BY HANK REICHMAN
Already reeling from the lengthy and damaging, though ultimately successful, campaign to retain the community college’s accreditation, faculty, students, and community supporters at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) may now face a new challenge. Yesterday, the college’s trustees approved a $310,500 contract for new Chancellor Mark Rocha, despite objections from dozens of instructors who warned that he had clashed with faculty at all three California community colleges where he has been president.
The trustees voted 6-1 to hire Rocha, 63, who will replace interim Chancellor Susan Lamb on July 1. Rocha will become the first permanent chancellor since 2015, when former Chancellor Art Tyler was removed from the job after less than two years by a state trustee overseeing CCSF.
“With all respect to you trustees, are you out of your minds? Have we not been through enough hell?” Janet Lohr, an art instructor, asked the trustees, expressing the views of most of the dozens of speakers who addressed the board prior to its vote.
Rocha’s record certainly would seem to validate faculty suspicions. Indeed, his resume seems almost emblematic of the kind of itinerant failed administrator that faculty members everywhere have learned through often bitter experience to recognize and despise. In the 1990s, Rocha was a professor of English at California State University, Northridge, where he rose to become an associate dean. In 1996, he was named dean of the college of humanities at Humboldt State University, but left two years later to become provost at Seton Hall University. From there he moved to Santiago Canyon College, where he served as college president for the 2000-2001 school year, departing after a faculty vote of no-confidence. Rocha then became president of the for-profit Argosy University/Los Angeles-Orange Campus in September 2001. He later was the Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs at Los Angeles Mission College prior to becoming president of West Los Angeles College in 2006. Rocha was the president of West Los Angeles College until 2010, when he left the school to become the president of Pasadena City College (PCC).
During Rocha’s tenure at PCC, the Los Angeles Times reported, full-time enrollment at the school, long considered one of the state’s finest community colleges, dropped by nearly 13%. College leadership also came under fire for inviting, and then uninviting, Oscar-winning alumnus Dustin Lance Black as commencement speaker. The invitation was rescinded over concerns about an illegally obtained sex video featuring the screenwriter, but trustees backed off and Black spoke at graduation.
Pasadena faculty took two no-confidence votes in Rocha and conducted an online review of his leadership that produced scathing results, with most respondents saying he had done a poor job of guiding the school. “Fascist approach to leadership,” one wrote. “Rocha is destroying PCC,” said another. The faculty vote showed 92% displeasure with his management. In April 2013, the Academic Senate voted against him 23–0, with one abstention.
Faculty members said they were left in the dark about several crucial issues, including scheduling changes, canceling winter semester and opening a new extension campus. “These decisions have been made behind closed doors,” said Eduardo Cairo, then the president of the Academic Senate. “We keep on telling them that we’re open, we’re here, let’s talk, and they never want to talk.”
When the college’s Board of Trustees removed faculty and staff input from Rocha’s performance evaluation, in March 2014 the Academic Senate conducted its own evaluation, using the existing college evaluation forms. The majority of respondents answered “nothing” was working at the college, and frequently suggested that Rocha’s departure would improve the institution.
In 2015, California’s Public Employment Relations Board ruled against Rocha’s Pasadena City administration, ordering the college to stop interfering with union representation, and to “cease and desist” from unilaterally changing the school calendar. The college was ordered to restore faculty pay with interest.
In August 2014, Rocha announced his retirement from PCC, “to spend more time with my family and return to my passion for teaching and writing.” Although the trustees initially denied it in public, Rocha was paid over $403,000 plus legal fees for his salary through to early 2016. However, that settlement was overturned on April 29, 2015 by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, ruling on a lawsuit filed in August 2014 by Californians Aware. The payoff settlement had been decided within a closed session, in violation of open meeting laws, the court determined. Rocha, who had threatened to sue the board regarding negative comments made about him, was required to return the $403,000 payoff and renegotiate the settlement agreement.
Apparently some CCSF trustees are unfamiliar with the concept of “failing upward.” “We are impressed with Dr. Rocha’s qualifications and experience in higher education,” said Thea Selby, president of the CCSF Board of Trustees. Throughout the search process, “Dr. Rocha consistently received high rankings from our constituency groups, particularly our students.” Added Trustee Tom Temprano: “This isn’t time for someone who needs training wheels.” The lone vote against hiring Rocha came from CCSF trustee Rafael Mandelman, a frequent faculty ally. He said it will be a “tough thing for the chancellor” to work in an atmosphere of opposition. But he pledged to “do everything I can to make him a successful chancellor.”
In a public statement prior to yesterday’s meeting, the board of CCSF’s faculty union, AFT 2121, wrote:
Some are saying that hiring Rocha is a calculated risk, and that he’s the only candidate with experience. It’s not a calculated risk to hire Mark Rocha, it’s a guaranteed disaster. His record makes it clear that he stirs up trouble wherever he goes, and is no friend to students, faculty or staff.The board can and should hire an interim chancellor while they put in the work to find a candidate for the chancellor position that we can trust.
CCSF’s last permanent chancellor, Art Tyler, who was hired in 2013 to help City College manage its accreditation crisis, lasted less than two years before he was reassigned to run the college’s facilities department. Subsequently, the San Francisco Chronicle learned that as chancellor, Tyler, who earned an annual salary of $289,284, traveled so often that he was absent from campus for roughly a third of his tenure. He resigned in January 2016. Lamb was named interim chancellor in June 2015, earning a base salary of $265,880.
After the vote to approve Rocha’s contract, faculty member Alisa Messer, former president of AFT 2121, called the decision disappointing. But, she said, “I hope, hope, hope that the trustees are right. I would love to be wrong.”