Faculty raises concerns about candidate for Santa Fe Community College president

Raúl Rodríguez

Some faculty members at Santa Fe Community College have raised concerns over presidential candidate Raúl Rodríguez, claiming the chancellor of a Southern California community college district has a history of controversy that was not presented to the in-house search committee by the outside consulting firm charged with helping narrow the field of candidates.

Pointing to news stories and court documents involving accreditation, questions about the spending of bond funds and a controversial partnership with a school in Saudi Arabia, faculty members said aspects of Rodriguez’s work history were not shared with the college’s presidential search advisory committee, consisting of about 20 community members, teachers, staff and students.

“The biggest concern I have is the search firm we hired to facilitate the search process didn’t seem to catch the whole story and share it with the search committee,” Faculty Senate President Xubi Wilson said. “The search firm did raise issues about each candidate. For some reason, all of these issues with [Rodríguez] did not come up and were not communicated.”

Rodríguez, 67, is chancellor of the Rancho Santiago Community College District, which operates four community colleges in Orange County, Calif. Previously, he was president of San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, Calif., from 2002-10. He is one of four finalists for the Santa Fe Community College job and participated in a public forum earlier this month.

Rodríguez critics focused their concerns on a grand jury report outlining the rise in costs of facilities paid for with bond money at San Joaquin, and a 2008 audit by the state controller that said bond money was misspent on upgrades to athletic facilities and electronic marquee signs. The college also failed to follow state laws requiring strong oversight of voter-approved bond funds, according to the audit.

The grand jury report and audit focused on San Joaquin’s Board of Trustees and did not mention Rodríguez.

In addition, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges accrediting commission placed San Joaquin Delta on probation in February 2009 for failing to address recommendations for improvement made to the college.

In June 2010, Rodríguez took over as chancellor at Rancho Santiago Community College District. In 2015, the Orange County Register reported that Rodríguez proposed a new partnership between the district and two technical schools in Saudi Arabia. Though Rodriguez said the deal would be worth as much as $120 million for the school, it profited less than $2.2 million. Faculty members protested the move over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

In a telephone interview this week, Rodríguez said the incidents do not offer a fair picture of his professional record.

“These stories are what happens in a collective bargaining state when you have unions that try to sow chaos so they get what they want in their contract,” Rodríguez said. “They don’t reflect who I am as a leader. They’re not true. If you talk to the majority of faculty and managers that I have worked with, they will tell you that I’m a strong and ethical leader.”

SFCC faculty members say they learned about the controversies after contacting faculty members at institutions where Rodriguez worked. Late last month, the presidents of the college’s faculty senate, staff senate and teachers’ union shared the grand jury report, audit and news stories about Rodríguez in an email to governing board members.

Faculty members contend the information should have been shared with the presidential search advisory committee.

“If I can Google his name and find some of these problems, then it doesn’t make sense why the consultants didn’t share this with our search committee,” teachers union President Marci Eannarino said.

Over the summer, the SFCC governing board voted to allocate $60,000, plus an additional $25,000 if necessary, to hire Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm Academic Search to find a replacement for interim President Cecilia Cervantes, whose contract runs through June. Academic Search officials declined an interview request, directing all question to the college’s governing board.

After receiving 91 applicants for the college’s presidency, SFCC governing board member Martha Romero said Academic Search identified 64 candidates as qualified for the position. From there, the consulting firm gave presidential search advisory committee members access to an online dashboard with résumés, cover letters and letters of recommendation for each candidate.

The presidential advisory committee then narrowed the field to 12 semifinalists before holding phone and in-person interviews. After identifying five finalists, one of whom has since dropped out, the committee handed the hiring process over to the governing board.

Romero said the board now has its own online dashboard from Academic Search, separate from the one provided to the presidential search advisory committee. At a closed-door board meeting Monday, members will receive a final report on each finalist. Romero said these final reports will include extensive reference checking beyond what the candidate submitted in his or her original application.

The governing board is expected to hire a new president before the end of the month. Romero said she has read the concerns expressed by members of the college community.

“I looked at the grand jury reports and those were about board members and not about him. … I know from having been in California that sometimes there is a disgruntled faculty member and that seems to be part of this process,” Romero said. “The board will have a pretty rigorous decision about where to go next.”