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Saturday, September 25, 2021

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News + PoliticsEducationNew interim chancellor faces immediate challenges at City College

New interim chancellor faces immediate challenges at City College

Some union members wary as longtime administrator seeks to address crucial contract and enrollment issues this summer.

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Board of Trustees president Shanell Williams was in good spirits Thursday evening during the monthly Board meeting over Zoom.

“Item 14f, f for fun,” said Williams.

The Board voted unanimously to appoint several new administrators, filling several key positions at the college, including a new campus chief of police, which has not had a permanent incumbent since Andre Barnes’ retirement in 2016, a director of buildings and grounds, and a new interim chancellor, Dianna Gonzales, who will serve from July 1 to September 30.

Dianna Gonzales will have to deal with union contract, enrollment, and financial issues.

Gonzales will receive a monthly salary of $20,833 for the duration of her term. It may not be a fun three months for her.

Adele Failes-Carpenter, political director of AFT Local 2121, the union that represents City College faculty, said that the next few months are important following the approval of a one-year agreement resulting in a 14 percent faculty pay cut in order to avert faculty layoffs, which were slated to take affect last May.

Carpenter said that following the agreement, the union and the administration will be working closely to find solutions ensuring that the college can stay financially solvent in an effort to avoid running into the same financial problems next spring which forced the layoffs in the first place.

“We passed a one-year temporary agreement where we took pay concessions in order to sustain courses and programs, so we have a relatively short period in which we can figure out the long-term solutions the college needs, and we will be working with the interim chancellor in the upcoming three months in developing a plan for how to sustain the college,” said Failes-Carpenter.

That is, if Gonzales’ term ends on time.

Malaika Finkelstein, president of AFT 2121, said it’s likely that Gonzales’ contract may be extended past three months, as she predicts the board may not have a permanent chancellor in place by October 1, the day after Gonzales is currently slated to step down as interim chancellor.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if [the Board] extended the term. Last time they were searching for a chancellor, they felt that their pool wasn’t big enough. If it happened once it can happen again,” said Finkelstein. “I gotta be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me because this is City College. How many years has it taken them to fix our registration system? They say they have implemented a new registration system this month. If they are right, it’s about three years late. Everything moves slowly at City College,” said Finkelstein.

Gonzales herself did not discount the possibility of having her contract extended, but did not confirm if she believes it is likely or not, stressing the importance of prudence on the Board’s part in hiring the best candidate for permanent chancellor.

“If it ends up being extended…having served all these years in human resources, hiring is the single most critical decision an organization makes, the wrong hire can cost tens of thousands of dollars, so I think we owe it to City College and all the stakeholders to find the right leader…Whether its making me continuing to be an interim or it’s me being fortunate enough to be considered for the permanent position, hurry up and hire is the worst thing we can do,” said Gonzales, referring to her current position as deputy chancellor for human resources, compliance, risk management, and safety, which she has served in since August 2020, and will continue to serve until her term as interim chancellor takes effect on July 1.

Williams expressed her praise for Gonzales shortly before the Board voted to appoint Gonzales, saying that the Board had made a wise decision well in selecting Gonzales as interim chancellor.

“I look forward to us working closely together in all of the things we need to do, looking at enrollment management, looking at college morale…and really bring us all together. This is the one employee that we hire…and I really think we made the right choice,” said Williams.

Trustee Alan Wong also expressed support for Gonzales as she begins her role as interim chancellor.

“Interim Chancellor Dianna Gonzales will provide stability for the college while we search for a permanent chief executive officer. City College is a challenging environment to work in and during this difficult time for the College, we need an interim chancellor that knows what she is signing up for,” said Wong, pointing to Gonzales’ previous term as interim chancellor from April to July 2020.

Others were less enthusiastic about Gonzales’ appointment.

“There’s only two criteria for what we need in a chancellor, that they are committed to the vision of a community college, and that they are breathing. [The Board’s] candidate, although intelligent and competent, only meets one of these criteria,” said Wynd Kaufman, former AFT 2121 president and founder of Rebuild City College, a grassroots campaign which supports growing enrollment through “aggressive” strategies, such as marketing City College in more languages and sending out print schedules to San Francisco homes.

Kaufman said that the Board’s appointment of Gonzales follows a pattern of hiring chancellors whose interests align with those of the state chancellor, who both Kaufman and AFT2121 say have pursued policies which effectively suppress enrollment, such as cutting marketing spending and not distributing printed schedules.

“I think [Gonzales] will pay lip service to wanting to grow the college, but her actions will be consistent with what the state chancellor wants and that is a downsized junior college,” said Kaufman. “I just don’t think she’s committed to the vision of City College. Especially in the case of Gonzales, who I actually like, she’s just not the person for the job.”

Gonzales said that as interim chancellor, she will focus on securing annually recurring local funding for City College of “at least” $15 million—the college faces a looming fiscal cliff as augmented state allocation based on 2013 student enrollment figures, called “Hold Harmless” are set to expire in 2023. Gonzales also said that she wants City College to have at least 22,000 “full-time equivalent” students, meaning that there is a number of full-time and part-time students enrolled in an amount of credits equal to 22,000 students attending the college full-time. The FTES count in 2019-2020 was 17,969.89.

“I have been saying from day one, that we cannot cut our way out of this problem…we do need to be a slightly different community college, but if we cut, cut, cut, that would not be in the best interest of the community,” said Gonzales. “I am looking forward to the leadership of the faculty and classified staff to work with the administration to put together a real action plan, what the strategies are and how we know we are making progress, because I think that’s what’s missing right now.”

She said:

Ms. Kaufman is entitled to her opinion, but it is not at all about aligning interests with the State Chancellor, but rather adhering to the reality of what our State formula is for funding community colleges.  Until the State legislature alters that funding formula, City College’s goal to achieve financial solvency must follow that formula. As Interim Chancellor I am committed to the vision of what a community college should be. That is why we hired a Director of Marketing. Our focus is to continue increasing enrollment, while serving the needs of our diverse communities, especially the most vulnerable.

Rosie Zepeda, who heads up marketing and outreach at City College, confirmed that the college will not resume sending out printed schedules, saying that the cost is too large to be viable.

She said:

Printing a schedule costs upwards of $500,000. We have adapted to our financial constraints. Starting this week every San Francisco household will being receiving a printed postcard in three languages promoting Fall registration and enrollment. Recipients can use the QR code to connect with our website or call a special phone number to get help signing up for classes. We are also partnering with community organizations, the City and County of SF to increase enrollment. SEIU has committed to share our enrollment emails with their 7,000 members

One thing that remains uncertain is what will happen with ongoing negotiations between AFT2121 and the college’s administration on concessions related to teaching during COVID, resulting in City College giving PPE to faculty teaching in-person and expanding paid and unpaid leave options for faculty in a high-risk category who cannot teach in-person.

Gonzales currently represents the administration as the head negotiator, and she said she will remain the lead negotiator throughout the recent appointment and thereafter.

“I intend to stay as involved as I need to, for both AFT [2121] as well as SEIU[Local 1021]…..Associate Vice Chancellor Starr has very capable staff under her as well…I will be very busy getting as much done as possible with the COVID impact bargaining, and until we are fully in person, I think those will be ongoing discussions with our labor partners,” said Gonzales.

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