Report 99134 Summary - August 2000
Los Angeles Community College District:
It Has Improved Its Procedures for Selecting College Presidents
RESULTS IN BRIEF
Between November 1994 and July 1999, the Los Angeles Community College District (district) conducted 10 searches for college presidents at eight of its nine campuses. In conducting these 10 searches, search committees followed procedures that were generally consistent and allowed for involvement by the college community. After 3 of these searches, however, the board of trustees (board) rejected the list of finalists and chose instead to appoint interim presidents. Although it is possible that the district's failure to hire a president in these three instances was related to the selection procedures the board approved, the failures could also be due to a variety of other reasons. For example, the district had serious financial problems during some of this time, and these problems were widely known. In fact, the district's independent financial auditors warned in 1997 that the district might not remain financially viable, and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges expressed alarm regarding the situation in January 1998, citing concerns about administrative stability and fiscal health. As a result, we believe that some highly qualified potential candidates may have chosen not to apply for the positions, especially if salaries, benefits, and working conditions were not competitive. The district subsequently revised its selection procedures and conducted new searches that resulted in appointments of presidents at two of these colleges--Mission College and Harbor College--in May and June 2000, respectively. It is now initiating a search for a president for the third college, Southwest College.
The new procedures, revised in September 1999, improve the accountability of the process by designating a person who is solely responsible for ensuring compliance with board procedures and by establishing timelines for the selection process. The new procedures also provide for greater community involvement by, for example, having a greater proportion of representatives appointed from the campus community on the selection committee, with fewer board and district appointees. These procedures are similar to those used by some of the 18 California community college districts we surveyed, and they also closely parallel procedures recently developed by the Community College League of California (league), a nonprofit corporation whose voluntary membership consists of the 72 local community college districts in California.
Some of the district's revised selection practices differ from the league's recommended practices in minor ways. For example, the district does not have a policy requiring that a budget be established for the search process. In addition, we noted certain other aspects of the district's selection process that could be improved. For instance, the district did not fully document its compliance with the procedures of its board on several occasions, although based on our review of other information and discussions with district staff and others involved in the search, we believe that the district was in fact compliant in these situations. Also, in four instances since 1995, the district was slow to complete its search and had an interim president at a college for a period longer than the one year that the California Code of Regulations permits without an extension from the Chancellor of California Community Colleges.
Finally, we found that the district's costs to select college presidents have increased significantly under the revised procedures, from an average of $6,200 for each of the three searches ended in 1999 to an average of almost $34,000 for each search ended in 2000. This increase is primarily due to search consultants' fees and greater travel expenses for candidates. Although the district does not have a system to track the costs of individual searches, we requested the information and compiled these costs as part of this audit. The use of a consultant, at a fee of $20,000 per search, is the single most significant reason for the increase in costs associated with the selection process, but most of the search committee and board members with whom we spoke felt that the services a consultant provided were of value. While the district's costs to conduct a selection process are not out of line with those of other districts, these increased costs make it more important that the district does not conduct a selection process and then fail to appoint a president.
To improve the process through which it selects presidents for its colleges, the district should take the following actions:
- Consider adopting league-recommended practices it is not currently using, such as establishing a budget.
- Archive selection documents to demonstrate compliance with all required procedures and to memorialize the process for subsequent searches.
- Perform selection procedures promptly to avoid having interim presidents serve longer than the California Code of Regulations allows.
- Develop a system to track all costs associated with each presidential search.
The district stated that it believes our audit report is generally accurate, and that the recommendations it contains are reasonable.