The Search for a New Chancellor

President, Board of Governors, California Community Colleges
ASCCC President

In late 2015, Brice Harris announced his retirement from his post as chancellor of the California Community Colleges effective in April 2016.  Chancellor Harris has been an exemplary leader, and our system will certainly miss his guidance, vision, and advocacy.  Yet the 113 colleges of the system and the more than two million students that we serve will continue to move forward, and thus an outstanding new chancellor must be appointed. 

Whereas our system’s vice-chancellors are government employees that must be appointed by the governor, our chancellor is unique: it is the one position that the Board of Governors selects and appoints.  Therefore, at its November 2015 meeting the California Community Colleges Board of Governors began the process of selecting a new leader for the system. A screening committee was appointed, and the board authorized the hiring of an independent consultant to assist with the search. 

The search screening committee, which is chaired by Board Vice-President Cecilia Estolano, is composed primarily of members of the Board of Governors, including members who represent students, classified staff, and faculty. In addition, the Board approved the appointment of additional committee members to represent the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, the CEO Board of the Community College League of California, and the Foundation for California Community Colleges. The Academic Senate President was chosen to represent the ASCCC, with the vice-president also attending committee meetings as an alternate. The motion from the November 2015 Board Meeting charged the committee with “developing the position description, interviewing candidates, and recommending finalists for interviews by the full board.”

The consultant chosen to assist with the process is the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), a non-profit organization representing governing boards throughout the country.  The search consultant assigned by ACCT to this particular process is Narcisa Polonio, ACCT’s Executive Vice President of Education, Research & Board Leadership Services. Dr. Polonio has facilitated over 300 board retreats and presidential searches and directs the Trustees for Student Success Initiative.

The search screening committee began its process on January 20 with an extensive Equal Employment Opportunity training session followed by the initial committee meeting.  The committee received an overview of the search process, were introduced to ACCT and Dr. Polonio, and then engaged in an active and extensive discussion of the desirable qualities of a new chancellor that led to the development of the position description.

As a general statement of ideal characteristics, the committee approved the statement that the new chancellor should be “a visionary leader who has a passion for all students and their success, is dedicated to the community college mission, has a strong history of advocacy on behalf of public education, and who will make a commitment to lead the system for a minimum of five years.”  Additional characteristics identified by the committee were as follows:

  • A results-oriented leader who is skilled in outreach and cultivating relationships that support the advancement of the system and which enhance opportunities for students to succeed;
  • An effective and persuasive communicator for the system who articulates a vision and educates and energizes;
  • A dynamic leader who can assemble a strong team and empower them to effectuate positive change in a highly regulated system;
  • An innovative leader with the demonstrated ability to take strategic risks, develop deliberate and measureable goals, and translate them into action; and
  • An entrepreneurial leader committed to diversifying funding streams in partnership with the Foundation for California Community Colleges by building external community relationships.

These attributes were agreed upon unanimously by the committee members.  Acting as the committee chair, Vice-President Estolano made a concerted effort to solicit individual input and reactions from all members and also allowed comments from members of the public who were in attendance.  As a result, the process of developing the job description was both open and inclusive and reflected the priorities and perspectives of all of the committee participants.  The full job description and announcement can be found at

Further meetings to screen applications and interview candidates were scheduled for March 2016.  Once the committee has selected finalists, the individuals chosen will interview with the full Board of Governors.  The Board hopes and expects to make a selection by May 2016 and that the new chancellor will be able to take office by the beginning of the 2016-2017 academic year.

The choice of a new chancellor is the most important responsibility of the Board of Governors.   The current Board has made an explicit effort to be inclusive in this process and give fair and sincere consideration to the voices of the constituent groups within the community college system.  With an open, collegial process, the California community colleges can expect to have a strong, effective, and dedicated new chancellor who can lead the system into the future.