There are four seats open on the board in this November’s election. Between now and then, The Guardsman will publish a series of Q&As with all ten candidates.
By Gina Sciabbala
Why are you running for re-election, particularly in the middle of an accreditation crisis?
I ran in 2008 for the same reasons I am running now, which is I do believe fundamentally in the power of education to transform lives. When I took on this job in 2008 I knew there were challenges, but I wanted to expand the power of education to more families. I didn’t know how deep the challenges were and it was obvious to me it would take 6 more years.The accrediting commission’s decision is telling us that we have to push ahead with reforming the college and if people believe I am controversial because I am trying to change too much, guess what? The commission is telling us we have to change even more.
What you are saying about needing more time in office to fix the problems facing CCSF sounds reminiscent of President Obama’s speech at the DNC when he said four years are not enough.
I made a commitment to address the challenge faced by the college. There is no way we are going to finish it by the time my term ends. If we had, I would not have run. The next two years will be pivotal because we are going to make the major decisions that will really get the college back on its feet and working in a healthier, more responsible, and accountable way. That’s why I am running for reelection. There is no other reason. So we can serve students better.
What is your connection to City College?
It transformed my wife’s life. She went to City College and then went on to Stanford University. My father took classes here. People like my mother benefited from the vocational training City College offers.
Have you ever taken a class here?
I have not.
Do you find it challenging to represent a diverse student body of about 90,000 students?
No, I don’t, but I want to be clear about who I represent. It is not just those immigrant students. It is also the rest of the student body who benefit from how we operate the college. The college is essential to our economy and our fabric. Whether you go there or know someone who goes there. We have an open, competitive system. It is a remarkable competitive advantage that we have at City College. I represent not just the students, but serve the taxpayers, the businesses and the families.
I know you are an attorney. What does your experience further bring to the table for the Board?
A couple things. As long as I never forget where I come from. That experience is invaluable being a first generation college graduate myself. I come from a household where the language spoken was not just English, but Vietnamese.
I have a public policy background. I understand economics and public finance issues. That helps me understand the fiscal challenges we face. That has been reinforced with my actual experience with the budget and audits and the other fiscally related matters as the chair of the Budget Committee and chair of the Audit Committee.
Putting my lawyer hat on, I understand collective bargaining, understanding contracts, employment issues that come up, understanding the litigation process, the law. I use that knowledge to work effectively as a trustee.
Day One, you are re-elected. What is at the top of your to do list?
Execute the plan to remain accredited. That’s it. There is no room for error. We have to keep the college open for our students and the city. We have to do whatever it takes. Even if that means we are inviting another trustee to come in and help us make that decision.
What happens come if Prop 30 and Prop A don’t pass? Do you have a contingency plan?
Yes, but we can develop a better plan. Fundamentally, 90% of our budget goes to salaries and benefits. Where else are we going to cut? I am not going to lie to you. That is exactly what we have to do.
Many faculty members would probably disagree and become angry to hear that statement. How would you respond to them?
I have another word that you probably heard during the Democratic National Convention. “Arithmetic.” I cannot make money. We are not the Federal government. I cannot issue debt. We have “a simple arithmetic problem.” 92% of our budget is going to salaries and benefits, ok? We have cut the other 8% pretty much to the bone. From someone who knows about this budget, there is money there that we have to cut. That we can cut. That we will cut that will not be as painful as it sounds.
Where would you cut?
I can’t tell you that because a lot of this is collective bargaining. What I will tell you is that with 90% of the budget, there are only certain options we have. I will leave that part to the negotiators.
What is your astrological sign?
I am a Virgo-dragon, proudly. I like to boast that I have an astrological sign on the Asian side that is the only mythological creature in the sign. I am not a pig, or horse or rabbit. I am an actual mythological creature.
What is on your Ipod?
A lot of songs. I listen to Jay Electronica, Adele, Motown, Marvin Gaye, ‘80s rock, Rachel Yamagata.
You created the Pham Fund in 2010 in honor of your mother who passed away of cancer. The fund has helped women who are dealing with domestic violence. Tell us more about it.
It was created to respect the honor of my mother who found a vocation to work her way to some level of freedom and security for herself and her family.
Last year was the first year. We raised about $3,300 in its pilot year. It pays for educational materials for survivors of domestic violence to get this type of training. We started with five people. Many are taking City College classes. ESL classes. Some are taking vocational classes at City College. It provides survivors with resources to basically pursue a degree or a certificate of some kind. They can get books and pay for tuition. Mainly it has been for textbooks and materials so far. Software if someone is taking a tech class.
Last Question: Do you read the Guardsman? Do you read Etc. Magazine?
Yes. I do read the Guardsman and Etc. Magazine.