An unpopular chancellor is gone — but he left a lot of problems behind that his successor will have to fix

Chancellor Art Tyler, with Board President Rafael Mandelman. Tyler was essentially fired today
Chancellor Art Tyler, with Board President Rafael Mandelman. Tyler was essentially fired today

By Tim Redmond

JUNE 5, 2015 — City College Chancellor Art Tyler was suddenly and summarily demoted today, in a move that didn’t surprise insiders who say he had been on the rocks for a while.

Most of the community seems pleased with the move, although it was made by the state chancellor and the special trustee without the consent (or even the consultation) of the elected Board of Trustees.

The decision came from state Chancellor Brice Harris and the special trustee, Guy Lease.

Tyler will be replaced, for now, by Susan Lamb, who had been vice chancellor for academic affairs. He will stick around (for now) as vice chancellor for facilities management.

Lamb is well regarded at the school, and leaders of the teachers union were cautiously optimistic.

“She is known as competent and respectful, and we look forward to working with her,” Tim Killikelly, president of AFT Local 2121, told me.

On the other hand, he said, there are still a lot of issues, including ongoing negotiations over a new contract, “and it’s too early to tell.”

Rafael Mandelman, president of the board, was entirely upbeat. “I am more happy with the direction of the college than I have been in three years,” he told me. “I am a big fan of Susan.”

Board member John Rizzo said that it’s going to be up to the elected board, which takes full control (more or less) of the school in July, to do a national search and hire a new chancellor. Lamb would be a leading candidate, if she decides to apply for the job.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if things will improve instantly – Lamb inherits Tyler’s senior staff, including President Virginia Parras, who was hired out of Houston, where Tyler used to work with her, for a job that some say was never necessary in the first place.

So why did Harris and Lease fire Tyler (and make no mistake, the guy was effectively fired, moved to a much lower profile job that he will probably leave soon)?

A couple of thoughts.

For starters, the chancellor was never popular on campus, and made a mess of things almost from his first day. Tyler ducked out of his first convocation early, but his staff was grilled with questions.

Then there was the mess over the Civic Center campus, which was, to say the least, bungled.

The labor negotiations have been going poorly, with the teachers’ union asking (in what seems reasonable to me) that part of the contract talks involve a plan to expand enrollment and improve the school – and the chancellor saying that’s none of the union’s business.

The day before the announcement of Tyler’s demotion, the vice chancellor for financial affairs, Ron Gerhard, resigned to take a job in the private sector.

So the elected trustees were about to take over, Tyler was unpopular, it would have been harder for the newly empowered board to fire him … so the super-power executives did it on their own.

A sign of change at City College. There seems to be a fair amount of optimism. But will an acting chancellor have the authority (and the courage) to make some dramatic changes from the Tyler era?

Maybe. We shall see.

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Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
  • Susan Englander

    This was great news for me as I received it as I was protesting the ACCJC at their meeting in Oakland. Made the day for me. So, as Tim says, the damage has been done by those hired in a process that excluded two members of the elected board who were dismissed from the hiring committee. I am hoping that the new chancellor and the elected board has the will to return CCSF to the institution that serves all San Franciscans and is the model for all California community colleges. Which is why it was targeted.

  • Jorge Carolinos

    “For starters, the chancellor was never popular on campus, and made a mess of things almost from his first day.”

    Oh the irony in that statement.

    • Rod_North

      It’s not the job of the chancellor to be “popular”. He’s the boss.

      And Tim is wrong – it is none of the union’s business whether CCSF expands or contracts. That’s purely a business decision

      • obobooks

        BS

      • Kc Kimber

        Rod, the thing is that CCSF is not a business, it is a government entity.

        One of the biggest problems with public education is that policy makers have conflated private business management principles with public government operation. Recent history –Corinthian Colleges– has demonstrated the fallacy of using the corporate business model to operate institutions of higher learning.

        The suggestion that a merger of state and business is a good thing is the promotion of the flavor of fascism Benito Mussolini instituted himself in Italy.

        The last time I checked San Francisco was in the United States of America, which as we all know is supposed to be a representative-democracy; therefore, if a highly paid public employee is not popular with the very citizens he collects his pay check from, then he is supposed to lose his job.

        • R94110

          Education has always occupied a middle ground between being merely a government service (like SFUSD) and being a private for-profit enterprise (e.g. Stanford).

          CCSF has elements of both. And even if you do not see it as a business, it still needs to be professionally managed with regards to its finances..

          And historically CCSF has not been managed with fiscal prudence. I cannot say whether Tyler was to blame for that nor whether his replacement will be any better or worse. But I do not consider popularity to be the key indicator of success here.

          For example, if cuts need to be made, classes discontinued, staff fired, buildings sold off or students turned away, then those are not going to be popular decisions. But they may be necessary.

          It can be tough and lonely being a boss.

          • Jorge Carolinos

            Good post.

            The past directors and management of the college had ample warning as to the issues at hand. They could have tried to address the issues sooner or addressed the people pointing out the issues. They did neither, now they are crying foul.

            The whining side here acts as if this all occurred a vacuum that just appeared yesterday.

          • jj johnson

            Pure and simple, public higher education is a public good (service). The “free” market will never provide the socially optimal amount of education because the basic nature of private goods (profit) stands in the way.

            CCSF remains a stellar teaching institution of higher education. It represents significant upward mobility and economic opportunity for limited-income students and their families not appreciably afforded by elite institutions. Education generally, and CCSF particularly, have been systemically neglected and mismanaged and repeatedly thrown into crisis by “free” market forces and its acolytes.

            The Great Recession and the way education is funded caused the lion’s share of CCSF’s financial problems.

            The answer to CCSF’s problems for former Chancellor Tyler’s administration largely was to allocate more resources to increasingly higher-paid administrative and consultant positions and away from teaching – all at increasing costs to the taxpayers, instructors, staff and students. This sea change resulted at best in mixed results without improving the basic problems at hand which remain retaining accreditation and institutional stability.

            However, financial stability was restored relatively quickly and some time ago at CCSF in spite of the spike of a seeming needlessly-hired parade of consultants ($4 million worth and counting) and duplicating, overlapping high-paid administrators installed by the former Chancellors Tyler, Fischer and Skillman – a veritable parade of short-term-interested CEOs who were successively hired by State Chancellor Bryce Harris and company with token community consultation. The two key top administrators – Vice Chancellors of Finance and Academic Affairs – recently resigned with little notice and scant explanation.

            Responsibility for creating and maintaining these successive administrations over the years of accreditation crisis can be laid at the feet of State Chancellor Bryce Harris and the Special Trustees With Extraordinary Power. It seems they may now have been forced to act before it became a more widely-held embarrassment that might challenge their credibility and political positions.

        • Jorge Carolinos

          strawman. Thanks for trying.

      • sffoghorn

        Because command economy authoritarianism is always the most effective approach towards mobilize subordinates to get the job done. You don’t work much in groups, do you?

        • R94110

          An effective boss doesn’t shirk difficult decisions just so that he can be popular with his subordinates. Sometimes a boss has to make the tough calls and risk unpopularity.

          • sffoghorn

            An effective boss is one who is popular with subordinates.

          • Jorge Carolinos

            So the boss should cater to the wildest fantasies of the union shouters to be popular?

          • sffoghorn

            You’ve never had to work in groups and motivate people to work hard over time to achieve a goal, have you?

          • R94110

            You sound like the one who has never carried responsibility at a high level. Because if you had, then you would know that you sometimes have to be tough and unpopular.

            How do you stay popular if you have to fire 50% of your staff?

          • sffoghorn

            Yes, sometimes you have to be unpopular. But leaders who cultivate an air of unpopularity amongst their subordinates are often less effective.

          • R94110

            And often they are more effective, because they don’t let petty vanity and perception get in the way of making tough unpopular decisions

          • sffoghorn

            The high turnover often consumes any effectiveness that antagonism might offer.

          • R94110

            Nobody said it is ideal, but sometimes it is necessary.

          • sffoghorn

            Sometimes it is necessary, but it is the exception not the rule.

          • The Koch Party

            Why don’t you ask Carly Fiorina?
            Fortunately, Carly doesn’t work for CCSF (and will never be president of the United States, either).

          • Jorge Carolinos

            Ha,

            Yes, I have also worked at an SEIU shop, I also have done HR, so your dreamy view of the workforce cracks me up.

            In this context you seem to be saying that CCSF management should let the union do whatever it wishes so that the union employees are happy?

          • sffoghorn

            Why are you projecting your picayune fixations onto a broad statement?

          • jhayes362

            I’ve worked with sophisticated HR operations Jorge. Your commentary doesn’t strike me that you have done the same.

          • Jorge Carolinos

            “sophisticated HR operations”

            That’s up their with “military intelligence.”

          • The Koch Party

            “Cater to the wildest fantasies of the union?” What planet are you living on? You obviously listen to too much Glenn Beck…

            Look, people with common sense know that unions represent democracy in the workplace. The word ‘democracy’ implies ‘negotiation’. But if the chancellor refuses to even engage in discussions with the union, that is closer to a corporate or ‘oligarchy’ model. That is a long stretch from “catering to the fantasies of the union” as possible, and is simply not acceptable in a community based institution of any kind. Period.

            The article above refers to the obvious butchery of the CCSF Civic Center campus that resulted from lone-wolf, top-down, uninformed decisions made by then chancellor Tyler, a debacle that could have easily been avoided through honest discussions with faculty and labor unions.

            By the way, the closure of that campus (as well as countless other top-down unmediated decisions) has had a ripple-effect on students enrollment; the job of chancellor is to INCREASE student enrollment, is it not? Then he left it to the FACULTY to clean up his mess, to tell their students on the first day of class that their campus was closed and why notification came so late.

            Are those the actions of a ‘democratic’ and responsible college leadership?

          • Almondy

            Unions do not represent democracy because they do not represent the taxpayers. In fact, they seek to feather the nest of the faculty at the taxpayers’ expense

          • The Koch Party

            Unions are a voting body of workers that negotiate for salaries and working conditions under which they are employed. How is that not a democracy?
            While it’s true that taxpayers pay the salaries of public school teachers (including CCSF faculty), taxpayers also pay your police officers and firemen’s salaries. Yes, they are also unionized for obvious reasons. So where is the public uproar about that?
            Police, fire fighters and public school teachers are paid for by the local taxes because they serve the community. The fact that you already have your degree does not change this fact. The fact that your house is not on fire also does not change this fact.
            These services are not free, I’m afraid. Paying for the commons comes out of the community. These are the basic tenets of a democracy.

          • jhayes362

            What does this have to do with CCSF Sam? Are you demonstrating your ignorance again?

          • R94110

            It has everything to do with CCSF because the enterprise is doomed and is in secular decline.

            So the manager needs to make orderly cuts in service and staff, like in many parts of the government. “Popularity” doesn’t enter into it.

      • Jorge Carolinos

        I wonder what the union would say if management wanted to put things in the contract dealing with the inner workings of the union?

        Also the college would want to keep the union out of the business end because once the union has some stipulation nutty stipulation in the contract the lawyers will be soon to following with bizarre interpretations.

        Luckily for Redmond Bruce Brugman kept unions out of the SFBG so Tim didn’t have to deal with the scheming and sleazy antics of the union and their lawyers, lawyers who can quickly turn reality on it’s head.

      • saintlennybruce

        Neither statement is correct under CA law, state CCCS or CCSF’s corporate governance structure, much of which is state-mandated policy, with only how policy is practiced in local control (CCR Title V/Ed & Gov Code -> BOG BP & CCCCO AP -> SFCCD BOT BP & Chancellor’s AP).

        Enrollment expansion/recovery governs faculty working conditions, employment, and FTEF (# if faculty employed). Under CA law, these are “negotiable items” for collective bargaining, and even if they weren’t, faculty would still have a say in governance on “10+1” areas via the Academic Senate.

        CCD Chancellors are employees of Districts; the “boss” is the BOTs, who are far more involved than businesses’ BODs. CCD CEOs have very limited discretion compared with private sector CEOs, even at non-profits, and much of their job portfolio must be exercised openly & with collegial consultation with faculty Academic Senates et al. under Title V & Ed Code.

        Given the legal mandates for Title V collegial consultation & BOT approval of most actions, Chancellors need to be effective leaders & politicians to accomplish their agenda, not simply competent administrators or autocratic managers to get literally anything done.

        Private sector compensation is significantly higher for similar jobs requiring comparable credentials, so if spending much of your working life effectively building consensus bottom-up & Board votes for approval isn’t something you like, are good at, and are willing to do, you’re likely better off at a business getting paid, as the CFO for CCSF just did.

        • R94110

          The fact that some people believe that CCSF should not be run along sound financial principles is probably a big part of why CCSF has been such a colossal failure, to the point of having the Board made redundant.

          You cannot let the staff and union have a say in whether CCSF expands or contracts because they have the world’s biggest conflict of interest – their jobs, pay and benefits are what concerns them and not the fiscal probity of the institution. It would be an invitation to corruption and malfeasance.

          CCSF’s biggest flaw is political interference.

          • jhayes362

            “CCSF’s biggest flaw is political interference.” For once you’re right Sam, but the ones doing the interfering are Harris, Lee, Tyler, and Barbara Beno at the ACCJC. None of these people have any credibility in education: Tyler got his PhD from Phoenix University (none dare call it prestigious), Harris got into the education field after a failed and ugly campaign for mayor of Kansas City Mo., Barbara Beno was a failed college administrator, and Lee cares little about education except for what it means in terms of real estate that can be developed. Yep, you’ve thrown yourself in with a great lot there Sam, once again showing your ignorance of matters involving CCSF.

          • R94110

            No, the interference came from union-bribed politicians who cared more about their sponsors continuing to get bloated pay and benefits than they did about whether the enterprise was fiscally viable

          • jhayes362

            I provided names Sam. You didn’t. Who are these union-bribed politicians? Name them or acknowledge your ignorance.

          • R94110

            Only the entire CCSF board and most of the Supervisors.

            If we were starting from scratch, NOBODY would design CCSF in this way. And we certainly would not give away the store in terms of staff pay and benefits.

            We need to close the abortion down and start over, or privatize it and remove it from ideological interference. It’s an insane asylum.

          • jhayes362

            Which board? Which members? I want names Sam. Your BS generalities about CCSF won’t do. Also, are you talking about the SF supervisors? They have nothing to do with running City College.

          • R94110

            The elected CCSF board was neutered, and replaced by an autocratic manager. That takes a special kind of incompetence.

          • jhayes362

            I’ve explained this to you before Sam. Per a deposition in the court case this reflects a deal between Beno and Harris, who defends it today, but in the deposition said it was a mistake.

          • Almondy

            Perhaps your arguments would be more persuasive if you started off my admitting that CCSF has some serious and structural flaws, rather than endlessly pointing fingers at the comical cast of characters who all had a hand in this disaster?

          • The Koch Party

            Seriously? If you are advocating running CCSF using the wonderful “financial prinicles” of the Walmarts, Morgan Stanleys and Koch Industries, then you have really no idea of what makes a viable educational institution. CCSF is not, and has never claimed to be, a profit-generating industry. Believe me, it would not be possible to maintain its outstanding ethical and educational standards if making profits were the bottom line. So take your “financial priniciples” argument elsewhere. CCSF is already an affordable top-notch institution that answers to the community it serves, not to highly paid corporate executives. The SF Parcel Tax to compensate for CCSF loss in revenue was overwhelmingly approved by the SF community indicating local support is strong. Financial issues are for the most part a thing of the past.

            Finally regarding your “colossal failure” argument, her is some sobering reading for you:

            http://blog.sfgate.com/education/2014/04/23/city-college-of-sf-beats-accreditors-schools-on-academic-playing-field/

          • Almondy

            The taxpayers are not asking CCSF to make a profit. They are asking for it to not lose massive amounts of money..

            Stanford and Berkeley are “top notch”. CCSF just has to be adequate and it hasn’t even been that

          • The Koch Party

            For someone with no actual teaching (or studying) experience as CCSF, you seem to know a lot about its inadequacies. Please explain in what ways CCSF educational quality is “inadequate.”
            (Comparing a $45,000/year institution to a $1,200/year institution might be a stretch if you’re comparing dollors to donuts.)

            Secondly, if one were so concerned about losing “massive amounts of money” as you claim, wouldn’t boosting student enrollment be one of the first methods you would try?
            The article describes how ineffectively the chancellor single-handedly closed a viable center without a back-up plan for some 2500 students. Remember that debacle was created without input from faculty unions.
            Wanna share some positive thoughts on top-down management? How about we try a little conversation with the people who actually work at the center? Oh, I forgot, unions do not represent a democracy…

  • KPV

    How do you know “The decision came from state Chancellor Brice Harris and the special trustee, Guy Lease?” I imagine Lease would have had to approve the Tyler’s new post, but is there a source that said Tyler was asked to step down from the Chancellor position?

    • jhayes362

      Lease answers to Harris, who hired him and who signed the contract for Lease. Do you actually think Lease would make this decision without consulting with Harris? Also, I think there was a joint Harris-Lease statement on this matter.

      • KPV

        The sentence I cited didn’t say the ‘announcement’ came from Harris and Lease; it said ‘decision’. Do we know what Tyler’s role in the decision-making process was beyond accepting the new post? If Tyler decided to step aside, the events look different than if Lease determined Tyler wasn’t the person to lead CCSF.

        • jhayes362

          What you say is possible, but I think it’s a stretch and probably not proveable. It’s a demotion for Tyler and why would he want it? I don’t think it’s something he would voluntarily seek out at this stage in his career. Also, things weren’t going well in CCSF administration. Among other things there were a couple of high-level resignations — Lamb (who had submitted her resignation before being offered the interim post as chancellor) and Gerhard, who was chief of finance. Here’s what was sent out to the students:

          Dear Students:

          We are writing to announce the appointment today of Susan Lamb as interim chancellor of City College of San Francisco. Susan has been serving as Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs since 2013 and her knowledge of the college and of accreditation makes her an excellent leader for the next phase of development of the college.

          Ms. Lamb will replace Chancellor Art Tyler, who will assume the post of vice chancellor of facilities and be responsible for the development of the college facilities master plan over the coming year. We want to thank Dr. Tyler for his service as chancellor during the past 19 months.

          As you know, the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees will again assume full responsibility for oversight of the college next month, and the Special Trustee powers will be reduced to include stay and rescind only. At that time the board will begin the process for identification and selection of the next permanent chancellor.

          We want to again congratulate Susan on her new role as Chancellor and we look forward to working with her, the Board of Trustees and the college community in support of the college.

          Guy Lease, Special Trustee
          City College of San Francisco

          Brice W. Harris, Chancellor
          California Community Colleges

          • KPV

            Thanks for sharing that announcement. Was Lamb’s planned resignation annouced somewhere also? I hadn’t heard about that. Whatever led to this shake up I hope the college can keep it together.

          • jhayes362

            Here’s what I got from one member of the faculty.

            Sent: Wednesday, April 8, 2015 4:58:19 PM
            To: ccsf@cloud.ccsf.edu
            Subject: Resignation of Vice Chancellor

            ​To: College Community

            From: Dr. Arthur Q. Tyler, Chancellor

            ____________________________________________________

            It is with regret that I inform you of the resignation of Susan Lamb as Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, effective June 30, 2015.

            Pretty terse. What I hear is that Lamb is considered a great improvement over Tyler. I won’t go into detailed criticism. I think things are improving, but the ACCJC remains a loose cannon. See this op-ed from Phil Ting in the Sacramento Bee. bit.ly/1GoDAxg

          • KPV

            Thanks, again. Here’s to hoping Lamb can improve on the progress made
            under Tyler’s tenure. And, yes, CCSF will still be evaluated by ACCJC…
            so who knows what’s in store?

          • jhayes362

            Lamb will certainly be an improvement if she stays. But I think your assertion of “progress” under Tyler is disingenous. He was, after all, a failed administrator. That’s why he was removed.

          • KPV

            My understanding is that the college’s financial controls greatly improved during Tyler’s tenure, thanks in large part to the leadership of Finance and Administration recruited by Tyler. CCSF also earned restoration status from ACCJC, so, no, I don’t see him as a failure… there may just be different challenges ahead that Lamb is better suited for.

          • jhayes362

            The financial leadership at CCSF during Tyler’s term came from Ron Gerhard, whose hiring was announced by Agrella and who took his position before Tyler did. Gerhard announced his resignation before Tyler was demoted.

            The restoration status from the ACCJC is widely disparaged at CCSF and even Tyler said he only reluctantly agreed to it. Restoration holds CCSF to conditions that no other CC in the state is subject to.

            Why do you keep defending Tyler?

          • KPV

            Point taken about the timing of Gerhard’s recruitment. From the outside, it’s tough to know how much credit (or blame) ought to be given to individuals, but the news about CCSF as a whole seemed to improve during his tenure, the primary story being the college remains open with an opportunity to improve its status. Between the two paths to improved status — the court-prescribed ‘due process’ path and ACCJC-offered restoration path — I suspect restoration be the most fruitful, despite its murkiness. If it seems like I’m defending Tyler it’s only because I’m provoked by the charge that he failed. The fact that someone else seems better suited for the role going forward doesn’t automatically mean he failed or harmed CCSF’s cause. It seems more accurate to say he did an adequate job while the college improved it chances to remain open.

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