CCSF’s new chancellor has a history running other troubled colleges

City College of San Francisco's new chancellor, Dr. Art Tyler
Photo courtesy of Houston Community College video archive

Former Compton College Special Trustee Dr. Arthur Q. Tyler will be City College of San Francisco’s new chancellor, sources tell the Guardian. The decision ends a months-long search and comes at a time when CCSF is under state control and facing the loss of its accreditation. 

City College is in the fight for its life as the deadline of July 2014 looms ahead, at which point the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, may revoke its accreditation. But Tyler has been in a similar position before -- as the special trustee of Compton Community College.

Tyler held the same position overseeing the troubled Compton Community College that Special Trustee Bob Agrella held before CCSF lost its accreditation. But more importantly, Tyler was at Compton Community College when it was told its accreditation was revoked in 2005.

In a letter to the community, Compton’s Board of Trustees outlined what they’d need to do: regain their footing and win an appeal to the accreditation commission. They filed for review, much like City College of San Francisco recently did. And they lost.  

Compton Community College never regained its accreditation. The college was absorbed into a neighboring district, El Camino College, and is now known as The El Camino Compton College Center. It’s essentially another campus in the El Camino system.   

The letter Compton Community College sent students when it first learned it would soon lose accreditation.

Tyler’s is now tasked with saving San Francisco’s only community college. And you have to admit, attracting candidates to a school that’s on the edge of closure couldn’t have been easy. After City College was notified it would lose accreditation in a year, the state gave Agrella the full powers of City College’s Board of Trustees, leaving San Franciscos elected college board powerless. Just exactly how much power and influence Tyler will have while the state-appointed trustee remains at City College is still unclear. 

But its Tyler’s experience working with the community college accreditation agency and the California state chancellor’s office is that made him a strong candidate, said Alisa Messer, president of City College’s faculty union AFT 2121. When asked if it worried her that Tyler led Compton college while it lost its accreditation, she said “I’m not going in with preconceived notions.” 

Tyler’s resume is seemingly glowing. He’s an anti-terrorism expert who served in the US Air Force, was vice president at Los Angeles City College and was in charge at Sacramento City College. He also speaks Farsi.

But it was his time as Deputy Chancellor of Houston Community College where he walked through fire -- from allegedly resisting bribes to sexual advances from contractors. Dave Wilson, 66, runs the investigative website “Inside HCCS” in Texas that’s a tell-all about alleged dirty dealings at Houston Community College, based on the many public records requests he’s made over the years. 

One gold mine of documents Wilson obtained came when the Harris County District Attorney’s office was investigating alleged corruption at HCC. Family members and close ties allegedly helped questionable construction contracts get approved by the HCC board of trustees, according to the Houston Chronicle’s stories at the time. 

Ultimately, those accused had to take ethics training courses, but it’s the investigation itself that’s really revealing.

Law Firm Smyser Kaplan & Veselka interviewed college officials at the behest of HCC’s board in 2010. Their goal -- get to the bottom of who had anything to do with getting the dirty contracts passed. Tyler, who was deputy chancellor at the time, and Houston Community College’s attorney, Larry Veselka, took extensive notes on the interview.

When looking into a construction project, Tyler told Veselka he found about $14 million in questionable spending. The interview details allegations that Tyler was receiving vague promises of sexual favors and bribes from a pair of would-be contractors, both of which he refused. But one trustee was concerned enough about Tyler’s close relationship with another trustee’s friends that Tyler’s procurement authority was limited.      

The Guardian tried contacting Tyler as well as the law firm, but has so far received no response. His appointment is expected to be announced in the morning (Wed/16), so check back later for any updates.

When asked if he was worried about any of the allegations about Tyler, John Rizzo, City College’s board of trustees president, said that none of it came up in the chancellorship interviews -- but even if there was truth to it, he wasn’t worried.

“He’s going to have a lot of eyes on him,” Rizzo said. “He’ll have the state chancellor and special trustee looking over his shoulder, more than a normal chancellor would.”

And though we couldn’t get Tyler to respond to our calls, he did speak about why he’s interested in working at City College of San Francisco in his public interview there on Wednesday, Oct. 9.

“I love helping. This is not a job,” he said. When he “saw the need here” and learned that San Francisco was ailing, he thought “I hate this. I can absolutely help. I shouldn’t sit on the sidelines. I have the right skillsets and the right experiences. I know how to organize people and at least talk and listen to each other so they’re communicating.”