Another special trustee — but it sounds as if he’s ready to get the hell out of Dodge as soon as he can
By Tim Redmond
FEBRUARY 23, 2015 – City College has a new master – and he was welcomed to San Francisco in style.
The chancellor of the state Community College system announced today that Guy Lease, who ran Lake Tahoe Community College for 17 years, would be the new special trustee with extraordinary powers – that is, the single decision maker for the entire campus.
He replaces Robert Agrella, who retired a few weeks ago.
In a demonstration outside the building, and then in a somewhat raucous action interrupting the press conference, City College teachers and students argued that power over the school should be returned directly to the elected board.
“I don’t think we should have a special trustee, there is no logic for it,” Tim Killikelly, president of the teacher’s union, told me.
The press conference, in room at the Wellness Center on the main campus, was at first limited to credentialed reporters and people with special invitations. But Killikelly convinced state Chancellor Brice Harris to allow the protesters in – and while they were peaceful and well-behaved, they were loud and made their points very clearly.
The activists shouted about democracy and called the special trustee a “dictator.” A group of students walked to the front of the room and called out everyone – including the five members of the elected board who had joined Brice and Lease for the event – saying that under the special trustee, enrollment had dropped, hundreds of classes were cancelled, and the voices of students were silenced.
The protests, I suspect, are having an impact: In a remarkably positive move, Harris announced that he was speeding up the process for transferring power back to the elected board, and expects that process to be largely complete by this summer.
“I hope to work myself out of a job very quickly,” Lease said.
He will be paid at the rate of $216,000 a year.
I asked Harris the question that was hovered over the entire event:
If the only reason for the imposition of an outside master was to respond to the ACCJC accreditation issues, and a judge has now found that the accreditation process was illegal, why do we need another special trustee at all?
Wouldn’t this be a perfect time to just go back to Sacramento and leave control of City College in the hands of the people the voters elected?
Harris ducked like a pro. He talked about how the “process was ongoing” and that the judge’s decision “required a number of things to happen.” Yeah: There are a lot of things that have to happen, but that’s not the point.
The point is: If the special trustee came out of a legally flawed process that should never have happened, why is the position still in place?
The claim that the local board will have full control by July is a bit misleading: Harris confirmed to me that Lease will still have “stay or rescind” powers for some time after he gives up his official role. That means he will still be on campus, still sitting in on board meetings – and will be able to veto any decisions that the elected board makes if he thinks they are wrong.
That could continue for an additional six months or more, until at least the end of 2015.
I asked Lease how he intended to use that power, and he told me he hoped he never had to veto anything. But the board still won’t be independent for another year.
The good news is that neither Harris nor Lease seems to want to spend any more time in San Francisco than they have to. They seem to have received the message that after a long, long time, this community is sick of the attempted destruction of one of the city’s most important public assets and is ready for every player in that sordid drama, including Harris and his special trustees, to get out of the way so we can start to rebuild the school.
A reporter asked him how he felt about his reception today, and he had a decent answer:
“I understand that students are passionate and they understand that the local trustees are the ones who have a better feel for their education. … I believe in local control.”
We shall see.
The only trustee in the room who wasn’t up front was John Rizzo, who arrived a bit late and stood in the back with the protesters. He declined an invitation to come and join the assemblage at the front of the room.
“It was kind of a last-minute decision,” he told me. “The voters have selected who they want to run City College, and it’s the Board of Trustees.”