SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong to retire summer 2023


Sean Young

“I’m going to be working till the job is done and it’s time to turn the lights out,” says Dr. Frank Chong during his report to the Board of Trustees Oct. 11.

Tony Moeckel, Sean Young, and Nick Vides

After more than a decade of service to Santa Rosa Junior College, President Dr. Frank Chong announced his retirement at SRJC’s Board of Trustees meeting Oct. 11.

Chong is the fifth president and first non-white president in the school’s 104-year history. Chong replaced Dr. Robert Agrella in January 2012. Before joining SRJC, Chong served as president at two other community colleges, Mission College in Santa Clara and Laney College in Oakland. He also served as deputy assistant secretary for community colleges under President Barack Obama.

“Today’s the day I want to announce my retirement,” Chong said at the start of his president’s report to the board. Chong will officially leave his post in summer 2023.

The news came as a shock for those at the meeting, and an audible gasp could be heard in the audience. “I knew it was going to happen one of these years, but was still surprised,” said Kerry Loewen, dean of arts & humanities. “I’m very happy for him.”

Under Chong’s leadership, SRJC saw the successful passing of Measure H, a $410 million bond to support new and updated technology and facilities. Measure H is the largest bond ever passed by Sonoma County voters.

In addition to restoring historic buildings on campus and constructing new buildings for STEM and athletics, Measure H promoted sustainability efforts that save SRJC more than $1.5 million in utility costs annually and reduce 7,575 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

“The campus has so many great new and renovated buildings because of his leadership on Measure H, and just as importantly he has transformed the campus climate to one of collaboration,” Loewen said.

Chong ushered in the construction of student housing on campus with a dorm that will open in August 2023 and provide more than 350 beds to students.

In addition to Measure H and the student housing project, Chong was instrumental in the passage of Measure O, an initiative that provides funding for mental health care services across Sonoma County and SRJC.

Chong’s time at SRJC, however, wasn’t without challenges. He had to steer the college through the 2017 wildfires, in which some 1,000 students and staff members lost homes and the college closed for two weeks.

He also endured a 2018 controversy over the abrupt cancellation of summer courses without consulting campus leaders. The Academic Senate and Student Government Association gave Chong no confidence votes, and the Board placed him on probation. Chong reinstated the courses, accepted a pay cut and apologized to the community, promising to do better.

Chong hosted monthly office hours as he worked to restore relations with students, faculty and management over the next few years, years that brought a global pandemic. “I feel really proud of our college community that we came together,” Chong said. “We didn’t tear apart.”

Dr. Chong said he is dedicated to continue to work until his retirement in summer 2023. “I’m going to be working till the job is done and it’s time to turn the lights out,” Chong said.

As for his retirement plans, Chong wants to stay and live in Petaluma and continue to be a part of the SRJC community.

“Frank has done a tremendous job here at the JC,” said Board Trustee Jeff Kunde, who was on Chong’s hiring committee in 2011 and is himself retiring from the board. “I’m thrilled for him. He’s leaving the JC in good shape. And he’s just done a tremendous job.”

Board President Dorothy Battenfeld congratulated Dr. Chong on his retirement and thanked him for his dedication to SRJC. “He has been an active, effective, and well-respected leader, not just in the SRJC community but at the local, state, and national level,” she said. “Working collaboratively with the Board of Trustees, Dr. Chong has successfully led the college through many challenges over the last 10 years.”

Battenfeld said the board will begin the hiring process to find a “qualified and diverse group” of candidates to consider as Chong’s replacement. “The Board is committed to selecting a new president who will continue SRJC’s tradition of excellence and service to our community,” she said.

Chong said he felt it was his time to walk away. “It’s been a great ride and I always felt like I wanted to leave on top,” he said. “I really feel I came and accomplished what I needed to do.”