By Samantha Bartholomew
In a unanimous vote, the Board of Trustees appointed Wolde-Ab Isaac chancellor of Riverside Community College District on Dec. 12.
“It is with extraordinary sense of humility and honor that I accept this appointment to serve as the fourth chancellor of RCCD, a great and mature institution anchored in a rich history and tradition of pride and excellence,” Isaac said.
Isaac has more than 35 years of experience as an educator. He was hired by the district in 2006 as dean of Health Science at Moreno Valley College. In 2012, he was named vice president of Academic Affairs at Riverside City College, and later as interim president of RCC before being appointed the college’s president in 2015.
“Dr. Isaac’s leadership is evident in many community organizations and partnerships within our district,” Board President Tracey Vackar said. “He embraces collaboration through shared governance with the District stakeholders and uses research-based evidence to support new initiatives.”
“I pledge to do all I can to have Riverside Community College District be recognized as a leader, champion for student success and student equity, and thereby redeem the trust and faith bestowed on me,” Isaac said.
“Dr. Isaac assumes the helm of our great institution as a highly accomplished immigrant with an impressive academic and professional resume and impeccable track record at the time that some of our citizens, our diverse student population and the immigrant communities, especially those from non-western societies, are being treated in some of the most despicable manner in our modern society,” Faculty Association President Dariush Haghighat said in a statement.
Isaac intends to prevent himself from becoming disconnected from the daily struggles and successes that take place outside the district office by maintaining an office on each of the district’s three college campuses.
“I believe that is very important that I am continuously connected to the frustrations people have and, hopefully, to the aspirations they have,” Isaac said. “I want to listen more to their expectations of what kind of support they need from the district office.”
“The fact that Dr. Isaac has been with the district for the past 12 years, knows our district, its students, staff and programs, our local cities and communities and has a leadership reputation in the region, further solidifies the selection to lead this higher education district into the future,” Board secretary Mary Figueroa said.
For Isaac, the transition from college president to chancellor has made him determined to mend the disconnect he feels has overtaken the district as a whole.
“Right now, we function as five separate entities that do whatever they like and whatever their plans are,” he said. “The most pressing matter is putting together a strategic plan that establishes a shared mission, vision and develops overarching shared goals that binds all of us together as one district made up up of five components that operate best when they are united.”
Developing a strong strategic plan is one of the goals at the forefront of Isaac’s first few months as chancellor, saying that “a good and comprehensive strategic plan becomes a glue that binds all of us to the same mission and to the shared overarching goals.”
According to Isaac, a good strategic plan has three attributes: it clarifies the journey of where the district going and how they’re getting there, it establishes a clear delegation of responsibility and creates a clear line of accountability and it allows the district to build a transparent work entity.
At the Dec. 12 Board of Trustees meeting, Figueroa brought up the 2017 City of Riverside Innovation Report and her concerns about the minimal mentions of RCCD and how its perceived lack of community impact affects the district’s mission.
“If our presence in the community is not visible then we are failing,” Isaac said. “It is my job to make myself accessible to the community and its various organizations and committees, to answer people’s questions and concerns as well as celebrate our district’s achievements and share them with the community.”
“I tell people I work like a turtle,” Isaac said. “A turtle does not go back, so if the going gets tough, if someone gets in the way, a turtle shrivels up, but always comes out to continue the journey.”
“I tried to build a culture of never losing the territory you’ve gained and show perseverance, determination and, in some senses, stubbornness. Has the going gotten tough? Yes. Have there been times we’ve abandoned, ran away from and dismantled whatever we are doing? No.”