By Jose Ivan Cazares
Raul Rodriguez is filling the vacant seat left by former East Los Angeles College president Marvin Martinez until July, when a new president will be selected to lead the college.
Rodriguez is a seasoned community college administrator, prolonging his retirement to fill Martinez’s seat while Martinez takes over his role as chancellor of Rancho Santiago Community College District.
Despite the change in leadership, it’s business as usual for everyone at ELAC aside from the committee selecting the new president said Jeffery Hernadez, member of the ELAC Senate Executive Committee and the president selection committee.
Rodriguez said working directly with staff and walking the halls with students has reminded him why he became an educator.
“I recruited Marvin. He took over at Rancho Santiago for me, and I was going to retire, but I realize now that I just needed a change,” Rodriguez said.
“The last couple of years as chancellor, I had what seemed like a fantasy at the time of going back to a college campus. As chancellor you’re always at the district office and it’s a lot like a corporate job.”
Rodriguez is serving on ELAC’s president selection committee and said he might consider pursuing positions at different campuses once his tenure at ELAC is over.
During his nine years as RSCCD chancellor, Rodriguez received some criticism and unwanted media attention, mainly from Rancho Santiago staff and non-profit news publication, Voice of OC.
The publication called into question the legitimacy of giving and receiving of gifts as a networking strategy.
Berry Resnick, Voice of OC columnist and professor of counseling in the Rancho Santiago Community College District, is particularly critical of Rodriguez and described him as self-serving and corrupt in an opinion article criticizing a venture to attract exchange students by partnering with technical schools in Saudi Arabia.
Resnick is of Jewsish heritage. He and other members of RSCCD staff questioned a contract with schools run by a government with a reputation of xenophobia toward non-Musilms, people of Jewish descent in particular.
“It’s my understanding that it was more than just the biases of one person. It’s clear (Resnick) has his biases, but when you look at the track record of companies in Saudi Arabia when it comes to discriminatory practices it does raise questions as to whether enough consideration was given before a deal was made,” Hernandez said.
“As long as those kinds of practices aren’t repeated and more consideration is given to the possibility of discrimination in other countries, we’ll (ELAC) be OK.”
Reports by Voice of OC and The Orange County Register suggest that the plan which ended in June produced far less revenue than when the deal was pitched, but despite the lack of guarantees and criticism Rodriguez stands by the deal.
“We didn’t have the connections other colleges had, so we had to work with what we could find, and what we found were these opportunities in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government wants to improve their education system; and rightfully so because it’s a mess,” Rodriguez said.
“I accomplished what I set out to during my years at Rancho. It’s time to move on a do something else.”
Rodriguez said Rancho Santiago added an addendum in the contract that would have allowed the district to pull out without penalization if the Saudi government or other entity asked something of Racho staff that violated U.S. laws.
“To our surprise they signed the addendum without hesitation, otherwise we would have pulled out of the deal,” said Rodriguez.
Hernadez said ELAC already has a burgeoning international presence and that Rodriguez and the president that takes over in a year need to prioritize continuing the work started by presidents that have come before them.
“A lot of infrastructure was completed under Martinez, but president Moreno deserves a lot of credit for setting the plans in motion,” Hernadez said.
“Martinez was supportive of the plans set by his predecessors, but I think he’ll be remembered for helping improve transfer rates.”
Hernadez said the new president will have to work with staff to improve the school’s online services to stay competitive in a changing education field.
Hernadez said ELAC’s presidency will be a desirable position for administrators looking to distinguish themselves because of its growth and potential for further growth.