Big Apple bound?
PCC president a finalist for New York community college position
By André Coleman 06/18/2014
Embattled Pasadena City College President Dr. Mark Rocha is apparently looking for a new job at a community college in New York, where he has been interviewed a number of times in the past few weeks.
Rocha, 60, is one of three finalists being considered for the vacant president’s position at Kingsborough Community College (KCC) in Brooklyn. Rocha, who hails from the Bronx, attended a meet and greet forum with students and staff at the school on June 3.
Over the past two years, Rocha has come under fire from PCC faculty and students. Less than two months before he attended the June 3 event in Brooklyn, he allegedly authored an email memo declaring the “beginning of the beginning of the end” of the local college and predicting PCC would sink back to a “small and decrepit school.”
“I think it would be good for the college” if Rocha left, said Melissa Michelson, assistant professor in the college’s English Department. “It is time for a change in leadership at PCC, especially with accreditation looming. In our last accreditation report, they warned us about our shared governance issues and our enrollment problems.”
The college is up for evaluation later this year and many faculty members fear that the college could lose its accreditation due to issues that have come up under Rocha’s tenure, including no-confidence votes taken against his leadership by members of the faculty and the student body.
Rocha was on vacation this week and not available for comment.
“I can confirm Dr. Rocha is a finalist for the presidency position,” said Jay Hershenson, senior vice chancellor for university relations and secretary of the KCC Board of Trustees. “We have had a very high quality search which has resulted in three strong finalists. The new president will be announced on June 30.”
According to Hershenson, the other two finalists for the KCC presidency are Farley Herzek, interim president of Los Angeles Harbor College, and Kenneth Saunders, acting president of Nassau Community College in New York.
Kingsborugh Community College was named one of the top four community colleges in the country last year by The New York Times and Aspen Institute, a self-described “educational and policy studies organization” headed by former Time magazine editor and CNN CEO Walter Isaacson. KCC is part of 23 other institutions of higher education in the City University of New York (CUNY) public college system. It is not known how much the job in New York will pay. Currently, Rocha’s annual salary is $254,000. Rocha came to PCC in July 2010 from West Los Angeles College, where he served as president. His current contract, which ended in June, has been extended through June 2017.
Although some members of the PCC Board of Trustees told the Pasadena Weekly in May there were no plans to replace Rocha, Trustee Bill Thomson said the board was made aware about two months ago that Rocha was chasing the job in New York.
“His wife, Nancy, works for [Pasadena-based] Jacobs Engineering and she received a promotion and opportunity that requires her to move back to New York City,” Thomson told the Weekly. “His wife has already moved there.” Thomson said there were provisions in Rocha’s contract that would allow him to take the job at Kingsborough.
“If he wants to leave Pasadena City College, we will work out an amicable resolution in all this,” Thomson said. As of right now, the board has no official indication that he has the intention to leave the college, he said.
Rocha has come under fire for a series of embarrassing missteps that have cost him the support of faculty and students.
In May, the college administration came under fire after Rocha said he did not want Academy Award-winning screenwriter and 1994 PCC alumni Dustin Lance Black to deliver the commencement address at the school’s May graduation ceremonies. Rocha had learned that a tape of the gay rights activist having unprotected sex surfaced on the Internet five years ago and Rocha, in an email, worried about the negative publicity that information could cause. He seemed unaware that Black was victimized by someone who had stolen the video and posted it online without Black’s knowledge. The writer was eventually awarded $100,000. Black was later re-invited to speak and gave the commencement speech.
On April 17, a memo allegedly written by Rocha about the Chancellor’s Scorecard, an annual progress report on the state’s 112 junior colleges showing extremely bad results for Pasadena City College, the “beginning of the beginning of the end” at PCC. According to the chancellor’s scorecard, 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 classes in math and English. 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.
In the memo, Rocha praised his PCC senior leadership team of administrators, which he put together shortly after coming to the college, and said the school was beginning to “devolve.”
“Make no mistake, we will keep our jobs and pensions [well maybe our jobs],” the memo states. “But as T.S. 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.”
Rocha did not deny writing the memo when confronted by faculty members during a meeting of the Board of Trustees, but he has never publicly admitted it was his doing.
That same month, faculty members slammed Rocha in a survey that included three open-ended questions, which asked: “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.
Over the past year, college officials have also 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 discipline or even questioning.
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 classes. The suspension was brought on by a claim of sexual harassment filed by a male journalism student who was 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.
“I am praying he takes the job,” said a professor who wished to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal by college officials. “Mark Rocha has been the worst thing for this college in the last 20 years. It is time for him to go.”