By Gene Thompson
When the Board of Trustees (BoT) met for their regular meeting on Sept. 28, the circumstances were anything but regular. City College Chancellor David Martin lit a blazing fire on Sept. 21 with the announcement, presented by BoT President Wong, that he was quitting. Board Trustee Shanell Williams fanned the flames.
Williams was quoted in The Standard describing a contentious environment at the BoT. According to the Standard, Williams claimed “Wong’s statement was not approved by the Board of Trustees and disputed the statement.”
The Standard article continued, “Williams said Martin’s decision was due to ongoing differences of opinion between the chancellor and members of the board on how to make the process for the college’s budget more equitable amid looming accreditation renewal in 2024.
“‘It’s the unwillingness of our stakeholders on the board to engage in a fair process. [Martin’s] just being pushed into a corner,’ she said, adding that a group of trustees would be delivering a vote of no confidence in Wong at the next board meeting on Thursday.”
It has not yet been possible to ascertain who the “group of trustees” might be.
Perhaps in response to The Standard article, an unusually large number of speakers turned out for the BoT public comment period. Most spoke in support of Wong.
Williams addressed her colleagues and the audience during the public comment period explaining that she could not stay due to a work commitment.
As was the case in The Standard, her comments did not make clear who would be calling for a vote of no confidence in Wong’s leadership, or on what basis.
Williams said, “I know there’s been a lot of news that’s come out regarding the chancellor and a number of things.” She appealed to her colleagues to “come together to really have a conversation around some of the things that have been challenging for us as a board. I would hope we can maybe call a special meeting to discuss what’s been happening over the past couple weeks.” The BoT just approved the 2023-24 budget in a process that was at times contentious.
Williams mentioned the seriousness of the upcoming Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) and said, “I would hate to lose all that’s been invested in our college and the future of our college and preserving our accreditation and our financial stability.”
After the public comment period the board continued their ongoing discussion of how best to deal with the unfunded liability of other post employment benefits (OPEBs). These are benefits, such as health insurance and dental care, that many employees receive upon retiring, in addition to their pension. The rate at which the college should invest into the trust that guarantees these benefits is hotly debated by the unions, the chancellor and the BoT.
The ACCJC, which will be assessing City College’s adherence to its standards during the first week in October, has informed the college that it will be examining how it keeps the fund adequately supported.
The October visit of the ACCJC intensifies the importance of the chancellor’s announced exit. The commission has held City College under enhanced monitoring for three years. After the three year mark it is possible for the commission to levy sanctions on the college.
In 2012 the ACCJC placed City College under its most severe sanction, show cause, which requires an institution to prove it deserves to continue to be accredited. In 2013, citing continued financial weakness, the commission declared its intention to revoke City College’s accreditation, a move that could have destroyed the college. Legal maneuvers by the San Francisco City Attorney’s office and others delayed the action. It was eventually rescinded.
The commission does not look favorably on unstable leadership, which begs the question of why Martin, who became chancellor in November, 2021, chose to announce he will not be seeking a contract renewal just weeks before the ACCJC arrives.