City College of San Francisco to Review Protest Violence, Civil Discourse

An instant after the punch that City College Student Otto Pippenger said may have caused his concussion. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

An instant after the punch that City College Student Otto Pippenger said may have caused his concussion. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

By Alex Emslie

The City College of San Francisco community is reeling after a pretty common event at the school’s main campus, a protest, exploded into a violent confrontation between students and police on March 13.

Teachers who have been at the school for 30 years say they’ve never seen anything like last week’s skirmish, which ended with two students beaten up and in handcuffs.

Chancellor Arthur Tyler agrees on that point, and he plans to hire an independent legal expert to review the incident.

“I need answers and I need facts, and then I need recommendations that we can take to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” he said.

The Save CCSF Coalition organized last week’s protest calling for the ouster of the state-imposed leader of the college, Special Trustee Robert Agrella, and the reversal of a new policy requiring tuition to be paid up-front at the beginning of the semester. Students with the coalition say Tyler’s public statement a day after the protest have already poisoned his proposed review.

In that statement, Tyler wrote that students engaged in “violent outbursts.”

“If he is serious about investigating what occurred on March 13, then he should not be posting flagrant accusations against students before the investigation has even begun,” said student and Save CCSF organizer Michael Madden.

City College of San Francisco Chancellor Arthur Tyler.

City College of San Francisco Chancellor Arthur Tyler.

Campus police arrested two students for misdemeanors, including one charge of battery on a police officer. A spokesman for the San Francisco district attorney’s office said the cases have been discharged, meaning prosecutors don’t plan to file charges at this time but reserve the right to do so later.

During the incident, Dimitrious Philliou was pepper-sprayed, and Otto Pippenger sustained a concussion and fractured wrists. He had a black eye and wrist braces when he returned to the scene of the protest yesterday.

“This is the first time I’ve been in front of Conlan Hall since last week,” Pippenger said. “It’s a little strange, but I suppose it feels good to come back and have it be my school again, walking unmolested.”

Pippenger said San Francisco police escalated the tension when several dozen students tried to push past officers and enter the administration building. While he was face-down and being handcuffed, an SFPD officer punched Pippenger in the back of the head and slammed his face into the concrete.

“The campus police were handling it, no violence, some tension, and then the SFPD showed up out of nowhere and it spiraled into violence,” he said. “One-sided violence I should add, against the students.”

An SFPD spokesman said city officers were on the scene to support campus police, and he declined to comment on what he said is a City College police department matter.

Students may face academic discipline, according to City College spokesman Peter Anning. He said that would require a hearing, and that prospect was being discussed with the chancellor.

Chancellor Tyler  is also calling for a task force on civil discourse at City College. He wants students, faculty and administrators to define school policy for protests.

“There really should be a rich discussion about the conduct of behavior and speech on this campus,” he said.

Longtime faculty at the school say they are disturbed by the confrontation last week, but they don’t want it to overshadow the larger issues facing the school stemming from a protracted political battle with the regional junior college accrediting commission.

“What I’m hoping is that one moment of small violence doesn’t obscure the demands,” labor and community studies department chair Bill Shields said. “We need to get our elected board back. This punitive payment policy needs to be changed.”


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