Alamo Colleges chancellor says he’ll retire
Updated 9:43 am, Tuesday, October 24, 2017
After a controversial 11 years leading the Alamo Colleges, Chancellor Bruce Leslie announced Monday that he plans to retire next fall.
“This job takes so much,” Leslie, 71, told a meeting of the community college district’s governing board. “This career takes so much. No one has an idea, really, how much my wife and children have had to put up with and deal with.”
In a letter to trustees, Leslie noted he had been an educator for 42 years, 34 of them as a community college president or chancellor, adding, “Inevitably, this accumulation of years is cause to announce my retirement.”
He spent much of the most recent years working to standardize curriculum and counseling across all five Alamo Colleges to improve the ability of students to transfer to four-year universities as quickly as possible. But he angered professors and students in the process.
Faculty repeatedly accused him of disregarding their input and eroding the autonomy of the colleges, four of which are independently accredited. The fifth, Northeast Lakeview College, awaits its own accreditation decision in December.
More than 90 percent of faculty at four of the colleges backed a vote of no confidence in Leslie in 2009, and calls for his ouster were repeated two years ago, this time led by a student group, when the district began switching to new degree plans that eliminated the listing of majors from student diplomas and transcripts.
But Leslie also drew praise for that initiative and others that were credited for record numbers of graduations in recent years. About 12,800 students earned degrees or certificates last school year. Voters in the spring approved a $450 million bond for facilities to keep up with the district's growth.
“This is not going to go away,” Leslie said of the changes and the uproar they caused in a 2015 interview. “There are those who clearly want to go back to the way things used to be. But the way it used to be did not serve students well. It served a small cohort of students, but it did not serve every student well.”
The board voted Monday to accept his resignation and direct staff to begin the process of choosing a successor by Sept. 30, Leslie’s target date.
“We’ve backed him 100 percent, we still do and I just wanted people to know that’s exactly where we stand right now,” trustee Gene Sprague said.
Trustees had voted in August to give Leslie a raise, along with the chance for an incentive-based bonus, extending his rolling three-year contract through 2020.
Combined, the five Alamo Colleges have a $628 million budget and more than 52,000 students, the third largest community college district in Texas after ones in the Dallas and Houston areas.
Among a series of Leslie decisions that generated backlash from both students and faculty was the inclusion of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” in district-wide curriculum and a proposed requirement, eventually shelved, that students buy electronic textbooks as part of their tuition and fees.
Leslie drew more brickbats when he was photographed on stage at a commencement ceremony for Palo Alto College graduates texting on his cell phone in 2016. “I do own it, it was inconsiderate, and I apologize for being disrespectful,” he wrote in a response published in the San Antonio Express-News editorial pages.
The accreditation agency last year warned three of the Alamo Colleges about a lack of institutional autonomy, saying the district overstepped its bounds in setting some curriculum and governance policies. In response, trustees eliminated from the district’s leadership development policy all references to “The 7 Habits” and author Stephen Covey, and modified other policies as well. Trustees and administrators expect full accreditation to be restored in December when the agency meets again.
On Monday, trustee Denver McClendon called Leslie a “spear catcher” and said he had advised Leslie to blame the board for unpopular changes it had charged him with making.
“He eventually started doing that,” McClendon said, to laughter.
Leslie was chancellor of the Houston Community College system and of a state system of 12 community and technical colleges in Connecticut. Before that, he was president of Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York.
He praised his staff and the Alamo College’s faculty in his speech Monday and said the current trustees are the best he’s worked with, calling them “engaged, focused and forward-thinking.” He said the family-oriented, caring culture in the district and in San Antonio was an important part of student success.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do next, but I’m not just going to sit on a couch,” Leslie said. “So many districts need to do what we’re doing, so I think there’s an opportunity.”