By Gene Thompson
While many in the City College community were stunned by the sudden announcement that Chancellor David Martin will not renew his contract beyond its expiration in June of 2024, others were mystified. As students were interviewed across Ocean Campus on Sept. 26, just five days after Martin gave notice, the most common response was, “What’s a chancellor?”
Their reaction was startling. The top administrator, who took on the job in November of 2021 promising transparency, did not even exist in the minds of many of those interviewed.
Gwen Johnson, a Psychology major, and Nursing students Jessa Lee and Allison Tran, relaxing over snacks in the student union, expressed typical reactions. “I don’t know what a chancellor is,” said Lee, with Tran nodding agreement. After a few hints Johnson risked a guess. “Is he basically like the manager of the college?” That got the ball rolling and Tran chimed in. “Is he someone who, like, deals with the politics of the school?”
The three wanted to know if the college would need to find a new chancellor to replace Martin, and whether that could cause a lot of trouble. “What would happen to the school if he resigns and there’s no one else to replace him?” asked Lee.
When informed that the chancellor laid off 38 tenured and tenure-track professors along with over 100 part-time instructors in May, 2022, Johnson wanted to know if people still liked him. “If he has that kind of power and he resigns and is replaced by someone else, we don’t know how they’re gonna be. They could be either good or bad. It could affect our school, it could affect teachers, it could affect students.”
Some students did know about Martin’s announcement. Psychology major Stefan Rodriguez said he was taken by surprise when he heard the news. He also knew about the layoffs of 2022 about which he said, “It is strange to expect that they would want to come back as if nothing ever happened. I think that budget cuts should not be a reason to lay off professors that could have been here for 15, 20, even 30 years, and some are very good.”
Rodriquez said he had a lot of trouble getting into classes, especially English 1A, which has been severely impacted in the wake of the layoffs. He said he waited and waited but could not get into an English class. “They said, ‘I’m sorry, but we’re overfilled.’” He finally gave up trying to get into the impacted classes.
Yvette Lee, who is studying automotive engineering, also did not know there was a chancellor, or what he does. When she was told that a chancellor basically runs the college she said she hopes his replacement “will make a better community for the students so more students will come here.”
Biology major Alicia Quick, who is in her second year at City College, and Bre’nae Bullocks-Benard, an undeclared freshman, sat in the cafeteria eating lunch and studying the Bible. Quick knew who the chancellor was but did not know he had announced his decision not to seek a contract renewal. Bullocks-Benard assumed “chancellor” referred to Student Chancellor Malinalli Villalobos. Quick said the chancellor was “like the president.” She said she wondered what led to his decision and why there hasn’t been any news about it.
Quick was also aware of the 2022 layoffs. She said it was important “to look at the big picture,” including finances, but was uncomfortable that “we have lower staff now. We need more students, so we need to bring those staff numbers up. But I understand the logistics are complicated. We need to inform the students. It’s important to figure out what our finances are focused on so we can have the staff we need for the students. The more educated people in our community the better, so we’re trying to educate our community. So the chancellor needs to be focussed on the student population, focused on the resources we need, starting with the professors, because they guide us and teach us.”
Bullocks-Bernard said a new chancellor “should be meek and humble, someone who would walk the campus and be connected to the students.”
Psychology major Xavier Braxton, in his second year at City, joined the table. He did not know about the chancellor’s announcement and did not know what a chancellor does, except that “maybe” he controls the college. He said counselors helped him register for his classes.
Braxton felt it was important to find a new chancellor “who knows the school and respects the students and the staff.” He said he had never seen the chancellor.
Julia Stenzel is taking a linguistics class at City College. She did not know who the chancellor was or what he does. She is in her first semester, having graduated from high school when she was 16, and expressed appreciation for the Free City program because she “couldn’t afford to go to college without it.”
Stenzel said she had a lot of trouble registering. “I tried to register the previous semester but the basic classes I needed were all full so I had to wait until this semester.” Stenzel did not know about the 2022 layoffs but when informed said, “When you’re the top executive you’re under a lot of pressure to make decisions and if you have to cut the budget you have to cut it somewhere and no matter what you cut people aren’t going to be happy with it. And if he quit, maybe he couldn’t manage it, maybe he realized he wasn’t doing a good job.”
She thought the next chancellor should “be somebody who’s worked here awhile, so they see the repercussions of those layoffs. It should be somebody who’s not like up in some high tower looking down, but should be aware of changes that are happening and find out from students, ‘do you guys care about these classes?’ and be aware of a lot of new programs that are coming and have classes for those new programs, and put up posters and find out what people really want instead of just what’s here already, instead of, you know, just looking at the finances.
“I don’t think the chancellor has any relationship with the students because I don’t think if I asked any of my friends, I don’t think any of them would know anything about him at all.”