City College to
close its Castro campus
by Peter Hernandez
City College of San Francisco's Castro campus will close next semester amid a financial crisis that threatens the school's future.
The board and administrators of the 86,000-student community college are frenetically drafting action plans to meet a set of 14 recommendations by the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges while preparing for closure in March if their plan fails.
When William Walker, the openly gay student trustee, found out that the Castro campus would close, he recognized it may be a "slap in the face" to the LGBT community but voted for its closure because of cost-savings. The campus consists of night classes held at Everett Middle School in the gay neighborhood.
Walker said that the college's LGBT community should look at other means of centralizing their influence around campus, noting the disconnect between organizations like the Queer Resource Center, the first of its kind in the country, and the school's gay-straight alliance club. He said that the two groups weren't collaborating on things such as the National Coming Out Day event set for today (Thursday, October 11). As a result, he said, the school's LGBT community should instead look at other means of creating a space to combat homophobia.
City College students elected Walker to the board. He is also a candidate for the college board in next month's general election.
The Castro campus closure will save the college $85,000, a relief to the board that has been scrambling to restore low financial reserves. The annual rent alone could pay for an additional 15 classes for a college that has significantly reduced its course offerings for the next fiscal year in a budget that assumes the passage of both local Proposition A and state Proposition 30.
City College holds 25 evening classes at Everett Middle School. Most are language courses while four are LGBT studies classes. Instructors complain about the San Francisco Unified School District's refusal to allow access to its wireless Internet and meticulous nitpicking – like leaving letter grades on worn chalkboards – of the condition of the classrooms after the college's use. There are no student services at the campus, which is rented from SFUSD.
"We are in a middle school. For a lot of LGBT people, gosh what a hideous flashback," said Ardel Thomas, chair of the college's LGBT studies department.
A school district spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment by press time.
Thomas looks at the closure as an opportunity to spread her department's offerings across San Francisco. The LGBT studies courses are presently held at City College's Ocean campus in the Balboa Park district and Castro. They will be redistributed into neighborhoods like Bayview and the Tenderloin, which have ties to transgender and African American gay culture.
"What better a place for my classes than at the Southeast campus," said Thomas, adding that that part of the city has some of the highest HIV/AIDS rates among black men.
Courses titled "Queer People of Color" and "The Latino/Latina LGBT Experience" will show up at the Mission and Southeast campuses by next semester, decentralizing the department's offerings and taking some students out of their geographic comfort zones. But the Castro isn't necessarily convenient for her students, Thomas said. Many can't afford to live in the pricey neighborhood and some are on the brink of homelessness.
Thomas said more than 65 percent of her students are people of color – mostly Latino.
The September 27 board meeting, where the vote on the Castro campus was taken, served a venue for related department chairs to voice their concerns, but there was no public comment from the LGBT community. Walker attempted to send a mass e-mail to encourage City College students to comment on the draft report, but interim chancellor Pamila Fisher didn't approve it.
Fisher, who leaves her position next month, has been denounced by faculty as being hands-off with the student community and reluctant to engage with student activists concerned about the school's possible closure.
The Castro campus opened in 1985 as City College's effort to reach out to the LGBT community, initially at James Lick Middle School. The LGBT studies department serves concurrent students from Sonoma State University and Napa Valley College. It has since grown to be a model for other universities and colleges across the country and has UC- and CSU-transferrable courses.
The closure represents the beginning of consolidation of City College's nine campuses and some 100 instructional sites.