Corporate Media Writes the Sound Track for the Attack on City College

By The Research Committee of Save City College

Crowds turn out to support City College despite reams of negative coverage by the San Francisco Chronicle. ©2013 Peter Menchini/Maya Media

The San Francisco Chronicle became the main sound track for the long-running accreditation crisis that hit City College in 2012, publishing scores of articles that set a narrative frame for the San Francisco public, and for other mainstream media. An analysis of Chronicle messaging can serve as a Rosetta Stone for decoding the corporate interests at play in the attack on this top community college.

Closing the Open Door
Since 2012, state laws and regulations have been undermining the “open door” promise of the California Master Plan of 1960—“access, affordability and quality” for anyone age 18 or over. The rationale for this shift was first laid out in a report produced in 2006 for the California Business Roundtable, the powerhouse lobby for the state’s two-dozen largest multi-national corporations, and its allies. “Keeping California’s Edge: The Growing Demand for Highly Educated Workers” was essentially a work order for the California community colleges and the California State University system, specifying businesses’ workforce needs in great detail.1

The report reflected the corporate view that the purposes of education are “meeting the needs of industry” and “maintaining a competitive edge.” With this frame, educational priorities begin to shift. Training in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is elevated. Broader community-centered offerings get cut, including ethnic studies, women’s and LGBTQ studies, arts, languages and humanities, specialized art classes for people with autism, and beginning English classes for new immigrants.

A 2011 report from the Student Success Task Force convened by the California Community College Board of Governors largely reflected this business agenda. Follow-up state legislation, the “Student Success Act,” passed in 2012 despite vociferous statewide opposition led by City College’s students, chancellor, faculty and trustees. The act puts community colleges under 22 new restrictive regulations. As the new policies come on line one by one, they spell drastically narrower college access, mainly limited to 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled full-time in degree, certificate and transfer programs, geared for the corporate workforce.

These reports shaped the themes of the Chronicle’s coverage of the City College crisis, which would sound eerily familiar to readers who follow news of emergency managers taking over school districts and city governments in Detroit, Flint, New Orleans, Memphis, and Oakland, or news about the epidemics of closures of “failed public schools” in Black and Latino neighborhoods across the country.

Preview Tips the Paper’s Hand
More than a month before the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) issued its “show cause” sanction of City College in July 2012, the Chronicle published a preview article. The headline for that June 1, 2012 story read, “S.F. City College can’t afford all its campuses: Trustees may have to close sites to save money, academic standing.” The article quoted the president of the college’s Board of Trustees saying, “I think we’re going to have to close some. They [the accreditation team] think we have too many campuses.” Nanette Asimov, the main reporter on the City College beat, made no mention of the fact that it was highly unusual for an accreditation agency—charged with assuring educational quality—to suggest that a college recoup its academic standing through campus closures.

The June 1 article set up a percussion line that would echo in scores of follow-up stories: City College was simply too big, “a behemoth,” “a vast college,” “a huge school” “that must shrink to an affordable size”; City College had a deadline to step up from being “a bloated, slow-thinking system of nine campuses into a lean, sharp-minded institution of higher learning.” 2

Several weeks after the July 2012 accreditation bombshell, a consultant with the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) issued a report on City College’s financial status, echoing the ACCJC’s narrative about the college’s “profligate finances,” and sparking a new wave of negative news coverage. The Chronicle lent an aura of unassailable legitimacy to both the ACCJC and to FCMAT—“all the experts agree.” A far more critical analysis appeared in Beyond Chron: “Errors, Exaggerations and Bias of the FCMAT Report on CCSF.”3 FCMAT’s official description gives it an air of neutrality. Established by state legislation in 1991, the agency says it exists “to help California’s local educational agencies fulfill their financial and management responsibilities.” But its interventions can be highly political, as in this case; FCMAT also provided the rationale for the 2003 state takeover of the Oakland Unified School District.4

The Chronicle’s coverage unleashed the equivalent of a shock and awe campaign, breathlessly conveying that City College could be closed down by the accreditation commission at any instant, save for the heroic rescue effort now underway by the state takeover. The college had “failed in 14 fiscal and managerial areas.” (October 23, 2012)5 It was near bankruptcy, “so badly managed and fiscally unstable,” “it typically spends more than it has.” (June 29, 2012)6 The Chronicle gave a megaphone to spokespersons who dramatically underscored the need for the swiftest compliance with ACCJC demands: “The clock is ticking,” warned corporate media consultant Larry Kamer, brought in by the state takeover to speak on behalf of the college.7

The newspaper consistently linked management issues to City College’s commitment to open access, bad-mouthing the breadth of the school’s offerings: “Now City College trustees have revised their mission statement, dropping the emphasis on enrichment classes, such as music appreciation, memoir writing and other free classes enjoyed by many older adults.”

This depiction of the college’s adult school program, repeated dozens of times, badly misrepresented the non-credit division that made up 40 percent of the student body.8 While “enrichment classes, music appreciation and memoir writing” conjure up an image of leisured upper class students, in reality City College’s adult school division overwhelmingly serves the most low-income and marginalized residents of San Francisco, at no charge to the students. The largest offering is an exceptionally successful English as a Second Language program. City College ESL had for decades been an essential first stop for new immigrants in this gateway city that is over one third immigrants; the Bay Area still has the highest rate of linguistic isolation9 of any region in California. The college ran a high school equivalency program; offered more than 30 health, safety and nutrition classes for low-income elders at congregate eating sites; tai chi classes for elders in Chinatown; and classes for 2,300 disabled students, including those struggling with autism, PTSD and other psychiatric conditions.

Chronicle of Land Grabs Foretold
With remarkable prescience, the Chronicle’s June 1, 2012 preview story listed campuses that could be closed, among them Castro-Valencia, Civic Center, and Downtown. The article ended with interim chancellor Pamila Fisher saying, “Everything is on the table. [Closures are] a very legitimate question for us to be considering.” Four years later, the Castro and Civic Center Campuses were closed, and the trustees were looking at plans to develop 33 Gough St. for luxury housing on a 75-year lease, over the protests of members of the college community.

In November 2015, the Chronicle reported that the huge 5M (Fifth and Mission) development had been approved by the Planning Commission, despite a nine-hour storm of protest from neighbors and community organizations. City College’s Downtown Campus, serving large numbers of ESL students, is located squarely in the middle of the footprint for the 4.6 million square foot development for luxury housing towers and tech offices. The land for 5M is owned by the Chronicle’s parent company, the Hearst Corporation. City College advocates expect a new wave of articles in the Chronicle, reiterating that the school can no longer afford all its campuses, and that the sale of Downtown Campus (possibly to the Hearst Corporation?) could certainly help rescue the college and restore its academic standing.

Sins of Omission
The stories the Chronicle failed to cover were as important as the errors and distortions in its coverage. For example:

The Chronicle never saw fit to mention that City College’s financial reserves were at a low point during the ACCJC visit because the state of California was a month late in a routine transfer of $25 million in appropriations. Even so, City College’s reserves had never for a moment fallen below the California Community College Chancellor’s Office guideline of five percent.

The system-wide Chancellor’s Scorecard showed that City College had some of the best student outcomes in the state, and the college’s scores surpassed those of every single one of the twelve colleges affiliated with the ACCJC. The Chronicle buried this story in a blog post, turning it into a joke with the lead, “Living well is the best revenge.” (April 23, 2014)10

When the fraudulent for-profit school Corinthian/Heald was finally closed down by the US Department of Education in 2014, in the wake of multiple lawsuits from nine states’ attorneys general, the paper did not touch the story that the ACCJC had fully accredited that school for 30 years. The irony of the ACCJC fully accrediting a for-profit school with a well-documented history of blatant large-scale fraud, while accusing an excellent public college of “fiscal mismanagement,” somehow escaped the Chronicle.

Stories Have Power
The Chronicle’s slant on the City College crisis percolated into the national media, and seemed to become a force in the downsizing of the school. Both the Washington Monthly (September 2013) and the Wall Street Journal (November 2013) ran hit pieces, with the Monthly’s actually titled, “America’s Worst Community Colleges.”

In San Francisco, as early as December 2013, “Many people mistakenly believed that it [City College] is already in the process of closing,” according to a report by Image Research. The report, based on four focus groups, also noted that people trusted information from City College students and workers more than that they received from the media—but that even those trusted sources expressed “negativity and speculation.” Small wonder, when so many Chronicle stories hammer home the paper’s dismal view: “City College is so badly managed and financially unstable, it should shut down if its extensive problems aren’t addressed.” ◼︎


The Research Committee Serving the Movement to Save City College can be reached c/o Allan Fisher,


1.    Dr. Robert Fountain, “Keeping California’s Edge: The Growing Demand for Highly Educated Workers,” prepared for the California Business Roundtable and the Campaign for College Opportunity by the Applied Research Center at California State University, Sacramento, 2006.

2.    Nanette Asimov, “S.F. City College submits action plan,” San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 15, 2012,, accessed May 16, 2016

3.    Rick Sterling, “Errors, Exaggerations and Bias in the FCMAT Report on CCSF,” Beyond Chron, July 11, 2013,

4.    Robert Gammon, “Phone Logs Link “Politics” To School Takeover: Records show FCMAT officials made repeated calls to city’s leaders before Chaconas’ ouster,” Oakland Tribune, August 18, 2003, accessed at, May 1, 2016.

5.    Nanette Asimov, “City College SF’s ‘Special Trustee’ Picked,” San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 23, 2012,

6.    Nanette Asimov, “City College accreditation in jeopardy, report says,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 29, 2012,

7.    Nanette Asimov, “CCSF cuts protested as deadline nears,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 7, 2013,,

8.    San Francisco Chronicle, Aug 1, 2012.

9.    According to the US Census Bureau, “A household is linguistically isolated if all the adults speak a language other than English, and none speak English ‘very well’. Adult is defined as age 14 or older…”

10. Nanette Asimov, “CCSF beats accreditors on academic playing field,” April 23, 2014,


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An analysis of the San Francisco Chronicle's coverage of City College of San Francisco can serve as a Rosetta Stone for decoding the corporate interests at play in the attack on this top community college.

CCSF Faculty Fights for Fairness

By Marcy Rein

City College teachers went on strike on April 27, 2016. Their one-day walkout—the first in the school’s 80-year history—denounced the administration’s bad-faith bargaining, and the persistent, poisonous influence of the ACCJC with its downsizing agenda. “We’re not going to stand for the corporate-style school reforms this administration sees as the solution,” Latin American and Latino/a Studies Professor Marco Mojica told a student-led teach-in the week before the strike.

On strike day the teachers were earning 3.5 percent less than they did in 2007, although the cost of living in San Francisco has shot up 21 percent. Faculty took multiple pay cuts over the crisis years, some negotiated, some imposed. Layoffs, mostly due to class cancellations, have fallen especially hard on part-time instructors; 174 have lost their jobs, with nearly 350 threatened by the 26 percent cut in classes announced by the administration in late 2015. The paperwork and meetings required to comply with the ACCJC demands, on top of teachers’ regular workload, amounts to speedup, according to AFT Local 2121 Political Director Alisa Messer. “The faculty feel demoralized, not just disrespected but ground into the dirt,” she says.

Contract talks between AFT2121 and the Community College District began in February 2015; negotiations and mediation have proven fruitless. Under the administration’s proposal, most faculty would still be earning less than their 2007 wages by end of the contract in 2018, according to AFT2121 Vice President Alan D’Souza—although the college, by its own figures, has $57 million in reserves.[1] The divisive proposal also undermines 30 years of union negotiations aimed at reducing the gap between full-time and part-time faculty.

Labor and community supporters joined City College faculty for a rally in front of the Financial District law office of the college’s outside labor negotiator on March 11; 25 people were arrested for sitting in at the building entrance. Seven members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and representatives from two-dozen community groups signed a letter calling on City College to negotiate with the teachers in good faith. The Executive Council of the Associated Students at City College passed a strike-support resolution by an 11 – 1 vote. Students and community members swelled the teachers’ picket lines on April 27, and packed into a noontime rally at Civic Center.

Meanwhile, the administration appears to be under pressure to maintain its intransigent stance. The Accrediting Commission has a well-documented history of anti-union bias.[2] In July 2015, the Commission placed City College under “advanced financial monitoring.” A letter from the Commission to CCSF Chancellor Susan Lamb cited “Settlement in excess of COLA” as a key cause for concern. Accreditation standards include a requirement that schools “comply with Commission requests, directives, decisions and policies,”[3] which gives this letter considerable weight, even though it isn’t part of the official ACCJC sanctions. The unfair labor practice charge AFT2121 filed with the State Public Employment Relations Board contends, “The unwillingness of the District to engage in good faith, give-and-take negotiations… is clearly driven by ACCJC hidden or ‘underground’ criteria.”

Update: In August 2016, the members of AFT2121 ratified a new contract, which restores lost wages and provides raises for both full-time and part-time faculty. The San Francisco Community College District Board of Trustees approved the agreement Sept. 8.




[1] Budget document provided in bargaining. Interview with AFT Local 2121 President Tim Killikelly, April 14, 2016.

[2] For an example of the ACCCJ’s anti-union bias, see Vice President Steven Kinsella’s exchange with San Mateo Community College Chancellor Ron Galatolo, archived at, accessed April 24, 2016.

[3] ACCJC Eligibility Requirements for Accreditation, #21, p. 7, accessed May 2, 2016.

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Development for Whom?

By Marcy Rein

“City College is a mirror for what is happening in the city,” says Kevine Boggess, a San Francisco community organizer and former CCSF student body president. “People are experiencing fear of being pushed out, or vanishing into the ether,” he says. Evictions increased in 2015 for the sixth year in a row,1 as inequality in the city hit third-world levels.2 The influx of personal wealth and investment capital has fed the housing crisis,3 and transformed not only the face of the city, but the space as well.

750 Eddy Street, site of CCSF's closed Civic Center Campus. Photo by Marcy Rein

The changes show starkly in the neighborhood around City College’s Mission Campus. The corner stores, Hunt’s Donuts, El Mahahual Salvadoran/Colombian Restaurant, and the fabulous Latin@ drag bar “Esta Noche” up the street have all shut down, replaced by trendy watering holes and boutiques selling pricey home furnishings and clothes. As you head towards City College on the #49 bus, the upscale retail gives way to neighborhood businesses—but around the corner from the main Ocean Avenue campus, the Avalon condos just went up, with a Whole Foods next door.

“That’s another small metaphor for the reality,” says CCSF African American Studies Professor Aliyah Dunn-Salahuddin. “There’s new housing built up right near the school that the teachers can’t afford to live in, and a Whole Foods where students can’t afford to buy their lunch.”

The changes in the physical space that come as people are displaced are part of breaking communities, Fernando Marti of the Council of Community Housing Organizations observes. Communities lose all kinds of resources—cultural spaces, non-profits, stores. “The downsizing of City College fits that pattern,” Marti says.

City College Real Estate Speculation
When the crisis hit in 2012, City College had 12 campuses in neighborhoods around San Francisco, as well as an administration building at 33 Gough St.

As early as September 2012, the Board of Trustees began thinking about closing Downtown Campus and 33 Gough and leasing them to raise funds; students at Downtown spotted Interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher touring real estate investors through the building, according to Student Trustee Bouchra Simmons, who attends classes there. The Board did shut down the rented Castro-Valencia campus.4

“While the [elected] trustees were still suspended, the “Special Trustee” put 33 Gough St. out to bid to develop as housing. The Board of Trustees had no say in the project description,” says John Rizzo, one of the longest-serving trustees. “All these things happened while there was no public oversight.” Profits from the project will go to the developer and the bank that arranges financing, with a 6 percent commission for the real estate broker, CBRE,5 and a cut for City College.

In October 2013, Special Trustee (emergency manager) Robert Agrella unilaterally canceled plans to build the Performing Arts Education Center (PAEC), although San Francisco voters had twice approved the project, and it was “shovel ready,” says longtime Music Department Chair Madeline Mueller. City College has no large auditorium, and only seven broken-down practice rooms for music students. The PAEC could both boost the school’s music and theater offerings, and serve as a performance venue and cultural anchor for the community, an alternative to the elite opera, ballet and symphony.

The site for the PAEC is part of the 17-acre Balboa Reservoir parcel; City College owns about 40 percent of the reservoir, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) owns the rest. The PUC is considering declaring the land surplus, and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development has begun making development plans. The city has offered little hard information on the project, but in one scenario, only 15 percent of 500 planned housing units would be truly affordable for low-wage workers and new teachers.6 City College activists hope to secure more affordable housing and a smaller footprint that would hold space for a revival of the PAEC, and preserve the parking at the site that hundreds of commuting faculty, staff and students rely on.

Since power was restored to the elected Board of Trustees in January 2016, development of 33 Gough St. and the closed Civic Center campus at 750 Eddy St. have been on the Board’s public agenda. But public input is tightly managed and purely advisory. The debate centers on whether public land should be used for private profit and luxury housing, with the lure of getting a bigger cut for the cash-strapped school. Any development the trustees decide on will need to go through San Francisco’s planning process, and ultimately be approved by the Board of Supervisors. ⏤Marcy Rein  ◼︎


1.    San Francisco Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, Annual Report on Eviction Notices, March 8, 2016, AnnualEvctRpt.pdf; Jack Morse, “Ellis Act Filings Up 36% As Evictions Hit Six-Year High,” sfist, March 29, 2016,, accessed May , 2015

2.    Lydia O’Connor, “Bay Area Poverty Rate Still Near Record High Despite Tech Boom,” Huffington Post, April 2, 2015,, Accessed May 20, 2016.

3.    Richard Walker, “Why Is There a Housing Crisis?” East Bay Express, March 23, 2016,, accessed May 1, 2016.

4.    Andrea Koskey, “CCSF to Shut Two Campuses,” The Examiner, Sept. 28, 2012,

5.    Richard Blum, the husband of US Senator Dianne Feinstein, served as chair of CBRE’s Board of Directors for 12 years; he retired in 2014 but remains a major shareholder.

6.    Memo from Emily Lesk, Office of Economic and Workforce Development, to the Balboa Reservoir Community Advisory Committee, October 9, 2015, accessed at accessed May 1, 2016.

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For-Profit Piranhas

By Marcy Rein

“The forces that stand to gain from the downsizing of City College are the San Francisco real estate developers, the student loan industry, the for-profit schools that our students will go to and take on horrendous debt, because they’re so expensive, and our administrators who are paying themselves inflated salaries,” says Wendy Kaufmyn, an engineering professor and Save City College activist.

For-profit schools stand to gain from the downsizing of City College. Here, an ad on a kiosk for the CCSF newspaper. The other side of the kiosk displays a recruitment poster for the US Army. ©2016 Marcy ReinFor-profit colleges compete with community colleges for the same pool of students. These operations cost 17 times as much as parallel programs at City College,1 prey on students of color,2 and drive students to predatory loans: 96 percent of students at the for-profits must take out loans, in contrast to 13 percent at community colleges. In the Bay Area, less than 4 percent of all two-year students attend for-profit schools. The rest go to the public community colleges. If the for-profit schools are to grow, the public community colleges must shrink.

The for-profit sector has a strong presence in the US Department of Education, with key officials cycling through the revolving door to take lucrative positions with for-profit colleges and their lobbyists.3

Corporate philanthropy, another major instigator of education “reform,” played its part in the City College story. Lumina Foundation, a major funder of corporate education reform, was started with $770 million dollars from the nation’s largest student loan company, the Student Loan Marketing Corporation (“Sallie Mae”), and the current chair of its board is Sallie Mae’s former CEO. Lumina gave $200,000 to the Student Success Task Force, and $450,000 to ACCJC. The foundation then gave a lucrative state-level post to the director of the Student Success Task Force, Amy Supinger, who wrote the restrictive new regulations that create pressures on students to go to school full-time. This generally means they cannot work their way through college but must take out student loans.

Major players in the California Democratic Party have ties to the for-profit education world, and to the real estate industry that feeds off the epidemic of displacement. Party Chair John Burton was on the board of trustees for the University of Phoenix, and that for-profit is now in the process of being transferred to new management under the second highest-ranking official in Obama’s Department of Education from 2009-13.4 California Governor Jerry Brown is a major booster of charter schools. During his years as mayor of Oakland, he raised funds for two charters, and helped bring about the state takeover of the Oakland Unified School District; some 20 charters mushroomed in Oakland during the six years of the takeover.5,6

Richard Blum, husband of US Senator Dianne Feinstein, has been a major shareholder in Career Education Corporation and ITT Educational Services, two of the largest for-profit college operators. Both companies have been investigated and sued for their business practices—including, in ITT’s case, predatory lending.7 Blum also served for 12 years as chairman of the board for CBRE, the world’s largest real estate brokerage; he retired in 2014 but remains a major shareholder. (CBRE is the firm that CCSF Special Trustee Robert Agrella hired to steer the development of 33 Gough St.)

The top ranks of the Democratic Party in San Francisco are enmeshed with real estate as well; the various arms of the real estate lobby are major contributors to the Party.8 The San Francisco Association of Realtors hired Mary Jung, chair of the Democratic County Central Committee, as its chief lobbyist in June 2013.

Mayor Lee, with his strong pro-development agenda, shepherded bills through the Board of Supervisors giving tax breaks to Twitter and others; the first three years of the Twitter deal alone cost the city $56 million.9 The Hearst Corporation, owner of the San Francisco Chronicle whose slanted coverage has contributed to the City College crisis (See “Corporate Media Writes the Sound Track for the Attack on City College,” p. 22.), is a major real estate power. The Chronicle Building at Fifth and Mission Streets anchors the multi-million dollar 5M development—going up just a block from City College’s Downtown Campus. And enticing these companies to move to San Francisco without planning housing for thousands of new workers has contributed to the epidemic of skyrocketing rents and displacement.10  ⏤Marcy Rein     ◼︎


1.    San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Legislative Analyst, “Evaluation of the Potential Impact of the Closure of San Francisco City College,” Sept. 16, 2013,

2.    Jorge Rivas, “For-Profit Colleges’ Mostly Black and Latino Students Face Higher Debt and Unemployment,” Colorlines, Jan. 4, 2012, accessed at

3.    David Bacon, “The Corporate Roots of the Attack on Community Colleges,” in Perspective, publication of the Community College Council of the California Federation of Teachers, Vol. 46, No. 2, February 2015, accessed at, April 23, 2016.

4.    “The university and its owner, the Apollo Education Group, have been subject to a series of state and federal investigations into allegations of shady recruiting, deceptive advertising and questionable financial aid practices.” Patricia Cohen and Chad Bray, “University of Phoenix Owner, Apollo Education Group, Will Be Taken Private,” The New York Times, Feb. 8, 2016, accessed via

5.    Robert Gammon, “Phone Logs Link “Politics” To School Takeover: Records show FCMAT officials made repeated calls to city’s leaders before Chaconas’ ouster,” Oakland Tribune, August 18, 2003, accessed at, May 1, 2016.

6.    Jill Tucker, “Oakland Charter School Battle Rages,”, Nov. 19, 2013,, accessed May 1, 2016.

7.    For a summary of actions against Career Education Corporation, see; On ITT Educational Services, see the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Securities and Exchange Commission,

8.    These included the San Francisco Apartment Assn., Building Owners and Managers, BOM Independent Expenditure PAC, San Francisco Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth, Shorenstein Realty, SF Realtors Legal Action Fund, and Air BNB. Data from the California Secretary of State,

9.    James Tracy, Dispatches Against Displacement, AK Press, 2014, p. 12.

10. Richard Walker, “Why Is There a Housing Crisis?” East Bay Express, March 23, 2016,, accessed May 1, 2016.


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