Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Open Letter Urging SF Mayor to Defend City College: Be There August 20th

When: August 20, 4pm
Where: SF Civic Center
An Open Letter to Mayor Ed Lee:

As students, staff, faculty and community members of San Francisco, we share the sentiment you expressed at the July 9, 2013 Board of Supervisors meeting that allowing City College of San Francisco to close would be “devastating.” Indeed, as the largest working class institution in San Francisco, a school of immigrants, workers, adult learners, the formerly incarcerated, and others who depend on it for personal transformation, City College must not close. But neither can we allow its transformation into an elite, undemocratic school serving the needs of the few.

At the July 9th meeting, you said that we are in a hurry, and that we must act swiftly and decisively to meet the accrediting commission’s demands. But we ask that you pause for a moment to consider why an institution that has been educating San Francisco residents for seventy-seven years is, in the span of one short year, in danger of being dismantled. We ask that you consider why the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, an institution that should want us to succeed at the tasks it outlines, imposed such a severe timetable on meeting those tasks and then administered the disaccreditation death sentence.

In a San Francisco Chronicle piece you wrote recently with California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris, you said: “What’s needed now is a stronger hand, a single individual with the experience, trustworthiness, and focus to turn City College around.” As a mayor elected by democratic vote, we are alarmed that you would advocate such a wholly undemocratic solution to CCSF’s present ‘crisis.’ The City College Board of Trustees was democratically elected by the residents of San Francisco; the macabre sounding “Super Trustee with Extraordinary Powers” Robert Agrella has never been approved by San Franciscans and has now been granted absolute power to dictate the futures of the college and its beneficiaries – the people of San Francisco.

In a foreboding display of secrecy and authoritarianism, within two weeks of his appointment Super Trustee Agrella kicked CCSF Student Trustee Shanell Williams off the chancellor search committee. When the democratically elected Williams attempted to attend a meeting she had been directed to, campus police barred her from entering. This silencing of student voices cannot be tolerated.

The rapid transformations occurring in San Francisco since you were elected in 2011 - a booming tech sector, massive land development, and a devastating housing crisis – have not gone unnoticed by members of our community; certainly not by those who would be shut out by the transformation of City College from a working class institution to a two-year junior college. When asked about the increasing number of evictions, rising homelessness and sky-high rents in our city, you recently said that you “didn’t realize we had a housing crisis.” Perhaps, then, you have also not considered the history of the ACCJC – its lack of transparency, violation of federal, state and even its own laws, and its relationship to a national push to privatize public education. We urge you to visit www.saveccsf.org, where much research and work has already been compiled.

Perhaps you heard the voices of those concerned San Franciscans who marched to the U.S. Department of Education on July 9th: “Where’s Ed Lee?” they asked. This is because the community members, students, staff and faculty who care deeply about City College were hoping that you, their top elected city official, would stand with them in support of the college, in defense of the attacks and threats of the ACCJC. When many elected officials, including Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and Supervisors Avalos and Campos, have already taken a stand with us against the ACCJC’s attacks on our city, we ask that you join our defense of City College by making a public statement in support of the following points:

  • City College of San Francisco must remain an open, accessible, affordable and democratic public institution serving the diverse needs of all San Francisco residents.

  • Call on Chancellor Bryce Harris and the California Community College Board of Governors to immediately reinstate the democratically elected Board of Trustees and remove the position of the undemocratic so-called “Super Trustee with Extraordinary Powers” Robert Agrella.

  • Call on the ACCJC to immediately remove City College from sanction status.

  • Support an investigation of the ACCJC in regard to conflicts of interest, lack of transparency, violations of federal and state laws, and violations of its own formal policies and procedures.

  • Do not close campuses. Full and immediate reporting of steps that have already been taken to sell off City College property to private real estate interests. Public accountability for City College common property, which belongs to the past generations who paid for it through their taxes and to future generations in perpetuity.

  • Democratic community participation in the creation of the CCSF Road Map.

  • Full and open participation in the hiring of the CCSF Chancellor and Vice Chancellor.

  • Release Prop A funds as promised and voted on by San Francisco residents.

City College of San Francisco reflects the values that have made San Francisco a refuge for so many people – one of opportunity, not just for the wealthy and successful, but for those who have struggled to turn their lives around. Individuals with little and few places to go come to City College as an opportunity to transform themselves, to better their own lives and those of their communities. We see this in grave danger of being undone, not only if City College is closed – which would be devastating – but also if the college capitulates to the devastating demands of the ACCJC.

We urge you to stand with us in defense of City College. We are sure that you will.

Students, Staff, Faculty and Community Members of the Save CCSF Coalition

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Statement in Opposition to the Appointment of Janet Napolitano as the Next UC President

Our objections to Napolitano’s presidency begin with the very process by which she was selected. Her appointment was announced to the public suddenly at the end of a secretive, closed-door process conducted by the UC Regents, themselves an undemocratically selected body in no way bound to the will of the students, faculty, or workers of the UC system, but riddled with conflicting private interests that include the increasing militarization of UC campuses. It is hardly a coincidence that the Regents’ search led them to the head of an organization that also notoriously thrives on secrecy and militarism. This collaboration marks an alarming acceleration of the degradation of democracy—not only at the university level, as students and workers are deprived of the right to meaningful participation in their schools’ governance, but also at the state and national level, as the sovereignty and independence of education are explicitly handed to agents of privatization and militarization.

Napolitano began her experience with “public” education in her gubernatorial campaign to expand “oneof the nation’s largest…charter schools,” a movement that has left K-12 public schools ravaged across the nation. This laid the neoliberal foundation for later atrocities that made Arizona—and especially its school system—an infamous beacon of racist inequality. As the head of DHS, Napolitano mainly interacted with higher education only to channel ever more of its research and funding away from the public good and towards surveillance and war. She has implied that she will continue her regime of surveillance and privatization by hastening the forcing of online education upon the UC. 

Also, for a university that claims to be pro-immigration, the choice of Napolitano is quite odd. During her tenure as the top administrator of the Department of Homeland Security, she oversaw the deportation of nearly 1.5 million immigrants—the most in any American administration. Furthermore, she implemented policies that further militarized the borders, and she expanded U.S. drone and surveillance programs. In the face of these facts, the appointment of Napolitano is a glaring contradiction to the UC’s supposed immigrant-friendly stance. Napolitano has proven that she is no friend of immigrants, and if the UC really were an advocate of immigrant rights, then the Regents would revoke her appointment.
As a former Governor of Arizona and Secretary of Homeland Security, Ms. Napolitano may be an expert at running large organizations, but she does not have the depth of experience with and investment in California public education that befits a leader of the UC system. The UC was built and funded by the residents of California to educate new generations of Californians. As students, we want the leader of our universities to be a California educator, one who has dedicated a lifetime to California pubic higher education and reflects our values. The shocking choice of such an imperial privateer, whose salary will triple as she becomes the head of a supposedly public institution, to lead a state school ravaged by austerity is only conceivable when one considers that this choice was first made by an executive search firm hired by the Regents behind closed doors. The university community simply will not stand for it.

 From the expansion of funding for weapons development in Berkeley labs, to the distressing investment in the Israeli occupation of Palestine, to the brutal suppression of free speech and free assembly on our campuses, we see the very ideals that draw distinguished students and faculty to the UC now fully undermined. Based upon these and other concerns, we demand that the UC administration revoke Ms. Napolitano's job offer and re-open the process of selecting the next President of the University of California. We further demand that this process take place as it should: visibly and democratically with input from all members of the university community as we search for a fit president who will be accountable to us. 
UC Students and Allies in Dissent

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Booz Allen and Online Surveillance...I Mean Education

In the wake of former Booz Allen employee Edward Snowden's revelation about the NSA's massive (and uber creepy) surveillance scheme, I've started to wonder what else this strange company has been up to. A lot, it turns out.

Partnering with institutions like Farleigh Dickinson University and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton @ Work program, Booz Allen has apparently been a major (and powerful and wealthy and, yes, still creepy) force in the disruptive shove towards internet-based education. This is particularly significant when we take into account that they've also worked alongside the NSA to monitor and record virtually all communications and exchanges over the net and our phones. This online education partnership presents itself as a new tool to monitor and constrain free speech, this time in our classrooms. For a sense of what's on offer at one of these education businesses, check out this list of FDU courses.

And they've got people of color especially in their sites. In what reads as a plea for black colleges to just get online already, Reggie Smith III, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the United States Distance Learning Association and employee at Booz Allen, writes, "HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] have an imperative to take their programs online."

Finally, I'll leave you with this extended quote from a Booz Allen position paper on "Effectiveness and Efficiency: Reimagining Government," which makes clear how Booz Allen sees online education as a strategic surveillance tool and the current climate of budget cuts as the perfect time to prey:

"The aging workforce and record budget deficits require an end to business as usual, which means federal leaders...have a window of opportunity to enact change. Not small, short-term, wait-out-the-storm changes, but transformative change that reorients government [or education] to expanding missions, new workforce requirements, and new budget realities. This kind of change is possible because new technologies such as cloud and mobile computing, advanced data analytics, and virtualization solutions provide numerous opportunities to streamline government operations and improve mission performance across the entire spectrum of civilian, defense, and intelligence activities...

"Continuous monitoring also mitigates costly security risks. Best practices are increasingly shared among agency CIOs, so they can be built into new technologies and solutions. In fact, the collaborative model is the basis for how DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] is building out its cybersecurity guidance: Academic institutions [albeit unwittingly], agencies, and CIOs are sharing insights on cyber practices that are evaluated for government-wide adoption."

Thursday, May 30, 2013

University of California, "Enterprise Risk Management," and Orwellian Surveillance

On June 5-7, the University of California administrators are gathering together for an Enterprise Risk Management "Risk Summit" conference. There, they will attend workshops like Wes Balda's "Risk Managers Are from Mars, Faculty from Venus," a workshop that highlights the (gendered) hierarchies of labor; the paternalistic response to reforms in workers' compensation, "Mindfulness: An Antidote to Stress, Injuries & Illnesses;" or the Campus Life series talk on "On-Line Depression & Suicide Screening," perhaps meant to monitor lonely, isolated students who've been displaced from human contact and, well, campus life.

My favorite session, though, is straight out of Michel Foucault's writings on management and surveillance. It's titled "Civil Disobedience Training: From Prevention to Response: Latest Thinking in Leadership, Decision Making and Management During Crisis." As the blurb indicates, the session is geared towards UC policy executives and is "not a 'learn the response protocol workshop,'" but a training in how to manage the visibility and scope of a "crisis ranging from campus protests to mega natural disasters" in the context of "external communications" and "social media." In other words, this is a workshop on how management can better make our protests invisible and ineffective in order to manage the value of their "brand." For administrators, this is an especially pressing concern in the face of massive cuts to workers' benefits; tuition and fee increases across the board from education to healthcare; and the aggressive investment in online education and subsequent disinvestment in public education and the labor that supports it. All this going into several union contract negotiations this summer and rumors of potential strikes this fall and spring. Can Enterprise Risk Management make it all go away?

At the University of California, students and workers now pose a "risk" to the university's model of indefinite wealth extraction, and they must be monitored and controlled. And as nearly every Enterprise Risk Management slide show or position paper advises, "A strong system of internal control is essential to enterprise risk management."

See you on June 6 at 12 p.m. in front of the Oakland Marriott located at 1001 Broadway.

Monday, January 14, 2013

UC Online, UC In Debt (by Beezer de Martelly)

The University of California has recently been in the news again, this time for two spectacular and expensive business failures. But, as UCLA Professor Bob Samuels suggests, “We shouldn’t laugh, because someone is going to have to pay” for them. First was the recent re-branding fiasco, where the UC launched an “updated” version of its logo, which was likened almost immediately to a toilet bowl flushing. After a grassroots campaign gathered more than 50,000 signatures opposing the new logo, the administration reneged on the image only weeks after introducing it. Then, a second seemingly unrelated story popped up a month later. Here, reporters covered a new for-profit version of University of California, UC Online, which had failed to attract more than a handful of the 7,000 students the fledgling company anticipated enrolling. As shown in a UC Online commercial on YouTube that has since been made private, the new logo appeared to be very instrumental in UC Online’s $4.3 million marketing campaign.

These stories are part of a much larger effort by the UC Regents (read California billionaires) to transform the UC system into an even more profitable private entity. Like other large universities, the UC has been operating much like a hedge fund for years, engaging in increasingly risky business with borrowed money. In this example, the Regents approved a $6.9 million loan to UC Online borrowed from the already broke UCs when student fees have more than tripled in the past decade; when it took a massive, statewide effort to pass the much needed (and much watered down) Proposition 30 to help fund education; when funding for libraries, classes, and other services like daycare programs have been eliminated or trimmed to the bone; when national student debt topped $1 trillion last year. After students from China and the military—two groups UC Online apparently targeted heavily—failed to materialize, the university has thus far only been able to recoup 0.0014% of its loan. This leaves many wondering what will happen if UC Online’s business model fails and it is never able to repay this debt back to the university. Conversely, if online education succeeds, what will happen to all of the campus buildings constructed in part from skyrocketing student debt?

To be sure, UC Online is just one project among many on which various members of the UC administration, Governor Brown, and numerous other public and private institutions are working under the moniker “20 Million Minds,” or 20MM. Founded by billionaire (ranked #328 in the Forbes 400) and buyer of “distressed” California commercial real estate Gary Michelson, 20MM is a curious organization, indeed. In a January 20MM-sponsored conference entitled “Rebooting CA Higher Education,” entrepreneurs presented one potential face of what they term “disruptive technology” in the 20MM mission statement, revealing how the organization hopes to “debundle” traditional curricular development. Instead, the online education entrepreneurs promoted an assembly line approach to education where “one person would design a course, another person would present the course, another person would market the course, and none of these people would be involved in research, community service, or shared governance.” And what about the learning side of the equation? As Audrey Watters notes, at the heart of this debate is serious conflict over how we understand the purpose of education itself. But at present, it seems like Gov. Brown and the Regents are not very interested in such questions, already referring to the UC system as “a venerable institution being upended by digital change.” Disruption, indeed. Is it really inevitable, though?

As the lure of online education intoxicates more and more high-level members of school administrations, businesses, and local and federal politicians, and as these interests become ever more deeply linked, it is all the more pressing for us to turn our energies in the direction of online education and to keep asking questions.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Forcing Online Education at the UCs (link to Bob Samuels' piece)

It's been awhile since we've shared news on the public education front, but it's certainly not for lack of drama. We hope to keep up with the seemingly daily deluge of events, but for now, we'll tide you over with this doozy from Bob Samuels about how the UCs have invested $7million of borrowed money (that is, money borrowed from the already under-funded UC system) in a for-profit online education program that's already fallen short of expectations. Enjoy!?