Santa Rosa Junior College President Frank Chong backpedaled Friday from a controversial move by his administration to slash summer classes this year, a budget decision that stunned the campus community overnight and fueled a backlash from students as well as faculty, who are locked in a contract dispute with college leaders.
Chong sounded two public apologies Friday, the first in a campuswide email at 8:35 a.m., when he sought to dampen furor over a plan announced Thursday evening to cut half of all summer classes to help close a budget shortfall of at least $6.5 million.
“I am not afraid to admit I made a mistake,” he wrote in the email, where he said he would postpone summer registration for at least a week to allow him to consult with the campus community over cuts. “I own it and will try to learn from it and not make that mistake again.”
Less than nine hours later, school officials told students by email that registration for summer courses would go ahead, as originally planned on Monday, before a final decision on what classes, if any, are eliminated.
The second reversal marked the end of an exceptionally turbulent day for the 100-year-old college and Chong, who called the immediate crisis the most acute of his six-year tenure at the school’s helm.
“I didn’t just screw up a little, I screwed up royally,” Chong said in an interview Friday evening.
The decision to cancel hundreds of summer classes was not floated among faculty leaders or student representatives, Chong acknowledged. One member of the elected Board of Trustees, which oversees the college and hired Chong, said the move was a surprise.
Chong said the decision “was not done correctly” and that he had asked faculty for help rectifying it.
“I did my mea culpa,” Chong said in the interview. “I admitted a mistake, and I hope the faculty and the rest of the college find that some of the things that I’ve done have been positive. Let’s see how forgiving they are.”
The college community was embroiled in chaos starting Thursday evening, when Mary Kay Rudolph, senior vice president of student affairs, sent out the email announcing the summer class cuts and referring to an earlier, March 27 email from Chong about the school’s budget crisis, which has been looming since last summer. It stems from a combination of declining enrollment linked to a strong economy and departures of more than 200 students since October’s disastrous wildfires.
Rudolph said in the email that the class cuts would affect all non-online courses except those offered in public safety fields, health sciences, athletics and high school equivalency programs, as well as one mathematics course. Savings from the move were projected at $2 million.
“As President Chong indicated, we unfortunately cannot continue to maintain a ‘large college level’ of course offerings at a time when there are simply not enough students signing up for classes; the prudent approach needed is to ‘right size’ the college,” Rudolph wrote. “The immediate need is to reduce the number and type of classes offered during summer 2018, and to do so before students begin enrolling on April 2nd and wind up being displaced due to class cancellations.”