College Fighting to Stay Open Gets New Chancellor

City College of San Francisco

Arthur Q. Tyler, named on Thursday as chancellor of the City College of San Francisco, says he will work with the special trustee overseeing the college "to heal and fix this institution."
October 17, 2013

Being chosen as chancellor of City College of San Francisco was, Arthur Q. Tyler told people gathered for a news conference on Wednesday, both "humbling and an honor."

Mr. Tyler, a longtime community-college administrator and a former antiterrorism manager for the U.S. Air Force, may have more reason than many such appointees to profess humility. As chancellor, he will be making recommendations to Robert Agrella, a special trustee appointed by the state to oversee the college, which is struggling to retain its accreditation. Together they must work "to heal and fix this institution," Mr. Tyler said.

For the college's nearly 80,000 students and 2,500 faculty and staff members, much is at stake.

The college's accrediting agency, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, told the college last year that it must correct numerous deficiencies on financial, governance, and other issues or it would lose its accreditation. Such action would almost certainly cause the institution to close.

Unsatisfied with the college's progress, the commission said this past summer that the accreditation would end as of July 2014. The City of San Francisco and the college's faculty union have sued in an attempt to block that move.

In the wake of the accrediting commission's decision this summer, Mr. Agrella, who had been a special trustee with limited powers since last October, was given "extraordinary powers" to make unilateral decisions for the college, including choosing the new chancellor.

Mr. Tyler said that in his new post, which begins on November 1, he will lead administrative functions at the college and will listen to the faculty, the staff, and students to come up with the ideas he will pass on to Mr. Agrella. His two-year contract sets his salary at $285,000 a year.

Mr. Agrella called the appointment "one of the most important decisions I have made or will make" as special trustee. He cited Mr. Tyler's energy and familiarity with California's community colleges as among the deciding factors.

Thirty candidates had applied for the position, and Mr. Agrella said that he had made his choice, with community input, from among three finalists who came to the campus for in-depth interviews. Mr. Tyler will replace Thelma Scott-Skillman, who has served as interim chancellor for the past year.

Mr. Tyler said he was familiar with what a special trustee does, having played that role himself from 2004 to 2005 at the troubled Compton Community College, which lost its accreditation despite his efforts and later became an educational center of El Camino College. What he learned from that experience, Mr. Tyler told reporters, is how to "move an institution to another place."

San Francisco "deserves the best of the best that a community college can provide," Mr. Tyler said, and he pledged to bring the institution "back to the iconic status" it once had.

"I love community-college education. It's the one thing that inspired me to do the things I couldn't do," he said.

Mr. Tyler's résumé and an alumni profile on the University of Maryland University College's Web site show that he relied on community colleges and distance education to advance his career. Combining credits he earned from the Community College of the Air Force with others from Maryland's University College, while he was stationed in Tehran, allowed him to earn a bachelor's degree in business management in 1979. Early that same year, Mr. Tyler, who had learned to speak Farsi, helped organize the evacuation of military families from Iran amid the Iranian Revolution.

He earned a master's degree in national policy development from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1984, and a doctorate in management in organizational leadership at the University of Phoenix in 2007.

In California, Mr. Tyler worked in business for eight years, and later as a vice president of Los Angeles City College and president of Sacramento City College. He was deputy chancellor and chief operating officer of the Houston Community College system from 2007 until August of this year.

Brice W. Harris, chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, who also appeared at Wednesday's news conference, said the San Francisco college was making progress on more than 300 tasks that he said must be completed if it hopes to succeed in an appeal of the accreditor's decision. Among other steps, he said, the college had entered into a contract with a company that will help collect unpaid student fees and make sure future payments comply with state laws.

Of Mr. Tyler, Chancellor Harris said: "He's a man who cares a great deal, passionately, about our students, and he has a level of integrity that we should all aspire to."

The college's accreditor, meanwhile, is under fire itself. The U.S. Department of Education warned the commission in August that it was out of compliance with several federal regulations and could face a possible sanction if the problems were not corrected within 12 months.