With a new surfboard in hand that was presented as a gift by Santa Monica College staff, just-arrived college president Chui Tsang is jumping head first into some choppy waters that have beleaguered the administration for several years.
Tsang was appointed college president in December after working a nine-year stint as president of San Jose City College.
The 54-year-old Cupertino resident, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong, was selected from three finalists for the $175,000-a-year Santa Monica College post.
He arrived in Santa Monica three weeks ago and has already held meetings with senior Santa Monica College officials.
He says his top priorities are to solve the college’s parking and shuttle bus issues, bring the various interest groups at the college together, and make education more accessible to students.
“We have been distracted by other issues such as parking and disharmony among the different groups on campus,” Tsang said. “We should come to an agreement so that we have a much better academic environment.”
Trying to find parking at the college has been a headache for college administrators and students alike for several years.
The issue became very hot last year when the City of Santa Monica and the City of Los Angeles restricted access to the parking lot at the newly opened Bundy Campus after neighbors in Sunset Park and Mar Vista claimed students would cause traffic jams on residential streets.
The Santa Monica City Council closed off access to the parking lot from Airport Avenue and the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation put restrictions on how many cars could enter the lot from Bundy Drive.
Bundy Campus is in Los Angeles but across the street from Santa Monica Airport in Santa Monica.
After numerous long public meetings, officials from both cities and college officials reached an agreement.
The City of Santa Monica would allow students to enter and exit Bundy Campus from Airport Avenue if the City of Los Angeles allowed the installation of a traffic signal on Bundy Drive.
Santa Monica College officials agreed to encourage students to walk or bike to Bundy Campus, take the bus, or park at an outlying parking lot and take shuttle buses.
Airport Avenue is currently available as an access point for students while Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl is working on getting approval for a traffic signal on Bundy Drive.
“Coming up with different solutions is a goal for us,” Tsang said. “We have better traffic flow and less impacts on the neighborhoods if we look at public transportation.”
Another goal for Tsang is to seek input from faculty and classified staff about the direction of the college.
Piedad Robertson, former college president, received a vote of no confidence from the Academic Senate after she recommended cutting some vocational programs without adequately consulting with the faculty.
Robertson resigned last year to accept the president’s position at the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.
Santa Monica College executive vice president Tom Donner served as interim president until Tsang arrived.
The college board of trustees voted months ago to study the idea of bringing some of those vocational programs back if students can use those certificates to find high-paying jobs.
“With advice from others, we can decide on which direction to take,” Tsang said. “We don’t want to send students to vocations that don’t pay well. The jobs have to be highly skilled and in demand.”
By trying to bring back some vocational programs, Tsang said Santa Monica College could heighten its reputation.
He also hopes state funding and equalization would be better, so that the college could update some of its class offerings and add more sections to popular classes.
“There are different versions of equalization funding being discussed in Sacramento,” Tsang said. “All community colleges in the state have been operating on faith that the state budget would be better this year after several years of underfunding.”
Tsang said he understands “the benefits a community college can bring to young people” because he started his college days at the two-year Contra Costa College in east San Francisco.
He transferred to the University of California at Berkeley and received a Bachelor of Arts with honors in linguistics in 1975.
He also received a doctoral degree in linguistics from Stanford University in 1981 and has been published in the fields of linguistics, education, and workforce training.
Prior to being at San Jose City College, Tsang was dean of the City College of San Francisco School of Applied Science and Technology.
He has taught at Stanford, De Anza College in Cupertino and San Francisco State University, and served as executive director of the Career Resources Development Center, which is a California State Department of Education-approved employment agency.
Tsang has a son, Richard, and a daughter, Kathryn, attending University of California campuses.
He is currently looking for housing in Santa Monica.
Tsang joins a list of new leaders who have taken top positions in Santa Monica.
The City of Santa Monica has a new mayor, Robert Holbrook, and city manager, Lamont Ewell, and is currently looking for a new city planning director.
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District superintendent John Deasy recently left Santa Monica and was replaced for the interim by assistant superintendent Michael Matthews.