In the latest jolt to leaders of Santa Rosa Junior College, the Academic Senate overwhelmingly passed late Wednesday night a vote of no confidence in college President Frank Chong, who last week provoked an uproar among faculty, staff members and students by unexpectedly canceling at least half of all summer classes before backing off the disputed proposal a day later.
The college’s surprise move last week, in an announcement by a senior member of Chong’s administration, came as students were poised to register for both summer and fall classes early this week and threw the campus community into turmoil, said Eric Thompson, president of the Academic Senate.
The 26-member body rejected calls for Chong’s firing at its meeting Wednesday night, voting instead to call upon the Board of Trustees to put him on probation for one year. The faculty panel called on Chong and his administration to use that time to rebuild a tradition of “shared governance” that faculty members said had eroded since Chong assumed his post six years ago.
“The overwhelming majority wanted to give him a chance rather than to call for his firing,” Thompson said Thursday.
Chong, reached Thursday by phone, said he was “still trying to process everything,” conceding that the past week had been difficult to weather, with the no-confidence vote — the first of his tenure in Santa Rosa — coming as “a really humbling experience.”
The last no-confidence vote in an SRJC president was in 1997. Then-President Robert Agrella, Chong’s predecessor, and college trustees were censured by the Academic Senate over their handling of an investigation into six anonymous letters critical of Agrella, which resulted in a firing and a campuswide scandal.
The Academic Senate’s resolution on Chong will be presented Tuesday to the elected seven-member Board of Trustees, which already has scheduled a closed-door evaluation of Chong’s job performance. Most agree that he mishandled the summer course reductions, and Chong has publicly apologized for the head-spinning series of announcements last week.
The course cuts were envisioned to help close a budget gap of at least $6.5 million that Chong has linked mostly to declining student enrollment at the 100-year-old college. Whether trustees would take any disciplinary action after the no-confidence vote is in question as Chong enjoys broad support on the board.
Trustee Jeff Kunde bristled at the notion that the board would cede its responsibility for directing and managing the president, calling the no-confidence vote “inappropriate” and “mean-spirited.”
Board Vice President Jordan Burns described it as “disheartening,” particularly given Chong’s actions over the past week, including his follow-up proposal to cut administrators’ pay to help reduce campus costs.
Chong, who was paid $307,470 and earned $24,230 in health benefits last year, is among the highest-paid public officials in Sonoma County.
“I hear their frustration,” Burns said, “and I’m committed to holding Dr. Chong accountable for his actions and to ensure better shared governance, and that we continue to move in a positive direction.”
Trustee Mariana Martinez said Chong has so many strengths that any consideration of the recent mishap has to be seen “holistically,” in the context of otherwise positive leadership.
She alone among five board members contacted Thursday thought the idea of probation had some merit, as it would clearly communicate the severity of the missteps “just so everybody knows where we’re at and where we want to move forward.”