By Garrett Leahy
About a month after formally announcing the commencement of City College’s search for a new permanent chancellor on Feb. 12, Shanell Williams, president of City College’s Board of Trustees, announced March 15 that the search will be put on hiatus as the board deals with City College’s budgetary crisis.
“Last night, the Board met in closed session and concluded that it will be in the best interest of the District to suspend the search at this time and reopen it July 1. This will allow us time to work through the critical decisions we must make to balance our 2021-2022 Budget to maintain our accreditation and safeguard the future of City College,” Williams said in a March 15 update posted to City College’s website.
Williams did not have details on what the Board planned as far as who will lead the college during the three-month gap between the end of Interim Chancellor Rajen Vurdien’s contract on June 30 and the estimated start date of the next chancellor on October 1, 2021.
“Vurdien is still in charge right now, but we’ll make sure that we have leadership for the college,” said Board of Trustees President Shanell Williams. “We’re not looking at options for the moment in terms of an additional interim capacity.”
Williams declined to comment further regarding leadership plans between July 1 and October 1, citing her inability to discuss labor negotiations.
The search committee is a body made up of students, faculty, administrators, and community members involved with the recruiting and screening of candidates for the chancellor position. Tim Wolfred, who served as a trustee at City College from 1981 to 1995 and is a member of the search committee, said a three month leadership gap can be easily remedied by the board.
“We’re talking about a three-month extension or a three-month gap between July 1 and October 1; I would assume that the current administration could handle that three months, whether the current interim chancellor stays on or not, and it doesn’t make sense to go out and bring in somebody else for such a brief period of time,” Wolfred said.
Wolfred said one benefit of pausing the search is that it will allow more time to gather a larger pool of qualified candidates; since the position opened on Feb. 12, only nine candidates who applied to the position meet the minimum qualifications. Wolfred said that a larger pool is needed because that will allow the search committee and the Board of Trustees, which hires the chancellor, to be more selective in the hiring process and select the most qualified candidate available.
“We like to cast as large a net as possible, with only 9 [candidates], you don’t really get that. I’d personally like to see more like 20-25 who meet the minimum qualifications … You want enough competitive candidates that the one you end up with is going to be a good one,” Wolfred said.
According to Helen Benjamin, president of HSV Consulting, 14 people have retired from chancellor positions in community college districts across California so far this year, making for a more competitive environment as candidates have more than City College to choose from, and adding to the need for a larger candidate pool.
HSV Consulting is a small Dallas-based firm which has assisted City College both in its current search for a permanent chancellor as well as its previous search that ended with the hiring of Vurdien.
“Lots of retirements … That’s 14 vacancies. We’re competing with a lot of districts for candidates,” Benjamin said.
During the hiatus, the search committee will not meet to discuss the chancellor search, according to Wolfred, but Benjamin said that HSV Consulting will remain occupied with the search for City College’s next chancellor, specifically by staying updated on decisions by the Board and administration, and communicating with job candidates.
“We have to keep abreast with the college and keep talking to candidates,” Benjamin said. “The people applying for the job have questions about the state of the college and they’re watching as things move on … what decisions have been made … these are the things that candidates want to know to determine whether they want to move into competition for the position.”
Malaika Finkelstein, president of AFT2121, the union which represents City College’s faculty, said that her primary concern is not the delay in the chancellor search, but hiring a chancellor who will avoid cutting faculty and departments and increase educational opportunities for the community.
“Ideally when they actually hire someone, whether its now or later, that person will be someone who is actually interested in the communities in San Francisco directly,” said Finkelstein, who has criticized the faculty layoffs this semester which affect departments such as Disabled Students Programs and Services, ESL, and Phillipine Studies departments.
“Interim Chancellor Vurdien has said repeatedly that he is very close to the state chancellor, and recently he has been telling us that the state chancellor wants to downsize our college … he said that the state chancellor wants this college to be 18,000 to 20,000 students, right now we’re at 60,000 … if our interim chancellor is correct in that that’s what the state wants, then what we need is a chancellor who doesn’t want to see our school cut by two-thirds,” Finkelstein said.
When State Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley was asked whether it was his intention to reduce City College’s student population, he denied that he was involved with decisions made at the college, saying that the Board of Trustees has full authority.
“I do not seek to make any decisions on behalf of CCSF. Decisions are made locally by the democratically elected trustees and through a collegial consultation process. Neither I nor the chancellor’s office is part of that process. I recognize that the governing board needs to make some very difficult decisions in order to ensure the fiscal stability of the college and I fully support them in their efforts,” Oakley said.
Vurdien denied speaking with the chancellor about reducing City College’s student body and said that he was not interested in doing so.
“This is absolutely not true,” said Vurdien, referring to Finkelstein’s comments.
According to the City College chancellor job description, some of the board’s main priorities for the incoming chancellor are to maintain the college’s accreditation with the state and to balance the college’s budget, which has operated at a deficit for several years running.
Williams said that her ideal candidate for a chancellor would be one with “accreditation experience, strong fiscal management, and a willingness to work with our unique context at the college …[and] a willingness to work closely with the board.”
Wolfred said he had similar expectations regarding the incoming chancellor’s experience, but also specifically wants someone familiar with returning companies to solvency.
“I think having experience as a turnaround executive would be helpful … somebody who’s going to come in and right the ship,” Wolfred said.
The adjusted timeline for appointing City College’s next chancellor will be announced at the next Board of Trustees meeting on April 29.