Faculty union points to systemic racism within SF State’s administration

Impassioned open letter implores management personnel to reconstruct and reconcile racial inequities within the university.

A+photo+posted+by+the+California+Faculty+Association+San+Francisco+State+Chapter+to+their+Facebook+page+on+July+2.+%22Enough%21+The+CFA-SFSU+Executive+Board+insists+that+white+supremacy+at+the+people%E2%80%99s+university+must+end%2C%22+the+photo%27s+caption+reads+on+the+page.++

CFA SF State Facebook Page

A photo posted by the California Faculty Association San Francisco State Chapter to their Facebook page on July 2. "Enough! The CFA-SFSU Executive Board insists that white supremacy at the people’s university must end," the photo's caption reads on the page.

As a policy, Xpress avoids using anonymous sources; however, a person quoted in this article requested anonymity because they were anxious about the administration’s reaction to their comments. According to SF State President Lynn Mahoney, in an interview with Xpress on July 7, under her administration, “no one should be afraid to speak out against racism.”

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A series of charges against the SF State administration were outlined by the university’s chapter of the California Faculty Association (CFA) in an email dated June 24. The email delineated a pattern of racial bias that the CFA said is pervasive within the school’s management personnel.

The CFA, a union that represents the university’s faculty members, issued the letter with the hopes of keeping the growing ardence for social reform rolling within SF State. The faculty’s demands included: defunding SF State police, an investigation of administrative actions, a handover of authority over the department of Africana studies back to the Black Unity Center and other measures “intended to achieve racial justice at the university.”

“Even in this time of heightened awareness due to the George Floyd uprising, we see that racial inequity is not improving on this campus but is becoming more entrenched,” the CFA wrote in the letter.

President Lynn Mahoney, who was hired in August 2019, replied to the CFA’s claims in an email dated June 29, stating that she hopes to go “beyond words to concrete actions.”

“These include strengthening the pipeline for Black students to SF State, prioritizing Black student success and hiring more Black faculty and administrators, as well as from other historically underrepresented groups,” Mahoney wrote. “I will soon be announcing plans to implement mandatory anti-racism education for all SF State managers.”

Despite Mahoney’s statement, a member of the CFA executive board who wished to remain anonymous, believes the CFA’s message has fallen on deaf ears.

“I felt as if Mahoney didn’t even read our response. Her response went with words, more words and words,” the anonymous source said. “We need action, not just a showcase of words.”

James Martel, president of the CFA SF State chapter, said that he believes President Mahoney is dodging larger issues with blanket statements and platitudes.

“I don’t think Mahoney cares. The whole Title IX department needs to be reconstructed, and old grievances need to be revisited,” he said. “When I started to work for the union, I would work in the grievance department, and that’s when I started noticing that there would be no real consequences. Nothing was changing, and the worst part was, they were getting promoted and rewarded.”

The anonymous source expressed a sense of disillusionment toward the SF State administration.

“The only way we’re ever going to have any kind of change in America is when white folks, especially people in great positions of agency and power like Lynn Mahoney, reconcile the incredible incongruities that brought them to a place of great agency,” the source said. “This is a city where Harvey Milk and all these great progressive things happened, but that’s the myth that they use to hold on to it, being the city’s university– forgetting about what the city has become, not what it was.”

Mahoney, in an interview with Xpress on July 7, said she is hoping to rectify the inequities that the CFA presented to her and the administration. She asked the SF State community to give her more time, asserting that she had only conducted one administrative search in her first year as SF State’s president.

“They’re not going to believe me until I have senior administrative searches that conclude with rich pools and diverse candidates,” she said. “I can say I’m going to hold inclusive searches, but until I do it they’re going to be right to question me.”

The Associated Students (AS) Vice President of External Affairs, Joshua Ochoa, weighed in on the CFA’s list of demands.

“I think overall, the demands are very thorough. I think these demands are definitely the majority opinion on campus. I think where it comes to be problematic is how you want to implement these demands,” Ochoa said. “A lot of the time you want there to be a new program or you want there to be more funding, but a lot of the time that is not the administration’s ability to do. That usually comes down the pipe from the CSU as a whole, you know, comes from the chancellor’s office.”

Mahoney said that beginning in fall, she will be commencing a search for the positions of vice president of student affairs and vice president of administration and finance. She added that she would be including the SF State community in this decision and simultaneously keeping diversity in mind during the selection process.

“I have only had one vice presidential search since I got here. I’ll be doing two in the fall. I promise that those searches will be inclusive of faculty, staff and students,” she said. “I will make those search committees go through anti-bias training. I will not let a pool go past to the interview stage if it has not been richly inclusive and diverse.”

Mahoney also suggested that the CFA’s frustration was demonstrative of a greater societal frustration within the nation.

“I think they’re just taking– what I hopefully think– is a more common outrage at the lack of progress we’ve made as a society, and just focusing specifically at San Francisco State and reminding us in a very, very direct way of what we have to do in the administration,” Mahoney said.

She also went on to say that the university will have to re-evaluate the search processes for new employed administrators, and that she recognizes that there is a lack of diversity within prestigious schools, which many universities draw from for administrative candidates.

“We can’t be just looking for people with the most elite backgrounds,” she said. “That’s one of those unconscious biases that we go into search processes with.”

Martel worries that bringing in a diverse administration will not remedy the problem unless the system is first restructured to address the university’s systemic biases.

“I genuinely believe the president wants to hire to make the campus more diverse. I just think that if she doesn’t do something about the fact that the faculty of color are horribly mistreated by the old system, it’s not going to help,” Martel said. “I don’t think that they’re vicious racists, I just think that they don’t have the courage to do anything about institutional racism.”

The CFA committee and President Mahoney both voiced intentions to plan a virtual town hall this coming fall semester.