Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle
City College of San Francisco trustees approved a $310,500 contract for Mark Rocha on Thursday, affirming him as the next chancellor 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 7-1 to hire Rocha, 63, who will replace interim Chancellor Susan Lamb on July 1, at a time of transition. City College recently emerged from a five-year struggle to remain accredited after being cited for inadequate leadership, poor fiscal controls and governance problems. The college won deadline extensions and was able to improve operations. In January, a commission renewed the college’s accreditation for seven years.
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 City College. Several speakers said they worried the same would happen with Rocha. Many held red flags to symbolize the risk.
“I understand the fear,” Trustee Shanell Williams told the standing-room-only crowd at the college’s main campus at 50 Phelan Ave. “But we need stable leadership.”
A selection committee had winnowed a field of 35 applicants to four this spring, and Rocha emerged as the only one who had led a community college.
“This isn’t time for someone who needs training wheels,” Trustee Tom Temprano said.
Rocha led Pasadena City College from 2010 to 2014 and was president of West Los Angeles College for four years before that. He also served for a year as president of Santiago Canyon College in Orange County, until 2001. He also spent five years as vice president of a for-profit college.
Rocha was not at the meeting and did not hear speaker after speaker tell of warnings they had received about him from faculty at the colleges he led.
“With all respect to you trustees, are you out of your minds? Have we not been through enough hell?” Janet Lohr, an art instructor, told the trustees, expressing the views of most speakers.
Some cited a ruling against Pasadena College in 2015 from the state’s Public Employment Relations Board that ordered the college, led by Rocha, 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. Rocha was also the subject of a no-confidence vote by the Pasadena faculty.
Ben Becker, co-chair of the San Francisco Berniecrats, accused Rocha of bullying, based on reports they had heard from his former colleagues.
Carlota Del Portillo, a retired dean of the Mission campus of City College who was on the search committee, was among a small group who praised Rocha. She said he had impressed her with his ideas for fundraising.
“I think City College will fare well with the first Latino chancellor in 85 years,” she said.
In the end, the trustees said that Rocha may not be the perfect candidate, but the need for stability outweighed other concerns. “I believe we should give people a chance,” said Trustee Alex Randolph.
Trustee Rafael Mandelman, the lone no vote, 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.”
After the vote, Alisa Messer, former president of the faculty union, called the decision disappointing. But, she said, “I hope, hope, hope that the trustees are right. I would love to be wrong.”