By Sadie Peckens
Interim Chancellor Dr. Rajen Vurdien has come out of retirement to lead City College. His one-year term began July 1, 2020, and will end June 30, 2021. In an interview with The Guardsman, Dr. Vurdien emphasized the importance of constituents working together to establish priorities, highlighted work accomplished so far, and discussed areas of importance looking ahead.
Vurdien has more than 30 years of experience in education. He has served as a teacher, an administrator, and in leadership roles for Fullerton College, North Orange County Community College District, Saddleback College, South Orange County Community College District, Mission Viejo, and Long Beach City College. In February 2019 he retired as Superintendent-President and Chief Executive Officer of Pasadena City College. Asked why he would come out of retirement to take on this challenge Vurdien replied “I thought it would be wonderful to come to this college and help move it forward and help the students get the greatest education they can get.”
Within his first month, Vurdien proposed a reorganization of the higher administration which he calls the “right-sizing of the organization.” The plan eliminated some positions while creating others, resulting in $550,000 in savings. It was presented and passed at the July 30 Special Meeting of the Board of Trustees.
This is “more or less bringing the institution at par with other schools of this size,” Vurdien said. The areas of human resources, finance and administration, and student affairs will now have oversight from individual vice-chancellors. They need individual oversight because “those are major areas of an institution,” Vurdien said. He later added, “we want someone who will speak for those areas passionately at that level.”
Questioned about his priorities for City College, Vurdien said that the priorities should be determined in collaboration with students, faculty and administration.“You can’t have somebody come in here and have priorities after two months. That would be leading the institution to disaster,” Vurdien said.
Vurdien did identify some areas that are of key importance as he looks forward, including public health. “Given the pandemic right now we are all working very hard to see how soon we can open the campus based on the information we receive from the Department of Public Health,” Vurdien said. “When we open the campus we need to have an institution that will guarantee the safety of our students and the safety of our employees.”
Another top area of importance is finding a way to manage the budget over the next five years. The college’s financial crisis has resulted in significant class cuts and faculty eliminations.
“Our budget will remain the same but our expenditures will keep going up. We have to find a way to manage that,” Vurdien said. This will require an enrollment management plan that accounts for the population growth pattern in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area, he added.
Vurdien identified addressing the achievement gap for students of color as a third area of importance. “When you have this gap, that is not acceptable. I want to see a plan on how we are going to address that. I don’t think that we should ever have stopped working on that. Bridging that gap is one of the most important things we can do for our students. We owe them that, ” he said.
While Vurdien identified these areas as important he also emphasized that “priorities are usually determined by the various constituency groups on campus working together.” Various constituents have stated some specific areas they hope will be looked at during Vurdien’s time with City College.
“We would like the chancellor to focus on preserving our school, by adding classes, protecting jobs, protecting working conditions, and improving equity for our students,” said AFT 2121 Union President Malaika Finkelstein.
Student Trustee Vick Van Chung said there is an urgent need to protect student jobs, to address the digital divide, and to provide support to students through increased counseling services. “Ultimately the way our institution is structured, the interim chancellor has the most power. It is the chancellor and it is the vice-chancellor who make these decisions,” Chung said.
Asked if he has a message for students, Vurdien replied “My message to the students is that nothing, nothing should prevent them from achieving their dreams. I want them to know that city college is there for them.”
“Whatever their problem, whatever the issue is….I want them to know they have an advocate in me. I want to hear from them. We are here to help and support them,” Vurdien said. To that end, Vurdien hosts open forums on Zoom the last week of every month. An archive of past forums is available at https://www.ccsf.edu/news.