Embattled Santa Rosa Junior College President Frank Chong faced a storm of public criticism Tuesday night at a packed meeting of the college Board of Trustees, hearing from current and former students, staff and instructors that the century-old school had reached a crisis point under his leadership.
Even before a faculty representative took to the floor to present a vote of no confidence taken against him last week, Chong endured scathing, sometimes hostile appraisals of his 6-year tenure, with some speakers accusing him of fostering a decline in shared decision-making, diminished respect for college employees, and inattention to looming budget and enrollment issues.
“The integrity of our institution is hanging in the balance, by a thin thread, I might add,” said psychology instructor Brenda Flyswithhawks, chairwoman of the behavioral sciences department.
Trustees met behind closed doors for 75 minutes Tuesday to discuss Chong’s performance but made no announcements after conducting his evaluation. The monthly meeting was the first for trustees since Chong’s administration made a surprise announcement two weeks ago canceling as much as three-quarters of the school’s summer class offerings mere days before students were to begin registration. The move was meant to narrow a budget gap of at least $6.5 million.
A backlash by students and employees prompted Chong to reverse course the next day, reinstating the affected classes and student registration. Chong also admitted that he had “screwed up royally” and was determined to learn from his mistake.
In a lengthy statement acknowledging existing dissension and dissatisfaction at the college, board president Maggie Fishman said trustees, who had been attending meetings and discussing the current situation with college constituencies, “had heard the concerns, the angst, the distress and all the recommendations from the Academic Senate, student government and others.”
But she also recognized what she said were Chong’s “many meaningful contributions to SRJC.”
“We accept the president’s apology, and we stand behind him,” said Fishman, who plans to form an ad hoc committee to meet regularly with Chong over the next year to weigh progress toward shared governance and resolution of the budget deficit. Chong and other administration officials have linked it largely to declining student enrollment at the campus.
During his own remarks Tuesday, Chong conceded that the decision to reduce summer classes was “ill-advised” and “endemic of a larger issue.”
He said he had already begun to make changes in hopes of repairing “tattered” relationships, including reducing his pay — $307,470 last year — by 5 percent and imposing lesser pay cuts on his top administrators; restarting stalled contract negotiations with the faculty union; and creating new avenues for greater representation and collaboration on campus.
Chong also said he was shifting responsibilities away from two outgoing campus executives — Mary Kay Rudolph, senior vice president for academic affairs, whose email about summer school incited recent chaos, and Doug Roberts, senior vice president of finance and administrative services. Both had previously made known their plans to retire this summer.
“I do these steps as a beginning point, not an ending point,” Chong said.
But Chong’s swift apologies have not buttressed his shaky standing among faculty and students. Both the college Academic Senate and the Student Government Assembly passed resolutions saying they no longer have confidence in the campus administration and called for demonstrable change and greater inclusion in decision-making.