'Beginning of the end'
Leaked memo allegedly written by PCC president criticizes students and school
By André Coleman 05/13/2014
At last Friday’s Pasadena City College graduation, there was little talk of the controversy that had enveloped the commencement ceremony weeks prior to the event.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who had been invited, then disinvited, then re-invited to speak to the class of 2014, said little of the ham-fisted slight, which captured national attention.
Nor did PCC President Dr. Mark Rocha, the man at the center of the controversy, who did not want Black to speak because of a scandal in which the 1994 alumnus and gay rights activist is seen having unprotected sex on a film that surfaced on the Internet in 2009, had little but good things to say that night to faculty members, students and guests assembled in Jackie Robinson Stadium.
“Mr. Black, this college is 90 years old, but we just witnessed one of its proudest moments,”said Rocha in an attempt to smooth over the issue after Black spoke.
Without knowing the situation, never would anyone guess that students and faculty here have lost faith in Rocha, not just over the insult to Black but a host of other issues, and that many people want him gone from the campus.
Nor would Rocha’s otherwise buoyant demeanor that night hint at some of the dark opinions he apparently harbors about the school, its students and its teachers.
In an email obtained by the Pasadena Weekly, Rocha appears to attack “shared governance” of the campus and presents a bleak vision of the school’s future.
The April 17 memo surfaced on the heels of the annual chancellor’s scorecard which showed extremely bad results for Pasadena City College. The results were dubbed the “beginning of the beginning of the end.” According to that record, only 52.5 percent of students transferred to a four-year university or completed a degree or certificate program, and 43.6 percent were still taking remedial math and English classes. The college is also struggling with competition from the Los Angeles Community College District, which recently upgraded its campuses with the help of a $6 billion construction bond.
“Students will soon add one plus one and figure out that they are better off going someplace else,” Rocha allegedly wrote.
Rocha goes on to praise his PCC Senior Leadership Team of administrators, which he put together shortly after coming to the college four years ago.
“I’ve never been around a better group of leaders than you,” the memo states. “I take some pride in having a hand in putting this team together. The essential prerequisite for success — getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus — has been accomplished … Make no mistake, we will keep our jobs and pensions [well maybe our jobs]. But as TS Eliot said ‘it doesn’t end with a bang, but with a whimper.’ In other words PCC will never go out of business, but it will slowly devolve into its pre-1988 state: small and decrepit.”
Ross Selvidge, a member of the PCC Board of Trustees, told the Weekly that Rocha left for vacation shortly after the Friday evening commencement ceremony and is aware of the memo. Rocha did not return five calls made to his office Friday seeking comment about the memo.
Rocha has not denied authenticity of the memo, Selvidge said.
“I don’t have any reason to not believe it is from him,” Selvidge told the Weekly. “That is a terribly incorrect characterization of PCC. I went here in the ’60s and nobody would have considered PCC to be small and decrepit.”
A faculty member who wished not to be named also placed blame on the Board of Trustees.
“The Board of Trustees is just sitting by and watching this happen in my opinion,” the professor said. “Rocha is not proving to be a competent leader because our student success is down, enrollment is down. All of this mess he has caused is bringing our school down.”
When asked if the board should remove Rocha, the professor responded “Yes, please. He bulldozes over policy and does what he wants without following procedure.”
The memo is just the latest in a long line of missteps and controversial moves by Rocha. During his tenure, college officials faced questions over a professor teaching a class on Internet pornography and bringing porn stars on campus to speak to students. The professor later admitted to having sex on campus with one of his students without facing some questioning and possible discipline.
In another incident, the administration suspended a journalism professor advising college newspaper reporters, who wrote several stories critical of Rocha and the cancellation of the schools winter intersession. The suspension was brought on by a claim of sexual harassment filed by a male journalism student following widespread protests against the decision to cut the winter classes. The trustees denied the student’s claims, and Rocha denied the decision to put the teacher on leave was retaliatory. The teacher has been reinstated to the college, but not to the journalism program. A judge later ruled that the college must reinstate the winter intersession and pay back wages to teachers who would have taught those classes.
In early April, Rocha engineered a move to withdraw an invitation to Black to speak at the school’s commencement ceremony due to a sex tape scandal, which made national headlines. According to Black, in this case he was a victim when the tape was later sold without his permission. Black was awarded $100,000 in the case. The college claimed that the screenwriter, who penned the film “Milk,” was never officially invited to speak at the campus and was merely on a list along with seven other possible speakers.
After dumping Black, Rocha asked Pasadena Public Health Director Eric Walsh to lead the commencement proceedings. But that also resulted in an embarrassment for the college after it was discovered that Walsh has made controversial comments regarding Catholicism, homosexuals, evolution and television programs during sermons he delivered as a Seventh-day Adventist preacher. The city has placed Walsh on paid administrative leave.
In a survey conducted last month by the Student Senate Ad-Hoc Committee, in each category more than 50 percent of the respondents rated Rocha as very low. Ninety-five percent of the respondents rated him poorly in fostering an environment conducive to harmonious employee relations. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said Rocha did not promote academic and instructional excellence.
The survey also included three open-ended questions to allow respondents to answer questions about Rocha’s performance in their own words. The questions were “What is working?” “What is not working?” “What are suggestions for positive change?”
Most respondents felt “nothing” was working. Of the remaining two questions the most common response was the president’s leadership was not working and that removing Rocha would result in positive change.
Said an administrator, who also did not want to be named, “The only thing that would make commencement better this year is if the college moved on and the Board of Trustees removed Dr. Rocha. He has outlived his usefulness, and you can argue he was never useful to this college.”