College district board debates how to do job interviews during COVID-19 crisis

Daily Post Staff Writer

The San Mateo County Community College District board tonight wrestled with how the board ought to interview the three finalists for the district’s chancellor.

As the Post reported March 30, the three finalists for the job are Edward Bush, president of Cosumnes River College in Sacramento; Bryan Reece, former president of Norco College in Riverside, and current San Mateo County Community College District interim chancellor Mike Claire.

Trustees Maurice Goodman and Richard Holober floated the idea of finding a place where proper social distancing could take place, and interview the finalists in person.

Board President Karen Schwarz said she would like to interview the candidates in person to watch their body language during questions and their reactions, and she suggested postponing the interviews until they can be done in person.

Schwarz, along with other board members, said that having the interviews in person would be dangerous given the COVID-19 health crisis and would set a bad example for the public during the stay-at-home order.

But Goodman pointed out that at least one of the candidates is a finalist in other chancellor searches, and if they put off the interview process for a new chancellor, that also means they will have to put off the process of selecting a new president for Skyline College in San Bruno.

Trustee Thomas Nuris said that so far, a great amount of research has been done in the search process. Trustee Dave Mandelkern said he would be worried about putting the two candidates who have to travel from southern California and Sacramento for the interview, in a difficult position where they would be faced with whether they value their health or this interview.

Ultimately, the board reluctantly agreed to have the interviews virtually next Tuesday.

Before the board interviews the candidates next week, the candidates will go through a forum tomorrow (April 8). The candidates will be asked questions that the community had submitted to Holober and Goodman, who are going through the 180 or so questions submitted, to determine which should be asked.

The forums will be posted to the district’s website on Thursday for people to watch.

Those who have thoughts about the candidates or questions that the board ought to ask during its closed-door session, will be able to submit feedback about the candidates until Monday.


  1. I made the following public comment, in writing, at the April 7 San Mateo County Community College District (SMCCCD) Board of Trustees meeting. The Board appears to have little interest in community participation; it plows ahead with its own agenda:


    During the COVID-19 Declared State of Emergency and Executive Orders from the State Chancellor’s Office changing many processes and procedures, it is recommended that the San Mateo County Community College District (SMCCCD) suspend the present Chancellor search.


    Unlike state apportionment districts, SMCCCD is directly supported by local taxpayers. In fact, 84% of the District’s revenue of $245 million comes from property taxes. Therefore, communication between the Board and the community is essential to continue the good will that is necessary for the District’s finances.

    First, thorough communication with the community is needed in the hiring process for a new chancellor, especially in a crisis. The announcement about the Chancellor search on SMCCCD’s homepage gives the impression that it is just business as usual. If you follow the links, there is little information for the public about the process and changes due to the pandemic. All I found is a brief comment at the bottom of a page of text, “Details about finalist interviews and college and community forums will be forthcoming, as plans are confirmed relating to these processes in a COVID-19 operating environment.” This is unacceptable. In addition, email addresses for search committee members or the committee chair were not provided, so a community member lacked the means to communicate throughout the search. This does not promote community engagement.

    Second, of the fifteen-member Chancellor Screening Committee, only two were community members, the other thirteen were employees. While shared governance is at the heart of academia, a search committee dominated by employees can be viewed as suspect by the public for a public institution. The two outside representatives, while pillars of the community, were not vetted by the public for this task, but simply appointed by the trustees. As SMCCCD is a “community” college, one would think greater representation from constituents serving the taxpayers and groups reflecting our student population might be appropriate.

    Third, for a District that makes social justice a core principle and achieving equity a goal, one might ask why the three finalists are all male? In particular, two White and one Black? The student population at SMCCCD is predominantly Asian, Filipino, Hispanic, and White (approximately 20% each). Blacks make up only 2% of the students and 3% of the county population. For the sake of promoting equity, I anticipated a Hispanic woman or an Asian man as a finalist. Was the applicant pool not diverse? Did the search committee reject a significant number of minority candidates? Just how were the finalist selected?

    Finally, across the nation, institutions of higher education are suspending searches. Given shelter-in-place, they must forgo campus visits by finalists. It is absurd to try to discriminate among highly qualified candidates with online interviews or providing opportunities to meet candidates while maintaining social distance.

    Selecting a chancellor should involve a thorough vetting with personal interactions by all constituents. Further, it is not uncommon for members of the search committee to visit the campus of a finalist to find out what people back home really think; of course, this is not possible now. The fact that SMCCCD’s Board is plowing ahead under extraordinary circumstances is surprising, to say the least, and somewhat bewildering.

    Therefore, SMCCCD should suspend the present Chancellor search until such time that candidates and constituents can meet in person for conversation, discussion, and interviews. Due to the pandemic, change is coming to San Mateo County, its students, college personnel, local families, businesses, government, taxpayers and voters. Please don’t rush this very important decision until there is time to adjust to what will certainly be a “new normal” and a candidate can be found who is not wedded to the past but can address the challenges of the future.

    Michael B. Reiner, PhD, is a higher education consultant and educational researcher now living in San Carlos. Previously, he was a professor of psychology and college administrator at City University of New York (CUNY), Miami Dade College, the Riverside Community College District, and SMCCCD. He can be reached at [email protected]


    I made a public comment (in writing) at the April 7 San Mateo County Community College District (SMCCCD) Board of Trustees meeting. While the Board acknowledged receiving it, my points were not discussed.

    The Board decided to continue a current chancellor search without meeting the finalist (the first search in nineteen years; the last produced a lawsuit in which the Board sued the State Chancellor & Board of Governors which accused the Board of violating hiring regulations!).

    No public forums for chancellor finalists? The Board will conduct video forums with preselected questions & allow “the community” to view them to provide feedback. Methods for doing such have not been publicized on the SMCCCD website, which hasn’t been updated on changes to the search process since the pandemic. It’s like nothing is different.

    What? No typical in-person forums so candidates can respond to audience questions about their experience and policy?While this is understandable for health reasons, it is also reasonable to delay the search until normality returns.

    These chancellor candidates will not even have campus visits to the three colleges (San Mateo, Skyline, & Canada; well, one is internal). So, no one will meet them until the Board hires the new chancellor (oh, wait, one is the interim chancellor and is the favorite son, hired by former chancellor Galatolo as president of the College of San Mateo; I guess the Board knows him well). Does this provide Equal Employment Opportunity to the other two finalists?

    Instead, the Board will conduct “virtual” interviews with the finalists

    Is this the future of search processes post-pandemic? See but don’t touch?

    All over the nation, institutions are suspending searches during this difficult time. They know a full vetting of candidates with participation of shared governance constituents is necessary to select the best leader.

    I guess SMCCCD must “think different”

  3. The Board is probably doing its best, but to proceed at this time greatly reduces public input.
    The public was marginalized from the get-go, with just 2 of 15 slots on the search cttee and no opportunity to apply for the 2.

  4. This is a sham, we all know they’re going to pick Mike Claire. They’re just going through the pretense of doing a search to justify their choice.

  5. How about running for a seat on the community college district board of trustees? They are big districts. But you can tell voters the truth about these institutions of HIGHER COMPENSATION FOR THE INSIDERS in candidate statements and get coverage from this newspaper. See for a list of what compensation is paid to employees (latest report for 2018).

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