A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Rebuilder and retiree: Jane Saldaña-Talley leaves SRJC

Courtesy Jane Saldaña-Talley
“If life circumstances stop your progress, never, ever give up on the dream,” is Saldaña-Talley’s advice to students trying to fine their way.

At the end of July, a former teen mom, college-dropout, food stamp-recipient, and public housing-resident will — after decades of education, sacrifice, persistence and grit — retire from Santa Rosa Junior College as Vice President of Academic Affairs.

Dr. L. Jane Saldaña-Talley did not take an easy or straightforward path to reach professional success and gainful retirement, but she managed to do so while raising her son, working full-time, navigating a divorce, earning her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, and becoming an integral member within the SRJC community through her thoughtful leadership.

Born in Fresno, California, Saldaña-Talley was the oldest of five siblings. Her father worked in the retail parts industry, and her mother became a math teacher and high school librarian after raising one boy and four girls, then returning to college in her 40s.

Saldaña-Talley entered college majoring in office administration, but then she got pregnant. After the birth of her son, she couldn’t figure out what to do and decided it made more sense to go to work to lift her budding family out of their circumstances rather than stay in school.

“We were living in housing projects, we were on food stamps, and I just decided we need to have some money coming in,” Saldaña-Talley said.

So she quit college and went to work in multiple administrative assistant jobs, advancing from a clerk typist to an executive assistant to an employee relations assistant while putting her then-husband through undergraduate studies and law school.

“My skills in office administration were what kept the bills paid,” she said.

Saldaña-Talley continued working, but the stress of providing for her family soon tore them apart.

She and her husband separated not long after he finished law school. This took a heavy toll on her. “I had invested so much in his success to the detriment of my own. It took me a long time to recover financially and emotionally,” she said. “I couldn’t figure out what I needed to do, what I wanted to do.”

So she followed her mother’s path and returned to education. “It was really important to me. Education was very important,” she said. Back in school, Saldaña-Talley changed majors a few times, but “was much more clear-headed about what I wanted from my education,” she said.

Saldaña-Talley wound her way through college as a single mom to eventually graduate with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology from California State University, Fresno. “I spent a lot of years in the K-12 system working in research and planning and evaluation,” she said. “I then finally decided that I really wanted to get my doctorate. So I went back to school again about 10 years after I’d been out of school with my master’s degree.”

After graduating from her doctoral program, Saldaña-Talley was ready to be in the workforce again, but as an administrator. “I ran into a woman that I was working with, and she said ‘I don’t know whether you’ve thought about [working in] community colleges or not, but you’d be great.’ And so I explored that,” she said.

Saldaña-Talley worked at several community colleges in California and Arizona, taking teaching and administrative positions, and overseeing college budgets, police, financial aid and custodial services. She decided to return to California after working as the vice president of administrative services at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, Arizona. The first job she landed in her home state was as vice president of SRJC’s Petaluma campus in 2007.

Saldaña-Talley’s first challenge was upgrading the Petaluma campus to expand course offerings for students. “She convinced me that we needed to build more science labs down there, and then we also built the Gateway to College program to get high risk high school students to go to college,” said SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong. “Jane’s always been a very powerful advocate for the Petaluma campus.”

Saldaña-Talley’s tenure as vice president of academic affairs began at a critical juncture in SRJC history when the district abandoned a long-held salary-determination method called Rank 10 and moved to cut faculty salaries while raising those of the administrators. Faculty members boycotted centennial-celebration events in protest.

Simultaneously, three days before registration began — and without consulting deans, department chairs, faculty and students — the former VP of academic affairs and senior VP of finance cut the majority of summer courses to offset a projected $6.5 million budget deficit.

The uproar from the campus community was immediate and intense. Students organized an early-morning campus sit-in outside of Bailey Hall the next day. Faculty groups declared no-confidence in SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong and the two vice presidents. Dr. Chong sent out an email the next day apologizing and suggesting the decision would be reversed.

Philosophy, humanities and religious studies instructor Sarah Whylly highlighted the labor relations crisis between the district and faculty. “Having this announcement made that summer classes were going to be canceled, just out of nowhere, it just felt like the ground was being ripped out from underneath our feet,” Whylly said. “And then of course, later on, the discovery that there were processes that were not even adhered to that were part of the rules for that, I think really made a lot of faculty angry and upset.”

The uproar caused Mary Kay Rudolph, the vice president of academic affairs involved in the decision, to leave her position a few months before retirement, and made Dr. Chong appoint Saldaña-Talley to step into the role after 12 years in Petaluma.

“We had a pretty significant disruption in our executive team, and we were at a really low point in terms of labor relations with our faculty,” Saldaña-Talley said. “And while I had been with the college since 2007, stepping into the role of vice president of academic affairs and assistant superintendent was a big step.”

Whylly, an All-Faculty Association (AFA) negotiator and Academic Senate member, still remembers when Saldaña-Talley took over as vice president.

“One of the things that she did right away that really impressed me was that she came to meet with the faculty bodies,” Whylly said. “I remember sitting in the AFA house with her and just talking about what issues were in front of us and what challenges we needed to beat and how best we can work together to meet those challenges.”

AFA President and philosophy instructor Sean Martin, who regularly works with Saldaña-Talley in faculty negotiations and on college-wide committees, credited her with rebuilding the relationship with faculty.

“We don’t always agree on issues, but she is very mindful and respectful of tone and of discourse. We don’t always arrive at the same conclusions, but we can always count on her to respect the process [of negotiations],” Martin said.

Saldaña-Talley shared a similar sentiment. “There was some healing that needed to be done in that moment,” she said. “We also were in the midst of just beginning to deal with the fiscal challenges that we had as a college, so 2019 was a year where I think we thought we were gonna, kind of get back together and start doing things together. But, the college announced an early retirement incentive program, and by the end of 2019, we had almost 100 employees who retired and took the early retirement incentive.”

She headed into 2020 having to replace all those faculty positions, but was confronted with another hurdle. “In March, I had conducted one in-person interview, and we had all the rest of them queued up, and the pandemic landed on us and we shut down. And I wound up hiring all the rest of those faculty and doing all the rest of that work in reorganizing academic affairs virtually, and it was very complex and challenging.”

AFA President Martin lauded Saldaña-Talley’s leadership during the start of the pandemic. “She deserves a lot of credit,” Martin said. “We were all working 70-hour weeks on a regular basis, but if it had not been for her [Saldaña-Talley’s] cooperative demeanor or proactively reaching out to say, ‘Hey, can we work on this together?’ It would not have been possible to come through the way we have.”

Dr. Chong was one of the first people to recognize Saldaña-Talley’s hard work, while announcing her retirement during a Board of Trustees meeting in February.

“Jane’s leadership at SRJC has been critical in many of the advances we’ve made during her tenure,” Chong said. “Her work has influenced the many great things SRJC has accomplished in recent years and will ensure that her legacy persists long beyond her time with this college.”

Not only did Saldaña-Talley help faculty and management reconcile during her time at SRJC, but she did the same within her own family, repairing a relationship with her ex-husband. “Remarkably, we are now friends and I see him often when I visit with my son and grandchildren on the central coast.”

Saldaña-Talley is excited for the next phase of the JC’s history. “I feel like the work that I’ve done since 2018 has really set the groundwork for a pretty exciting future,” she said. “And the thing that I’m really looking forward to is maybe in five years being able to stand back and look at the college and say, ‘OK, what did you do at that opportunity?’”

Looking back at where she came from, Saldaña-Talley expressed a sense of pride. “I’m grateful for the challenges I went through and I know I am fully responsible for my success. That’s a very good feeling.”

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About the Contributor
Sean Young
Sean Young, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Sean Young (he/him) is in his ninth semester at SRJC and third semester at The Oak Leaf. He plans on finishing an associate degree in communications and journalism this spring. Sean lives in Sebastopol and spends his free time listening to his vinyl record collection, practicing bass guitar and writing for The Oak Leaf. He hopes to continue to a 4-year college after graduating from SRJC to work towards a bachelor's degree in communications and journalism.

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