After multiple tries, City College of San Francisco hopes it has a permanent chancellor

‘He has all the ingredients to put City College back on track’

After nearly two years of interim leadership, City College of San Francisco has a new, permanent chancellor at the helm.

David Martin, the first chancellor in nearly a decade to have previously served at CCSF, began his tenure at the beginning of November. He steps in as the college is transitioning to in-person classes, working to stabilize its finances in the face of a structural deficit and is eager to attract students after an enrollment hit in 2020.

“From the onset, one of the things I am really focusing on is continuing to build on the previous relationships that I had here at City College as well as developing new relationships,” Martin said. “Those relationships are going to be critical to make sure we can all work together to ultimately move City College forward in the direction that best serves us. My priority…is really to help build a campus climate that is ingrained in trust, collaboration, and transparency.”

Martin’s strong emphasis on listening comes out of a period of broken trust between administration, faculty, and students. The last chancellor, Mark Rocha, had a contentious relationship with campus stakeholders — having garnered two votes of no confidence as president of Pasadena City College — and a move toward cuts.

Eventually, tensions emerged with the CCSF Board of Trustees. Rocha was suddenly placed on administrative leave in March 2020 for undisclosed reasons and took a nearly $376,000 settlement. He joined in 2017, as the college attempted to stabilize after a budget and accreditation crisis.

The board greatly desired top leadership that would last before they landed on Martin. Chancellors have not served for more than a couple of years at a time in roughly the past decade. Susan Lamb, serving as interim chancellor between 2015 to 2017, preceded Rocha and Art Tyler, chancellor from 2013 to 2015, came before her.

Don Griffin, who served between 2008 and 2012, was the last permanent leader before the trend of turnover. He, too, worked at City College before leading as chancellor. Senior Vice Chancellor for Administrative and Student Affairs Dianna Gonzales, followed by Rajen Vurdien, stepped in as interim chancellors after Rocha.

City College is where Martin first worked in higher education, as chief financial officer and interim vice chancellor for financial affairs from 2015 to 2017. He later became president of Monterey Peninsula Community College District. Now, Martin is coming back with historical context and an attention on finances.

Board of Trustees President Shanell Williams exuded relief in speaking about Martin. So far, she hasn’t received one negative email about him.

“He has all the ingredients to put City College back on track,’ Williams said. “His heart is in it, he sees where we are. We are looking toward a bright future.”

Malaika Finkelstein, president of CCSF faculty union American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, worked with Martin briefly during his previous stint at City College and found him to be friendly and accessible.

Having a history at City College “means he can hit the ground running and it means he has ties in a way that someone from the outside wouldn’t,” Finkelstein said. “He’s more likely to see our students as people. There’s a real impact on real people as opposed to we’re all abstract numbers.”

What she’s looking for is how Martin uses the input rather than just gathering it, which she says has been previously missing. Earlier this week, AFT 2121 filed an unfair labor practice complaint for allegedly failing to provide updated financial information related to temporary faculty pay cuts negotiated in May to prevent layoffs. It’s something she sees as Martin having an opportunity to change.

“It’s all too early to say how this is going to work out,” said Finklestein. “We need a chancellor who will fight against the downsizing of the college, someone who will stand up to the state, who sometimes will have hard conversations with the administration.”

For now, Martin continues to meet with staff and students, looking to hear more about what they’re seeing on the ground. Later on, he wants to strengthen collaboration across departments and programs, as well as build a relationship with elected officials, who have historically supported additional funding for the college.

“It was a bit of a left turn for me in coming to City College as a CFO,” Martin said. “Here, it is being a part of something that is much bigger than myself and being able to serve alongside so many wonderful individuals for the betterment of our region. Being surrounded by folks that share that same passion is really something special. There’s no better work in The City.”

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