SDCCD addresses public backlash over AFT statement

District chancellor responds to controversy during latest board of trustees meeting

Zoom Screenshot of Board of Trustees Meeting speakers

Christopher Tapanes

A screenshot from Zoom of the San Diego Community College District Board of Trustees meeting held on Sept. 23, 2021

Christopher Tapanes, Multimedia Journalist

A visibly upset City College Academic Senate President Darius Spearman voiced his disapproval of the San Diego Community College District Chancellor Carlos Turner Cortez and the district president’s response to a religious and political divide.

Spearman, also a chair of the Black studies program and a professor, called the reaction by Cortez to the American Federation of Teachers Local 1931 statement about occupied Palestine territories a “chilling precedent.”

“By using his position of power to silence employees from speaking up for basic human rights as educators, we believe the goal of our work is to create a better, more just world and if we continue to ignore the mistreatment of any group of people, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Spearman said.

During the Board of Trustees meeting held on Zoom on Sept. 23, Spearman noted that the chancellor’s response was a very public reaction, posted on the district’s website, across social media, and emailed to all district employees.

Cortez’s statement on the AFT resolution called for civil discourse, which Spearman said came across as disingenuous and hypocritical.

Spearman continued to say that many felt offended by the resolution because it ignored the plight of Palestinians living under “brutal and illegal occupation.”

Executive Assistant Margaret Lamb read off a considerable amount of mixed comments in the form of commentary from the public, mostly voicing their disapproval of the chancellor’s actions.

“The chancellor’s statement makes me feel uncomfortable taking classes at SDCCD,” a commentator who identified as Inji Jaber, an SDCCD student and member of the Palestinian Youth Movement wrote. “AFT’s resolution calls attention to the fact that Israel has violated numerous international human rights laws and has been officially designated as an apartheid regime.”

On the other side of the divide, a commentator who identified themselves as Mona Alsoraimi-Espiritu, a faculty member at City College, showed support for the statement made by AFT.

“The resolution passed by our AFT chapter was in no way anti-Semitic,” Alsoraimi-Espiritu wrote. “When guided by data, logic, and reason, it is clearly not offensive to any group.”

In response to the public commentary, Cortez stated the district champions free speech to the extent that it has codified its commitment to civility and diplomacy.

“The district respects the right of the union as well to engage in political advocacy, but the district takes no position on whether such activities are warranted or appropriate,” Cortez said. “The district will not and does not take an opinion in favor or in opposition to any political opinions put forth by the union or any other political action agency.”

You can read more in-depth coverage about the discussion surrounding the AFT resolution in this City Times article by Jakob McWhinney.

A full listing of all comments about the AFT resolution, both in support of and in opposition to it, can be found online.

Laura Murphy from Miramar College spoke about the upcoming Equity Summit, a two-day event in October featuring various speakers including former Chancellor Constance Carroll.

Additionally, there will be an art event for the students to take part in.

The board recognized City President Ricky Shabazz for being selected among 25 leaders by the Aspen Institute for the Presidential Fellowship.

The Presidential Fellowship selects a small group of leaders to develop seminars, programs, and strategies to improve student success.

The City nursing program will host a joint site visit from the Accreditation Commission for the Education of Nursing and the California Board of Registered Nursing from Sept. 28-30.

Hispanic Latinx Chicano Indigenous Heritage Month will be celebrated throughout the district in October.

Dates and further information are available here.

Cortez also highlighted upcoming assembly bills that will directly impact community college students.

AB-928, now awaiting approval by Governor Gavin Newsom, has the potential to adjust challenges for many students transferring from community colleges to Cal State and UC systems.

Cortez urged colleagues not to support this legislation because it does not address systemwide concerns about accommodating transfer students regarding automatic enrollment.

The other two pieces of legislation AB-576, which would allow community colleges to offer closed classes on military installations along with AB-927, this bill would extend the operation of the statewide baccalaureate degree pilot program indefinitely.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected for capitalization. In the original version Black in reference to Black studies was spelled with a lowercase b. When the word black is used in reference to culture, race or identity it is capitalized. City Times regrets the error.