkelstein said at the rally, prompting a long “boo” from the crowd.
While these proposed cuts would devastate the college and the city of San Francisco, the chronic underfunding of education is a statewide — even national — issue that should concern those beyond San Francisco, according to Kyi.
“This is an issue that’s important for students from the East Bay and Southern California to way up north and in the Central Valley,” she said.
Underfunding is especially pressing within the state’s 116 community colleges, Kyi continued. But students in all education systems have so much at stake, she urged.
“Their education [and] their livelihood [are at risk]. Coming together is required to fight against these cuts and these mass layoffs.”
The urgency of the current moment persisted throughout Friday’s action.
“We’re in an economic crisis, we’re in a global pandemic,” Finkelstein said. “This is exactly when the city needs education. Education is necessary for the recovery of San Francisco.”