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Transcript of Pelosi Remarks at City College of San Francisco

San Francisco – House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at City College of San Francisco’s (CCSF) Chinatown/North Beach Campus yesterday.  At an event with community leaders, Leader Pelosi highlighted the significant progress made by City College and emphasized the vital impact CCSF’s open doors have on our community.  Below are the Leader’s opening and closing remarks, as well as a question and answer session:

Leader Pelosi’s Opening Remarks

“Thank you very much Dean Ta.  Thank you for your leadership here, at this very important part of City College.  It’s a personal, as well as official, honor for me to be here today.  I am a big supporter of City College of San Francisco, and I am honored to be here with Dean Ta, with Rafael Mandelman, member of the City College Board of Trustees, with Jeffrey Fang, former CCSF student trustee and now at Berkeley, with Dr. Fred Chavaria, a faculty member, with Tracy Wheeler, Friends of City College, with Supervisor David Chiu, President of the Board, whose district we are in today, and with Jenny Lam of Chinese for Affirmative Action.  I say that because when they come to the podium, they’re just coming right up to the podium.  And I want you to know how honored I am to be here with each and every one of them because they play a very important role in what we’re here to say today.

“I have always been a big supporter of community colleges across our country.  It is the link.  It is the opportunity.  As I was saying to others, and as I said when I spoke at a commencement address a couple of years ago, it’s wonderful when someone brags about their child graduating from a prestigious college or university.  And I think, ‘That’s nice.’  But the real successes are these kids, and not kids only, but people coming to the community college in midlife or as a transition or whatever it is.  Some of them are raising a family.  Some of them are supporting their family.  Some of them are second-chancers.  I heard a beautiful speech someone made about redemption at a commencement.  I didn’t make it.  Somebody else made it, but it was wonderful.  It’s really, again, the link – either to a job or to further education.  And it is really important to our country, to our community – aptly named – and to those individuals.

“Now we’re in a situation where it’s really important for others who are weighing different equities about City College to understand what the commitment is from this community at all levels to City College.  There’s never been a complaint about the education at the school.  That’s not the issue.  Whatever improvements need to be made – we’re all in need of and open to improvements, including the Accreditation Agency, I might add. 

“So I think that as we, as a community of San Francisco, recognize and take inventory of our strengths, one of them is City College.  You can’t pose the questions in such a way to say, ‘This is going to happen unless these things happen.’  Because you make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.  There’s a 23 percent lower enrollment from this year to last year, and it’s even a bigger number if you go two years.  Where are those students?  What is happening in their lives?  What difference is it making to our economic growth and the successes of people in our community?  What does it mean having that strength in the City and County of San Francisco?  Again, as we count our blessings and take inventory, this is an important part of it.  Now, again, I’ve had the occasion to be there on many occassions, and most recently in November, to speak to the Special Trustee and Dr. Tyler.  The roadmap is important.  And hopefully, this is a stop on that roadmap taking us forward.

“Make no mistake – and I mean that literally and figuratively to the accreditors.  Don’t you make a mistake in thinking that this isn’t of the highest importance, that this doesn’t have a tremendous impact.  What does it mean to faculty when they are going to be re-upping if they don’t know if the resources are there for school?  What does it mean to students?  So we just have a few more days.  I know, Dean, you’re signing up folks right now, and we’re going to go meet some of those folks who are signing up.  But let’s hope in the next few days we can intensify that signup – because that is important to those individuals, to their families, to our community, and to the rest.

“Again, I just wanted to share some thoughts.  I have a set speech of what I was going to say, but I think we can just say:  Still strong, still committed, still City College.  Thank you all for being here and supporting City College.”

Leader Pelosi’s Closing Remarks

“I think that our distinguished guests made a very compelling case – from their experience, their knowledge, and their hopes for the future for City College.  We have an expression in Congress: ‘I wish to associate myself with their remarks.’  Certainly I associate myself with the remarks of the Dean and I thank her for her tremendous leadership. She has an increasing enrollment at this campus.  Congratulations to you, Dean Ta.

“Rafael laid out very clearly some of the progress that is being made.  Jeffrey Fang shared his personal story with us in such a compelling way when he talked about teachers and professors caring.  It was so beautiful.  And then Dr. Chavaria made that clear to us in his experience at the College and now his giving back to the students in such an important way.  Tracy Wheeler made it clear that it’s not just about going onto another school.  It’s about going into a vocation and into the workforce.  David Chiu, you were speaking about the International Hotel.  Looking back I see at least Lisa Jaicks is here.  Many times with her father, Agar – and she and Peter have been such champions – but I’m going back decades.  Norman, you probably weren’t even born yet, but, Reverend Fong, thank you for bringing the voice of the faith community.  Looking over at the International Hotel and lobbying on that issue, how many decades ago – I guess many of you weren’t even born.  Maybe you were in kindergarten at the time.

“But it was a big long haul.  And now to be standing here and looking back there – it’s just about the word in this college: community.  Community is what this is about.  And so, David, thank you for your leadership in this as representative of this district.  Thanks as well to Jenny, for spelling out the challenge that we have and putting it right out there.  And I associate myself with your challenge as well.  Norman, thank you for joining us and for your service representing City College on Ocean Avenue. 

“So again, I think they made the case very clearly.  At the start I just talked emotionally about what this means to me.  But I also want to associate myself with the remarks of Congresswomen Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo, who had a press conference a while back.  You know that this is a commitment of the California delegation.  And of course I sang the praises of Dennis Herrera for making the case and succeeding with the case, giving us time.  So with the appeal, and with the case – the appeal in terms of the accreditation and the case – we have time.   And we cannot underutilize any resource.  And we cannot underutilize that time.

“As I said, Rafael and Jenny very clearly talked about the progress that has been made and that has to be recognized.  We stand ready to show the support.  And it is a beautiful thing, the idea of a community college.  When we did our higher education bill, this was really important for us to have significant resources put there.  Because nothing brings more money.  If you want to forget about what it means for the aspirations of people – we can’t, because we are community – but if you’re making an argument to someone to whom that’s not a big consideration, just remember this: nothing brings more money to the treasury, the public treasury, than the education of the American people.

[Applause]

“To cut funding or limit funding is not reducing the deficit.  It’s increasing the deficit.  So we all know that investment in people is what community is about.  And that’s why I am so excited to be here today, certainly to support the Mayor on his leadership on this issue and all of the official family of San Francisco in every way.  I think that there might be some questions for all of you, since you were very specific in your presentations.  And we maybe can take a couple of questions from the press on why we’re here, why it’s important to us, and why we will succeed in not underutilizing any resources – not time, not education, not the beautiful City College of San Francisco.” 

***

Q: What are the concrete next steps for reforming the ACJCC and what will you do in specifically?

Leader Pelosi.  That is a very interesting question, and some of you have posters to that effect.  I’ve learned a lot about what we can or cannot do because we thought: “Well the Department of Education can help us.” But they really can’t.  It’s a very independent – it’s independent of the Department of Education.  But we can subject this process to the scrutiny that I believe it should have.  We care about what happens in the rest of the country.  We think that what happened here is highly unusual, and while the law doesn’t give the Department of Education – and that would be the agency that we have any say over – any discretion, maybe it should. 

And we really have to look at that because for whatever reason, the process that we’re engaged in now can be a downward spiral.  But, for the enthusiasm, the energy, the idealism, determination of the people of our community not to make it so, but you can be sure that it will be subjected to really harsh scrutiny in terms of how they do, what they do, who they are, and why is that the Department of Education cannot do more.  But, Congresswoman Speier, Congresswoman Eshoo, and Congressman George Miller, who is our top Democrat on the Education Committee – I don’t want to say this is a good thing to come of it; but the fact is, this is one thing to come of it that may be to make an improvement, for not only our community college but for community colleges across the country.

Q:  Does that mean a hearing on the Department of Education?

Leader Pelosi.  We’ll see what is recommended when we go there.  There are conversations going back and forth on it.  But suffice to say, it’s not something that will be ignored.  In fact it will be focused on.  It is a challenge to change the law, but also to make something good come of it.  I thank you for your question and your interest.

Q:  Can someone address the low enrollment numbers, specifically what we’re seeing right now and how detrimental that is?

Leader Pelosi.  I don’t know who would want to address that specifically, maybe Rafael being on the Board.  In the next three days, we hope to increase those numbers.

Rafael Mandelman.  The latest figures – and there may be others in the room who know better than me – but I’ve heard they are a little over 20 percent down from last spring, which was already down from 10 – 15 percent from the prior year.  So, we are talking about a 20 – 30 percent decline in a two-year period.  And that is highly detrimental as most of the City College’s funding comes from the state based on enrollment.  So it is important that people understand that City College is open.  Though you may have heard that it is closing in July, it is not.  It is going to continue to be open both because of the ACJCC internal review process and because of Dennis Herrera’s lawsuit.  And City College is going to be opened for years and decades to come. 

So, people should come back.  And we need them – it is actually a civic act, a patriotic act, showing your love for San Francisco right now to enroll in a class in City College.

Q:  In calling on the accreditors to change their position, what position should they take?

Rafael Mandelman.  I think, we believe that based on the Department of Education letter, last year in August finding that there had been significant problems in the review of the City College and based on the additional information that we are becoming aware of through the lawsuits, I think that we think that the review of City College was flawed from inception and should be done over.  And this is my position, that the review should be done over, going back to July of 2012, they should take a look at the college.  And I’m sure that if they looked at the college now, they would find that it is in compliance with accreditation standards.  And it is actually doing better than any other community colleges in a number of ways.

Leader Pelosi.  The other thing is, just to enlarge the issue beyond the specific of this moment, when City College was accredited before, they did not send a bill of particulars to say: “This is where you are weak.”  So all of a sudden, the next time, they come up with this.  So, it’s important for there to be, again, transparency you discussed, and again, some responsibility of the part of the accreditors to say: “It’s okay.”  Then we have some responsibility to say: “This is where there’s some weaknesses that you have to act upon.”

But I also hope that the accreditors will take heed of what Rafael said and what Jenny said earlier about the whole list – pages long – of improvements and progress that have been made.  I think we are in a pretty strong place now with the time, with the lawsuit – thank you Dennis Herrera – with the appeal on the accreditation giving us more time that if we’re all of good will on this, it should turn out just fine. 

But again, as they approach, they should do so with a level of respect and not say: “We are saying yes now.”  And then a few years from now we are going to say:  “But you never improved on those things that we thought you were weak on before, which we never suggested to you were a challenge.” 

Again, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if you have fewer students because they have uncertainty as to whether the school is going to be opened.  And therefore, you have fewer funds from the state.  It just isn’t responsible for them to, shall we say – I don’t want to say frivolous because maybe they don’t view it that way.  But to weigh all of the equities in a decision that they have.  

So much is at stake personally for the individuals who attend and their families.  And again, we view, from a congressional standpoint, community colleges as a source of tremendous strength for our country.  As it has been mentioned in many cases, addressing immigrant populations, even if the person is not an immigrant, but from an immigrant family because that is the life blood of America.  It is who we are – the constant reinvigoration of America.  And education, the value of community, of education, of family values and the rest.  It’s so important to strengthen our country.  And why would we come at this place and weaken our source of strength for us? 

It’s very exciting and I’m very disappointed that we have to go through this.  The fact is, we have to come out of this stronger.  Still strong, still committed, still City College.

[Applause]

Q:  What brought you out today and why is this your first time speaking in front of us?

Leader Pelosi.  Well I have been – City College is a special resource to our community. I’ve had the privilege of speaking and opening one thing or another, whether it’s a health clinic, or the rest in different places around town.  And so, some of us got together earlier and said: “What can we do to bring as much of this ability in the right timing?”  And that’s what we concluded that today would be really an important time.  But also is a day that Congress is not in session…

[Laughter]

So I can’t pick and choose the days that I can be here.  But we thought, in terms of some of the decisions that are being made to once again – and there are other people who have come out, Congresswoman Eshoo and Congresswoman Speier, and the rest, having all of us coming on the same day, a reinforcement of it. 

But I think everyone knows that I love San Francisco community college, City College.  And it is, as I said when I started, it’s official, but it’s personal as well with me.  So I’m honored to be here today.  We chose this day because of the timing of everything else and because Congress is not in session.  And it gave us an opportunity not just to hear from me, but to hear from our elected officials; our leadership of the community college, Board of Trustees; of community people who have worked on this issue and appreciate what City College is all about.

Q:  What do you think about the 49ers? 

[Laughter]

Rafael Mandelman.  Before Leader Pelosi speaks on the 49ers, it is a big deal for Leader Pelosi to be here. 

[Applause]

She is battling Republican dragons of the sort, you know, we can only fear in our nightmares in San Francisco, between the Affordable Care Act and immigration and I don’t even know the 12 other things where she and her Members are trying to stop devastation from wreaking across the land.  And for her to come here now, today, and to take a couple of hours of a morning to learn about what is going on with enrollment and to talk to people and to talk to all of us, is extraordinary.  She has a long commitment to City College, but I am so incredibly grateful.  Peter and Lisa played a role and I want to thank them for helping make this happen.

[Applause]

But Leader Pelosi has been following this all along.  Her staff in D.C. and here have been following this and she has been great.  No one should doubt that.

Leader Pelosi.  I appreciate you saying that, but the fact is there are many ways to help community colleges.  And one of the fights that we have is on funding for education, higher education, public, higher education and community colleges being a very important part of it.  And I feel very blessed because in our community there is an appreciation.  And many of you come back to Washington or we meet here, to talk about how important this is and why we need this additional funding.  We don’t have enough because of the budget battles that are going on.  But as I always say, you are not reducing the deficits if you think that cutting investments in education reduces the deficit.  It does not.

I do have to go back to Washington now because we have the fight going on on unemployment insurance.  Tim Paulson left me a message about this the other day about extending unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage, and doing all of these things that are really important on reducing the income disparity in our country, which is an immorality at this point.  So you will see a very heavy focus on that specific piece, enlarging it to our initiative that we have.  I have been, including San Francisco in over 20 cities in the recent months, on an initiative called: “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds.”

[Applause]

And what is wonderful about it is that it is some of the same issues.  What are three things that are really important to women in the workplace?  Raising the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work – that would be one, about pay.  Paid sick leave – we must have paid sick leave.  And child care, early learning for our children.

[Applause]

I was telling some folks when we were talking about child care yesterday.  I’ll tell this story that I’ll close with because some of the people who go to community college interact with the Head Start Program.  I was telling that we were having an economic agenda for women and their families, “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds.”  And one of the people participating got up to talk about the value of Head Start.  She was a single mom with five kids.  And she had, now a job and getting a promotion.  She was very proud of all of that – and Head Start was an important part: children learning, parents earning.  And she said: “I felt a little nervous coming to Hunter College to speak to all of these women even though I feel confident in my life.  So I said to my children: ‘Can I read you my speech for tomorrow?’”  So she read her speech and she said to her children: “What did you think, do you have any questions?”  And her four-year old who is part of Head Start raised her hand and she said: “I just have one question, mom.  Who gave you permission to use my name in your speech?”

[Laughter]

So, you go girl!  You go Head Start!

[Laughter]

Self-esteem and all the rest of it – all of these things are connected, if we’re going to give people a chance, a break, a fair opportunity.  Children learning, parents earning – children learning, parents learning.  And then taking it all to the next step.  That’s about community.  That’s what San Francisco is about. 

And as far as the 49ers are concerned, it was great fun to be there for the last game the other day.  Now I think if the Seahawks lose, we may have another last game.  Wouldn’t that be something?  But anyway, go Niners!  And my grandchildren –  my little one who is six, he’s just become a big fan, understanding what’s going on.  He kept calling every score: ‘Did you see that?’  

[Laughter]

Yeah we did.  It is pretty exciting, isn’t it?  Anyway, thank you all.  I associate myself with what David said and what Norman said to all of you, as those of us who have the privilege of representing you in one way or another.  How proud we are of the commitment that all of you have – for what you have done, for what you are doing, and for what you will do to keep our city strong by keeping our people strong.  And I come right back to: still strong, still committed, still City College.

Thank you.