In 2017, City College of San Francisco emerged from a budget and accreditation crisis to search for a new chancellor who would lead the beleaguered institution to new beginnings. The college landed on Mark Rocha despite his troubled past earning two votes of no confidence as president of Pasadena City College.
Things didn’t work out as planned. After less than three years, the Board of Trustees abruptly placed Rocha on leave last March for undisclosed reasons. He later resigned and collected a nearly $376,000 settlement.
Now, City College has found itself looking for new leadership once again amid new challenges.
“It was a different time and a different set of problems in some ways,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, the only member of the Board of Trustees to oppose Rocha at the time. “The financial challenges are as great or greater, probably. And then there’s the pandemic.”
On Thursday, the Board of Trustees approved the terms of its new selection process and an aggressive timeline for finding the right person. The board is expected to choose the next chancellor by late April to begin serving as early as July.
The college is hoping to find someone who will last.
“It’s arguably the biggest single responsibility the board has,” said Tom Temprano, vice president of the board. “The turnover we’ve had in City College in that position in the last decade, that lack of stability and continuity in that position is a real problem. We need someone who can be there in the longer term.”
The chancellor search comes as the college continues to struggle with enrolling students, which affects funding, despite running a free tuition program. In September, the college’s accreditor placed it under “enhanced monitoring” over its poor fiscal condition and turnover in leadership. The college is awaiting next steps after submitting plans to the agency to address the financial issues.
CCSF hasn’t had the same chancellor for more than a couple years at a time in recent memory. The longest-serving chancellor in the last decade was Don Griffin, who served between 2008 and 2012. Rocha was proceeded by Susan Lamb, who served as interim chancellor from 2015 to 2017, and Art Tyler, who was chancellor from 2013 until 2015.
City College’s faculty union is hoping that a different selection process, one that perhaps looks inward for candidates who are current or former CCSF employees, might yield better results.
The college has typically chosen from a small group of candidates. Just 15 people applied for the job when the board selected Rocha from a pool of four finalists.
The board had to extend the search deadline at the time to get more applicants.
“The pool of people who apply for national chancellor jobs is pretty small,” said Malaika Finkelstein, president of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121. “So what we get is these people who jump from college to college. And that maybe isn’t what we need, maybe what we need is a different kind of person who isn’t in that pool.”
But the accelerated pace of the search this time around might grant the college some flexibility. By planning to make a choice by April, the screening committee and board can restart the process at any point if the candidate turns out to not be a good match or the person selected takes another offer in a competitive market for academic leadership.
“The worst thing that can happen is what we call a failed search,” consultant Cindy Miles said at the Board of Trustees meeting Thursday. “That is the primary danger that occurs in these searches. If there’s something wrong with the search, we can close it and reopen.”
Newly sworn-in Trustee Alan Wong also said the tough competition finding qualified candidates means the college has to offer attractive compensation to find the right person.
But “exorbitant” severance packages thrown at candidates are part of the problem in retaining quality leadership and community trust, Wong said. He is interested in lobbying state leadership for legislation to help level the playing field by placing a cap on severance packages.
“When a chancellor does have a big severance package and it’s utilized, it reduces confidence in the college,” Wong said. “I’m very interested in looking at how we make a consistent standard statewide.”
But such a change likely wouldn’t happen in time to impact the current chancellor search.
While there are undoubtedly challenges ahead, being CCSF chancellor makes for an attractive position in other ways, Mandelman said.
City leaders are hoping the college will help San Francisco’s economic recovery after the pandemic, with its commitment to workforce development.
San Francisco voters have also shown time and again their willingness to support the college financially in times of need. Voters in November approved an $845 million bond to upgrade CCSF facilities.
In addition, Finkelstein said CCSF leads the way in providing equitable compensation for adjunct faculty. But there is much trust to repair.
“The mess that Rocha created in our community, in the way people feel about the college, it’s been horrible,” Finkelstein said. “People are scared and angry…What I’d like to see in a chancellor search is someone who’s aware of that dynamic and wants to heal it. No one chancellor is going to have a magic wand and fix it. A good administrator can make moves in that direction.”
Mandelman cautioned the college against rushing to a decision.
“There are some people who will be really right for City College and a lot who won’t,” Mandelman said. “In the worst-case scenario, they can go with another interim.”
Applications for the chancellor role are due in March and will be reviewed by a screening committee made up of three faculty members, three administrators, three classified employees, three students, three community members and two trustees. Trustees have emphasized the need for someone with strong fiscal management who is also receptive to community feedback.
Rajen Virudien, who succeeded Rocha as the former head of Pasadena City College, is currently serving as interim chancellor.