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Tsang New College President

By Ann Williams and Olin Ericksen
Staff Writers

December 6 -- Dr. Chui L. Tsang, who has headed San Jose City College for nearly a decade, will take the reins at Santa Monica College after a unanimous vote by the Board of Trustees Monday night.

The trustees kept an overflow crowd gossiping and guessing during a prolonged and evidently fruitless closed session that was indicative of the thorny problems Tsang will face when he takes over on February 27.

The mood of optimism and relief when Tsang’s appointment was announced after a nearly year-long search was shared by both faculty and administrators, who are locked in contentious contract negotiations.

“We are enthusiastic of this selection,” said Board Chair Carole Currey. “The entire Santa Monica College community and the communities of Santa Monica and Malibu will welcome Dr. Tsang.”

Faculty representatives were just as pleased.

“We find you have made a great decision and are looking forward to a new day at Santa Monica College,” Faculty Senate President Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein told the board.

The Board voted to give Tsang a $206,800 package that includes $175,000 in salary, a $650 per month car allowance and $24,000 a year for housing, as well as $5,000 for moving expenses.

Like most educators, though, Tsang is motivated by more than money.

“My payoff is that my office is in the middle of a college,” Tsang, who did not attend Monday's meeting, told the college community in his public interview last month. “When I get bogged down…I can just go out of my door and go talk to some students.”

Tsang will inheret stalled faculty contract negotiations and strained relations with City officials, as well as with some neighboring residents. He will take over a college that expanded across the city under its last permanet president, Dr. Piedad F. Robertson, who pushed several major bond measures during her decade-long tenure.

Tsang -- who was tapped less than two weeks after the City Council chose P. Lamont Ewell as the new city manager -- has had plenty of experience facing challenges, according to colleagues.

Known as a politically savvy coalition builder, Tsang helped San Jose City College grow while making tough budget choices during his eight-year tenure as president, according to Michael Hill, vice chancellor for the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District.

Hill, who’s known Tsang for eight years, described him as “clear thinking” and able to size up issues well. Hill called Tsang “honest with integrity” and said he related well to groups, faculty and administration.

Tsang successfully pushed through two multi-million dollar bond measures, one for $180 million in 2004 and another in 1998, said Hill. He gained backing from labor and the Santa Clara Democratic Party to help pass the 2004 measure with over 60 percent of the vote.

Tsang, however, hasn’t always had an easy job of it, Hill said.

“He’s had to make some tough decisions under the budget deficits,” he said, “but I think he’s tried to be fair and balance those.

“He’s always worked with the unions and faculty to make sure as few positions were lost as necessary,” Hill said, noting that Tsang has had to cut four or five faculty positions during his tenure.

An immigrant, Tsang came to the United States from Hong Kong as a 19-year-old and has a history of pushing for immigrant rights and enrollment.

“He’s very much into international studies and reaching out to Asia,” Hill said.

Tsang has made a career of creating opportunities for those who might otherwise be left out of the educational loop.

By his own admission, Tsang wasn’t interested in school when he came to this country as a teenager, but his French teacher at Contra Costa Community College turned him on to the joys of linguistics. He went on from there to get a B.A. at UC Berkeley, and then to Stanford, where he received a Ph.D in Linguistics.

Tsang uses his experience to inspire others.

“I wasn’t born with this idea that I wanted to become college president,” he told student reporters from the San Jose City College Times last May. “I didn’t even like going to school when I was young.”

“It just shows that those of us who are in your situation right now… can become a college president,” Tsang told the students. “It’s not an impossible path.

“Don’t let barriers dictate how you live, but rather, carve your own course,” Tsang said.

Before coming to San Jose, Tsang spent ten years putting his principles to work heading the Career Resources Development Center in San Francisco, which provided job training to refugees, immigrants and the unemployed.

As a Dean at the City College of San Francisco, Tsang set up a new campus dedicated to trade and technology programs.

More recently, he’s worked with Steve Preminger, chair of the Santa Clara Democratic Party on the Workforce Investment Board.

“Chui’s a big player,” said Preminger. Tsang brings in “very low income people” to the program and makes sure they get job training.

“Chui’s a very knowledgeable and talented man,” said Preminger, who says he’s known Tsang for ten years. “He’s dedicated to bringing together the diverse members of the community.”

“It sounds like he’ll be a good fit” for Santa Monica, Preminger said. “Your gain is our loss.”

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