Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

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An overview of the four finalists in the PCCD chancellor search

(Image by Li Khan/The Citizen)
Update as of 10/27/2023: The PCCD Board of Trustees will deliberate on the candidates in a closed session meeting on Monday, according to a PCCD email announcement sent out at 4:43 PM.

The Peralta Community College District’s (PCCD’s) search for a permanent chancellor has reached its final stages. PCCD held public forums Wednesday for the four finalists, and is currently accepting feedback from the community on each candidate.

The PCCD Board of Trustees will announce their final pick for chancellor by Nov. 15. The new chancellor will start their term on Jan. 1, stepping in as the PCCD’s first permanent chancellor since the 2020 resignation of Regina Stanback Stroud.

The feedback forms for each candidate can be found on the candidate information pages on the chancellor search website. The deadline to submit feedback is noon Saturday. Recordings of the public forms will be viewable on the district’s Youtube channel until Saturday. 

The Citizen investigated each of the finalists, attended the public forums, and conducted short interviews with each candidate.

 

Rudy Besikof

Contributors: Tamara Copes, Nico Addams-Tumaneng, Isabelly Sabo Barbosa

Laney College President Rudy Besikof. (Photo by Lylah Schmedel/The Citizen)

Laney College President Rudy Besikof (he/him) is no stranger to the inner workings of community colleges. He’s previously served as an administrator at Long Beach City College, and Vice President of Instruction at Mt. San Jacinto College in Riverside County. Originally from Colorado, he received his Master’s in Applied Linguistics at the University of Colorado and a Doctorate of Education from University of California Los Angeles. Besikof also hosts The President’s Desk, a podcast where he invites members of the Peralta community to speak on current events.

In 2021, the Laney Faculty Senate censured Besikof, citing a lack of a “clear strategy” to address the college’s declining enrollment. Since then, Besikof has championed Peralta’s Free College initiatives, and the college has seen a recent revival of student enrollment, as well as a reaffirmation of accreditation.

Interview with The Citizen

Besikof told The Citizen his first priority is “bringing forward the idea that community college belongs to the community.” From his own experience as a student, Besikof understands the accessibility issues and barriers of attending college, and hopes free college tuition will span for many years.

Besikof also pointed to campus facilities as a top priority for his leadership. “Our facilities need to appear in a manner that our students deserve,” he said. Besikof hopes to see more fiscal support for routine maintenance at the state level, and thinks it’s critical that funds for maintenance don’t get used to build new facilities. He also suggests hiring more district employees, rather than private consulting companies, would streamline the process and ultimately reduce costs.

“What we need to do as a district is invest in ourselves when it comes to this,” Besikof said.

Besikof values open and proactive communication, stating that when issues come up, he “communicates with people on the front end, so that when they face their constituents, they have the facts to convey.” He links his ability to cooperate with Laney College faculty and students to the efforts that have led to more than a “2,000 increase in students.”

Forum

During the forum, Besikof expressed his “unwavering commitment to this great district.” He described his leadership style as marked by collaboration, through listening and consulting others for ideas. When disagreements arise, he stressed finding balance in the communication dynamics of different stakeholders, and “making sure that both sides understand the context of the other.”

In light of district staffing and leadership instability, Besikof wants to create a plan to move the district towards permanent hires, and away from an overuse of interim appointments. When asked about his approach to budget reduction in light of fiscal challenges, Besikof said it’s “imperative” that the district sees a third consecutive year of enrollment growth. Lastly, Besikof envisions better facilities for the campuses by advocating for facilities projects having “a date of completion, and an update to that date of completion.”

 

Carlos Cortez

Contributors: Lylah Schmedel, Leo Premnath-Ray, Ian Waters

Former San Diego Community College District Chancellor Carlos Cortez (Photo by Lylah Schmedel/The Citizen)

Carlos Cortez (they/them) is the former Chancellor of the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD), having resigned from the position in May, citing family health issues. Prior to becoming SDCCD chancellor, Cortez served as the President of San Diego College of Continuing Education. Cortez is also a former Berkeley City College administrator.

Last year, Cortez faced pushback after the announcement of Alice Walker as keynote speaker at their investiture ceremony, leading to them blocking a SDCCD faculty member from the @ChancellorSDCCD twitter account, and eventually the account’s deletion. The investiture was ultimately canceled.

Interview with The Citizen

In their interview with The Citizen, Cortez stated the three biggest issues they would tackle as Chancellor were declining enrollment with an emphasis on recruiting adult learners, fiscal solvency by getting creative with methods to bring in revenue, including renting out Peralta spaces for third party use, and eliminating obstacles for students that cause delays in attaining their education.

Cortez mentioned that they would encourage cooperation at PCCD by meeting with collective bargaining unit presidents, such as the academic senate, unions, and classified senate, twice per month to go over “any issues that might lead to discontent,” as well as taking constituents to lunch to build individual relationships and understand what the varying priorities are for each college. Cortez also said that employee retention at the PCCD is a hindrance to operations and success.

“It takes about three to five years to really see the fruits of our labor,” Cortez said.

When asked about the Alice Walker controversy, Cortez responded saying “I do not believe she is an anti-semite, and I do not believe the evidence supported that finding. That said, I also believe our colleges should be venues for free speech.”

Forum

During the forum, Cortez mentioned the important role faculty have at the college, and the importance of including them in the governance process. “I believe firmly in the concept and in the processes behind participatory and shared governance,” Cortez said. “I do believe it is imperative that the faculty are driving the core of what we do – which is teaching and learning. They are the experts in that regard.”

To address issues of staffing and inconsistent leadership at PCCD, Cortez said they would implement staffing analysis of positions currently worked, their pay, and the needs of the college, in order to plan the most efficient use of resources and meeting workforce needs – which they claimed they implemented successfully at SDCCD to remedy the various staffing issues present during their tenure as Chancellor.

“To be respected as a professional entity, as one of the largest districts in the United States, Peralta, we need to ensure that we are consistently operating in a professional manner and that requires systems thinking. And that’s what I think I bring to the table, I’m a systems thinker,” Cortez said.

 

Tammeil Gilkerson

Contributors: Tamara Copes, Ian Waters, Randi Cross, Sam O’Neil

Evergreen Valley College President Tammeil Gilkerson (Photo by Lylah Schmedel/The Citizen)

Tammeil Gilkerson’s (she/her) candidacy would mark a return to Peralta if selected. Gilkerson previously served as President of Laney College from 2017 to 2020, and now serves as the President of Evergreen Valley College in San Jose. Gilkerson is an advocate for equity in education, and is a member of the Equity Avengers, a collaboration of three community college presidents that advocate for students’ needs. Gilkerson holds a Bachelor’s in History, Master’s in Counseling and Doctorate in Educational Leadership.

While Gilkerson was serving as President, the college received national attention when a Laney math instructor asked a student to anglicize their name. Gilkerson subsequently issued a statement on the matter, writing that the college takes allegations of “racist and xenophobic messages” seriously and the instructor was immediately placed on administrative leave.

Interview with The Citizen

Gilkerson told The Citizen that when it comes to the next steps for PCCD’s future, stopping to assess the current state and the barriers in place is critical. She feels that instability in leadership and a lack of trust has hindered progress thus far, and that returning to Peralta as Chancellor will give her the chance to move closer towards her goal of a united and thriving district. Gilkerson’s approach of transparency encourages building trust and having an open mind and ear to feedback from all positions. Enrollment, campus safety, and support of student-run platforms ranked high on her priority list.

Forum

During the forum, Gilkerson addressed the many concerns from members of the Peralta community. When asked about her strategies regarding budget reductions, Gilkerson stated, “it is something you can come at from an appreciative inquiry lens.” She elaborated that rather than focusing on cutting negative aspects, emphasis should be placed on relocating resources to programs that are doing well.

Additionally, Gilkerson espoused the idea of listening to and having conversations with different perspectives. Citing a past example of faculty discourse at Laney, Gilkerson highlighted the concept that dissenting voices still deserve to be heard. “I had to honor the fact that that was their feeling, but also, then, at the same time, share my own perspective, ” she said.

 

Thuy Nguyen

Contributors: Timothy Lane, Ivan Saravia, Satch Alvarez

Former Foothill College President Thuy Nguyen. (Photo by Lylah Schmedel/The Citizen)

Thuy Nguyen (she/her) is the former President of Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. Her appointment to Foothill made her the first Vietnamese-American to lead a college in the United States. She has previously served as General Counsel for PCCD. Since 2022 she has been a partner in the Alameda-based law firm Garcia Hernandez Sawhney LLP (GHS).

Nguyen was placed on administrative leave in Oct. 2021, following a vote of no confidence from Foothill Academic Senate. Foothill faculty criticized “high-handed” and cited other perceived failures to work productively within the college’s collaborative decision-making structures. In 2022, she sought reinstatement, but the Foothill-DeAnza Trustees declined her request.

Nguyen’s leadership at Foothill had previously come under fire in 2018, during a time of declining enrollment and budget crisis. An anonymous email addressed to “fellow faculty & valued colleagues” accused her of being “egotistical,” “narcissistic,” and a “lying leader.” A Foothill Script editorial described the email as “defamatory.”

Interview with The Citizen

Nguyen highlighted fiscal, operational, and student involvement as three key items of focus for her chancellorship. This includes harboring an active relationship with student media, as she is a big advocate for student voices, engagement, and feedback.

When asked about how she would avoid hostility on the Board of Trustees, Nguyen mentioned her experiences at Foothill College where she dealt with a situation of infighting, and was able to mediate the situation to a point of mutual understanding.

We asked about her relationship with Nitasha Sawhney, an equity partner at GHS who has frequently served as legal counsel to the PCCD Board of Trustees. Nguyen assured us that she had been “very mindful” of that connection and informed the board as well, to avoid any conflict of interest.

Regarding being voted out of her Presidency at Foothill College by their Academic Senate, partly over a perceived failure to cultivate shared governance, Nguyen said, “It is really unfortunate that Foothill College did not listen to the student voices.” In regards to similar expressions of discontentment over the participatory governance structures at Peralta, she suggested integrating a “facilitation core” to Peralta, a training program to help facilitate meetings, draw out opinions, and come to a consensus decision.

Forum

Nguyen expressed her familiarity with the four colleges and the district on multiple occurrences during the forum, calling Peralta her home, and stating that the role of PCCD Chancellor is “the only Chancellor position I really want to have.” She stressed her experience and accomplishments at Peralta, citing bargaining and negotiation for the Berkeley City College building, and the success of a leadership success program that she created at Peralta.

In reference to improving communication with the board of trustees and workflow at the district, Nguyen stressed the importance of diversity in views, although she didn’t provide a specific plan for her approach.

Editor’s note: A member of The Citizen staff, Emily Tenorio Molina, served on the chancellor search screening committee. Molina has not been involved in any planning, discussion or reporting for any of the chancellor search stories and will not participate in the endorsement vote.

Additionally, The Citizen’s Managing Editor Randi Cross is a co-host of Laney College President Rudy Besikof’s podcast, The President’s Desk. Cross has remained unbiased and impartial in her role as a reporter in this matter.

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  • J

    JasmineOct 30, 2023 at 1:13 pm

    I am 100% certain that Tammeil would not make a great Chancellor. I work at her current college and am completely miserable here. That’s largely due to some of her hiring/rehiring decisions. Having ACADEMIC deans that are ACADEMICALLY qualified is apparently not important to her. People who know very little are somehow able to keep their jobs. Instead of taking the time to make sure that ALL of the administrators at our college are high-character people, she spends her time applying for a new job. Now that I think about it some more, maybe our college is better off without her. PCCD, please take her off our hands!

    Reply
  • J

    JohnOct 29, 2023 at 10:52 pm

    Given her decision to retain Matais Pouncil as Vice President at Evergreen Valley College, I have serious concerns about Tammeil Gilkerson’s judgment. What happened to the Honors Program and Service and Learning Program at Evergreen Valley College?

    Reply
  • K

    KaityOct 27, 2023 at 4:16 pm

    Dr Thuy she is very interesting, I can see the honest in her speak.

    Reply
  • J

    JayOct 27, 2023 at 1:05 pm

    Dr Cortez hasn’t hidden the fact that he is interested in moving up and up. He won’t be here for long if he is Chancellor. He also left San Diego before they could fire him.

    Reply