Democracy for none

Student protesters clash with police at City College as administrators make decisions behind closed doors

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Police react aggressively to a March 13 student protest at CCSF.
PHOTO BY SANTIAGO MEIJA/THE GUARDSMAN

Democracy is dead at City College of San Francisco. At least, that's what student protesters allege.

At a rally on March 13, over 200 student and faculty protesters marched at City College's main campus to call for the resignation of state-appointed Special Trustee Robert Agrella. When City College was told it would soon close, the city-elected Board of Trustees was removed from power, and the state gave Agrella the power to make decisions unilaterally.

Agrella is not beholden to board rules, and now makes policy decisions behind closed doors: No public meetings are held and no public comments are solicited.

His decisions have proved controversial. Students are concerned that fast-tracked decision-making and new billing policies will create new barriers for students with few other educational options. But with no public forum to express their outrage, students took to the pavement.

The protesting students were met by police aggression, and in the aftermath of the clash two students were arrested — one was pepper sprayed, and the other suffered a concussion, allegedly at the hands of a San Francisco Police Department officer.

Both SFPD and CCSF police were on hand for the protest.

Controversy is now swirling around Agrella, school administrators, and the students involved. But lost among questions about police violence are larger policy concerns. When will democracy, that critical right to have a say in significant decision-making on campus, return to City College?

Critics say City College is compromising its core mission in its fight to remain open and accredited, slashing access for students and curtailing democracy in the name of reform.

"To be excluded and ignored and disenfranchised is simply unacceptable," said faculty union president Alisa Messer.

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PEPPER SPRAYED AND INJURED

The protest began as students marched across City College's main campus in an open space designated by college officials as a "free speech zone." They headed toward an administrative office building, Conlan Hall, where students freely conduct business every day. However, the administration locked the doors on the protesters.

In response, the students inside unlocked them. When the protesters tried to enter this public building, they were met with resistance from campus police and the SFPD.

Otto Pippenger, 20, who was at the front of the protest, was dragged to the ground by multiple officers and allegedly punched in the head by an SFPD officer, an incident caught on video and recalled in eyewitness accounts.

His mother, Heidi Alletzhauser, told the Bay Guardian that Pippenger had since received medical attention. She said he'd suffered a concussion, contusions from where his head hit the concrete, injuries to both wrists, and broken blood vessels in his right eye.

Dimitrios Philliou, 21, was tackled to the ground and pepper sprayed in the face. In a video interview shortly after the incident, he recalled what happened.

"I asked [officers] what law I broke and neither could give me an explanation. They proceeded to tackle me to the ground," he said.

In the end, Philliou was charged with misdemeanor "returning to school," described as trespassing by the Sheriff's Department. Pippenger was charged with two misdemeanors: resisting arrest and battery on emergency personnel.

The students were released the following morning (March 14), before sunrise. Philliou was issued a citation and released, and Pippenger made bail and was released, according to the San Francisco Sheriff's Department.

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