Interim president Chui Tsang leads campus in flux


Denis Perez / The Advocate

Contra Costa College Interim President Chui L. Tsang walks to his car after his first day at CCC in San Pablo, California on March 16. Tsang, a CCC alum, suspended his retirement to fill the position until a permanent president is selected by July.

By Anthony Kinney, Associate Editor

Newly selected interim president and Contra Costa College alum Chui L. Tsang is bringing a treasure trove of knowledge and decades of experience to his old campus — though only for a temporary term.

However, commitment to his alma mater shines untarnished as the former Santa Monica College president made the decision to suspend his retirement when he heard of the open position for CCC’s interim president.

He will hold the position of interim president until the search for a permanent candidate successfully concludes and a new president is appointed in July of 2018.

Dr. Tsang’s appointment comes after the sudden removal of former college president Mojdeh Mehdizadeh last month.

The announcement left the campus with feelings of confusion and a disheartening sentiment. Tsang is boldly picking up the pieces with the intent to keep the college on its current course of success.

“I worked with Mojdeh before. I’m aware of her professionalism and her genuine concern for the campus and the students’ success,” he said. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be able to help out in any way I can.”

Dr. Tsang’s new position, though temporary, is quite the fit for the calm, yet poised career college administrator with his decades of experience as president of various community colleges across the state, including SMC and San Jose City College.

He announced his retirement at the closing of his nine-year tenure as SMC’s college president in 2015.

CCC Vice President of Student Affairs Ken Sherwood believes Tsang’s strong advocacy for the college will breathe much needed morale back into the campus.

It’s important for students and staff to see that they have a leader who is a strong supporter of the institution in the President’s Office, he said. 

Tsang understands there is a great opportunity for students in the community college system.

Though he is steeped in experience in the field of education, he does admit he wasn’t the best student growing up.

He didn’t grasp the value of education until he had a “transformational experience” while attending CCC from 1971-73 before transferring to UC Berkeley where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. His time at CCC propelled him to reach his goals and earn his Ph.D. in linguistics from Stanford University and become a professor.

“I wouldn’t say I grew up with dreams to be a college president,” Tsang said. “Growing up I didn’t have a strong interest in education. I learned later it was due to the way the lessons were administered to me by past teachers.”

However, Tsang said his exposure to new learning methods from CCC’s dedicated professors greatly benefited him by altering his opinion on learning and his mindset to one determined for academic success.

Liberal Arts Division Dean Jason Berner said Tsang’s appointment is a positive for the campus, even if it’s short-term.

“He’s knowledgeable and shows he’s committed to CCC,” Berner said. “He has a history with the campus and seems passionate in seeing the college succeed.”

Tsang said people on campus have been very welcoming of his return, but he is also aware of the sense of guardedness on campus, which he feels is completely understandable following the sudden departure of president Mehdizadeh.

“I understand change can bring feelings of uncertainty, but my hope is that I can help deflate the fears some in the school may feel and ensure that there’s a smooth transition between Mojdeh and I. And the new president once they’re named.”

Most of the campus’ skepticism of Tsang’s appointment comes from the role he played in 2012 in a controversial proposal to offer summer classes in high-demand courses at $600, four times normal tuition price, which led to student protests on SMC’s campus. Tsang’s theory was that the extra funds accrued could have been used to offer more classes, which could have eased classroom overcrowding and prevent layoffs.

The proposed plan was eventually delayed after student protesters were pepper sprayed by campus police during a demonstration at a SMC board meeting on the campus.

During his time at SMC, Tsang was credited for guiding the college through an unstable budget climate while pioneering the interdisciplinary model that went on to become the foundation of the “LA Hi-Tech” program.

The program is a  community college, high school and industry consortium designed to build “fast tracks” for students seeking employment in the information, communication and technology industries upon graduation.

In addition to overseeing SMC as it became the first California community college to have students get guaranteed admission to Arizona State University, Tsang supervised the approval and implementation of the institution’s bachelor of science degree program in interaction design.

The groundbreaking discipline blends the fields of design, user experience (UX) and technology to help prepare students for the growing industry.

Sherwood said he commends  Dr. Tsang his decision to leave the luxury of retirement to assist the institution during its time of need.