Mark Rocha, Pasadena City College’s new president, is no ordinary bureaucrat. An English professor by training, Rocha commits to teaching at least one course every year, which he will be doing at PCC. Perhaps even more unusual, however, is the renown Rocha’s enjoyed for his scholarly work in the arts, which focuses mainly on criticism and history of American drama, including treatises on playwrights such as August Wilson and Tennessee Williams. His work has been published in several literary and scholarly magazines, which are being used today by directors and actors studying those playwrights.
But with that said, it also seems fitting that a drama critic — albeit one carrying some controversy of his own from his former job as president of West LA College — would be called on to quell the drama caused by the brief tenure and disappearance of his predecessor, Paulette Perfumo, who around this time last year first took an unexplained leave of absence, then resigned. Lisa Sugimoto, vice president of student and learning services, was appointed to serve on an interim basis during a nationwide search for a new president. After looking at 90 possible candidates, the trustees signed the 57-year-old Rocha to a $230,000-a-year four-year contract.
Running on empty
Rocha comes to Pasadena at a tumultuous time, with PCC, which has a student population the size of some small cities, facing growing enrollment while state lawmakers have yet to pass a budget, leaving students scrambling for available classes and the college itself operating off its reserves.
On top of that, the state accrediting commission has issued a warning to the college over its planning process.
With the state budget months overdue, colleges across the state are waiting to see how much money they will receive this fiscal year. This problem is compounded by the fact that PCC’s enrollment has reached more than 30,000, up from 21,000 just a few years ago.
“It’s just ridiculous,” said Rocha. “I’ve never seen a situation like this. I’m running a college with 30,000 students and the state is not sending us a penny. So we are literally living on our reserves.”
State law provides a minimum funding guarantee for school districts, community colleges and other state agencies that provide elementary and secondary instructional programs for kindergarten through grade 14. This fiscal year, of an estimated $119 billion state budget, about $4 billion should go to community colleges.
“There has been an explosion in demand because of the economic downturn,” said PCC Board of Trustees member Geoffrey Baum. “Doors are being closed at Cal States, schools are reaching overcapacity, and so we have fewer resources to offer. We have to plan without a budget while more people are turning to community colleges.”
“We are better off at PCC than other colleges because over the years we developed a surplus and put aside a reserve,” said Board President Bill Thomson. “We’re not in dire shape right now, but if the state doesn’t work out the budget soon, we’ll be in serious trouble.”
Rocha recently said PCC’s reserve will last until Thanksgiving, at which point the college will need money from the state to continue operating.
Along with that, Rocha is also working on other major issues, specifically academics, addressing the state accrediting commission’s warning by developing an Educational Master Plan.
“We need to put together a new master plan that will make clear goals in the major areas of transfer, associate degrees, preparing students for the 21st century global economy, and bringing on a new generation of faculty,” Rocha said of the four-year plan, which he hopes to present to the trustees in December.
However, questions and challenges remain. “We have to do a better job of providing and accessing the educational services we provide,” said Baum. “How do we account for the outcomes of students who enroll in our programs? Is that consistent among fields? Do we have a planning process that uses evidence in deciding what programs get funding?”
Besides teaching for 30 years, Rocha also has a 20-year history working in various college administrations, including nine years in the state community college system. He served as vice president of academic affairs at Mission College, associate dean and dean in the Cal State system and provost at Seton Hall University. He received his PhD from USC, his master’s degree from Cal State Fullerton and his bachelor’s from Villanova University.
Prior to heading up PCC, Rocha served as president of West Los Angeles College, near Culver City, where residents and neighborhood leaders are still upset by what they see as a betrayal of the community by leaders of that college.
After the Culver City Council rejected West LA College’s proposal in July to allow it to build more than 350,000 square feet of new development on the campus, the LA Community College District Board of Trustees went around the council and approved the 2009 Facilities Master Plan and the 2010 Supplemental Environmental Impact Report in August.
Neighborhood associations, the Culver City Unified Board of Education and neighbors of the college cried foul and accused the LACCD of betraying a 2005 memorandum of understanding between the college and its neighbors regarding the proposed development. Representatives of the Culver Crest Neighborhood Association and the Raintree Condominiums Association, as well as several neighbors of the college, said their concerns about traffic, noise and pollution were not included in the plans. While construction began in 2006 and was slated to end this year, the college’s new plan expands the construction timeline by an additional three years.
“We had a good relationship with the city and the homeowners,” said Rocha, “but you always have a few who live right by the college that don’t want any kind of a project constructed, and will do whatever they can to block it.”
According to some residents, the next step is legal action against the college.
“At this point, with Rocha gone, I don’t think that anyone at the college is dealing with it. I think they want to dispose of the neighbors and keep building,” John Kuechle, chairman of the West LA College Subcommittee of the Culver Crest Neighborhood Association, told the Culver City Patch news Web site.
“That just seems like ancient history,” Rocha said. “I’ve got a whole new set of problems over here.”
Baum doesn’t believe these issues will be a distraction for Rocha.
“I don’t think he will be involved with (the development),” said Baum. “For our college and district, the relationship with the neighbors is an important priority. I believe Dr. Rocha will be a good ambassador for our college, maintain a good relationship with the neighbors and we will continue to provide educational opportunities for the community.”
The faculty association, which had concerns about the way Rocha was hired, isn’t quite as optimistic.
“I’m neither happy nor unhappy,” said association President Roger Marheine. “This was a decision made by the board despite a tremendous amount of opposition by faculty and staff.”
At the time, the faculty leadership wanted Sugimoto, the interim president who replaced Perfumo, to remain in the position. However, according to PCC Trustee Thomson, Sugimoto made it clear she only wanted to serve a year at the most.
But Rocha, who resides in Sherman Oaks with his wife, Nancy, and sons Brendan and Samuel, said he brings some necessary experience to the table, having served on the negotiating team for LACCD’s last contract.
“I know most of the significant faculty labor leaders in the state, and I think they would describe me as someone who’s inclusive and very open to the interests of the faculty,” he said. “I’m confident we’ll make progress, but it takes time until everyone lays aside the past and moves forward.”