The City College of San Francisco retracted a Cantonese certificate program born out of a two-year, community-driven fight to save classes in the language, NextShark has learned.
Background: The college’s Cantonese program first faced jeopardy in Fall 2021 due to budget cuts. City College Trustee Alan Wong, who was elected board president earlier this year, led the effort to save its classes, partnering with more than 40 Asian organizations for a proposal that paved the way for two certificate programs. Those include a 9-unit Conversational Cantonese Certificate and a 16-unit Chinese Cantonese Certificate, which were recommended by the Curriculum Committee in September and October 2022, respectively, and both ratified by the Board of Trustees on Nov. 10, 2022. Both were then ready for submission to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) for final review.
The latest: On Nov. 23, 2022, however, the Curriculum Committee pulled its support for the 16-unit program. In their meeting, it was reportedly stated that the program “has been reverted back to draft status until the department has the resources to develop more Cantonese offerings, including a grammar course.”
In March 2023, World Languages and Cultures Department Chair Diana Garcia-Denson stated that it will not be offered this year as it remains in the draft stage, and the current draft “does not meet department standards because we don’t have the courses nor the resources to support a 16-unit certificate in Cantonese.”
Wong responds: In a new press release, Wong stressed the importance of the program in fighting Asian hate and ensuring bilingual services for the Chinese community:
Our Chinese community celebrated City College’s approval of the Cantonese program. We finally had recognition that the Chinese community and Cantonese language matters. To suddenly pull the rug from under our feet after it had been approved is unjust and undemocratic. This tone-deaf decision is a disappointment to the Chinese community.
The bigger picture: Cantonese, alongside Mandarin, is one of San Francisco’s threshold languages, which means it has at least 10,000 limited English proficient (LEP) residents who use it. According to Wong, Cantonese is the most common language spoken by the city’s Chinese population. Data from 2021 showed that of nearly 660,000 LEP client interactions across city departments, 43.6% were in Cantonese. It is also the second-most requested translation for domestic violence calls after Spanish.
What Wong is doing: Wong, whose parents are Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong, has vowed to push the college to “acknowledge and assure” that the 16-unit program will be in future catalogs. For now, he has included an action item on a July 22, 2023 Board of Trustees agenda to approve a notation in the upcoming academic catalog, which will “indicate that the 16-unit Cantonese certificate is incoming.”