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.