By JohnTaylor Wildfeuer
A holdover protocol that effectively stymied student access to City College administrators was ended by Chancellor Martin in his first month on the job.
For several reasons, not the least being the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been difficult, and in several cases impossible, for reporters at The Guardsman to gain access to City College administrators for interviews.
A Verbal Protocol
The majority of interview requests were sent, or forwarded, to Public Information Officer (PIO) Rosie Zepeda over the past twelve months, and in that time several student reporters from The Guardsman and Etc. Magazine have said that they have had difficulty securing interviews with faculty and administrators, and in some cases have had their public records requests go unfulfilled.
A new verbal protocol, which the PIO dates to spring 2021, was enacted by then-Interim Chancellor Rajen Vurdien requiring that reporters be asked for their questions prior to scheduling an interview.
As this would fundamentally change the integrity of the interviews, The Guardsman staff was hesitant to engage with the protocol. However, with student access proving increasingly difficult at least one reporter did provide an advanced copy of their questions.
This having failed to yield a different result in the lack of access to the interviewee, The Guardsman staff decided on a protocol of limited engagement with, and general protest to, the protocol.
Rosie Zepeda, whose full title Director of Media, Governmental Relations & Marketing is representative of the broad and varied roles she serves in at City College, clarified in an interview the intent behind the protocol and its origin, citing a general lack of personnel, and describing hers as an “office of one.”
During the four months Interim Chancellor Gonzalez served between Chancellors Vurdien and Martin the protocol was carried over. Zepeda made it clear that it was up to Chancellor Martin how he would like to advise his cabinet, and said of the interim period, “This is what we decided for now and that meant up to October 31.”
Developing a Dialogue
With an almost annual change of leadership over the last decade, it has been difficult for administrators to build lasting trust with college constituents and faculty groups.
At an Aug. 26 meeting of the Board of Trustees Vice President Tom Temprano spoke of the need to ensure “that these larger decisions are done transparently, collaboratively, and with as much forethought as possible.”
Chancellor Martin, who previously hosted an eight episode podcast from the helm of Monterey Peninsula College, echoed transparency as a priority in his Candidate Forum, and again in an interview with The Guardsman.
He said he will “spend the first couple of weeks and months really listening to the campus community, listening to the students,” and, citing his background as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), added that he will “take feedback and advice from the experts and try to make it a reality.”
On the subject of navigating difficult, at times contentious, negotiations and discussions between faculty, administrators, students, and community members Martin says, “My core is really creating and fostering and championing a campus community that is collaborative, that is transparent.”
The Chancellor says he will also seek feedback from the community and that he is intent on giving them “an opportunity to get creative, to become innovative,” adding he will be, “fostering and supporting that type of dialogue.”
Trust and Transparency
Calling himself a “huge fan” of the work of The Guardsman, Chancellor Martin says, “I absolutely understand that a free-flowing conversation sometimes generates the best stuff,” and weighed that against his desire to be prepared and ensure that he is “providing useful and relevant information.”
“Moving forward,” Martin says, “it can be a combination, I don’t necessarily feel as if we need to have advanced prepared questions.”
With sections of the Sunshine Ordinance suspended under Mayor Breed’s February 2020 Emergency Declaration, and trust in news outlets at the second lowest point in the Gallup polls recorded history, the need for quality reporting through meaningful interviews has seldom been greater.
Between massive adjustments brought about by long-term budget issues, a decade of high administrative turnover, and the more than 600 days of ongoing COVID-19 pandemic complications, there has been no shortage of reasonable causes for delays.
Under a new chancellor with a four-year contract, one with repeated commitments to developing greater transparency and institution-wide collaboration, the college may someday again find stability, and with more direct access to administrators the public may know how this was accomplished.