Santa Rosa Junior College President Frank Chong, who continued to take heat despite backing off a controversial move last week to cut summer classes, vowed Monday to push for paycuts for himself and his administration.
Chong, who last year earned $307,470, plus $24,230 in health benefits, making him one of the highest-paid public officials in the county, proposed the salary reductions after a day spent meeting on campus with angry faculty and students.
He sat outside his office Monday morning, next to coffee and donuts he and other administrators brought for students and faculty members who had gathered to chew him out. One by one, they blasted Chong for the plan to slash half of the college’s summer classes, one of several strategies aimed at narrowing a $6.5 million budget deficit but that he ultimately backpedaled on.
“I’m really sorry for all the stress and angst and anger that’s there. I felt some of it today and it’s warranted,” Chong said, addressing the crowd gathered outside his office during the 9 a.m. rally. “I don’t take it personal, but as your president I need to do better, and with your help I can.”
Six hours later, he again was criticized at an SRJC Student Government Assembly meeting for the plan, which was offered without input from students and faculty.
By slashing summer courses, Chong hoped to save $2 million. But the outcry that continued throughout Monday forced Chong to hit the reset button and back away from the plan.
He continued to apologize Monday, becoming at times frustrated with people questioning his integrity or suggesting he put his salary ahead of education. But mostly he listened to students and faculty, who accused him of failing to live up to the college’s model of shared governance. Some questioned his judgment and asked why he hadn’t taken action sooner to address deficit brought on by years of declining enrollment.
Chong described the fallout as the biggest crisis of his six years leading the college.
It started Thursday evening, when Chong gave the green light on the plan to cut half of all summer classes to help resolve the current budget deficit. The following morning, Chong sought to dampen the mounting backlash and in an email laden with apologies postponed summer registration for at least a week to allow him to consult with the campus community over the cuts.
Less than nine hours later on Friday evening, school officials told students by email that registration for summer courses would go ahead as originally planned on Monday, before a final decision on what classes, if any, are eliminated.
On Monday, students complained to Chong that the elimination of summer classes would have a wide range of impacts, including jeopardizing their graduation plans and financial aid.
At the student government meeting, a faculty member said the chaos caused by last week’s unilateral plan to slash courses demonstrated that the college’s administration and its board of trustees were out of touch with the student population. Many students also described to Chong how they would have been affected by the summer class cuts.
Alex Simms, who’s studying communications, said she was planning to take a final math course this summer to meet her graduation requirements before heading off this fall to Grand Canyon University, a private Christian university in Phoenix. While Grand Canyon does not require the course to transfer, Simms said she hoped to receive her diploma during the SRJC May 26 graduation ceremony.