College candidates respond to district issues


Making curriculum changes in a way to meet the needs of a variety of students seems to be one of the major issues for those seeking positions on the San Mateo County Community College District Board of Trustees.

Incumbent Richard Holober, Tom Mohr, J. Samuel Diaz and George Yang are vying for two open seats in the district race. The vacant seat that longtime trustee Helen Hausman left this past spring is up for grabs, along with Holober’s seat.

An in-office forum was held to help the Daily Journal determine endorsements. To allow each candidate a forum to express their opinions on the issues discussed, candidates were given the same questions and asked to answer each in 50 words or less. Answers are arranged alphabetically by the candidate’s last name.

The committee charged with accreditation of community colleges has come under fire for its decision regarding CCSF and for its tactics, heading into the district’s own accreditation review, what challenges do you foresee?

J. Samuel Diaz: ACCJC’s revocation of CCSF’s accreditation in July 2014 jeopardizes its eligibility for state funding, federal financial aid and its students’ ability to transfer credits. Our colleges depend upon this same accreditation. So rectifying issues found during ACCJC’s 2013 audits has to be done. Accreditation through WASC should also be explored.

Richard Holober: Our three colleges have worked diligently to prepare for accreditation reviews this fall. The U.S. Department of Education found the regional accreditation agency failed to comply with regulations in the CCSF accreditation. I am confident that our colleges will get positive reports if the accreditation agency adheres to its requirements.

Thomas Mohr: I am confident that all three of San Mateo County’s community colleges have fulfilled at a high level of all of the four standards evaluated by the Accreditation Commission (ACCJC). Our community colleges have been managed expertly in both fiscal and academic realms. ACCJC has drawn criticism because of the inordinate number of censures to California colleges compared to any other U.S. accrediting body.

George Yang: SMCCCD does not share many of the problems experienced by CCSF. That said, we must work collaboratively with ACCJC. If issues are raised, as some surely might, the district need not be confrontational. Instead, we should work with ACCJC and the community to take this opportunity and improve ours services and academic standings in accordance state laws and ACCJC recommendations.

There has been a recent push away from lifelong learners at community colleges with an emphasis on UC or CSU track students, how does the district balance those community needs?

J. Samuel Diaz: In 1993, ex-governor Pete Wilson imposed the $50 per unit “differential fee” that forced 60,000 bachelor degree graduates to drop out from California’s community colleges; it was poor policy. Likewise, enrollment can decline again if we exclude longtime and reverse-transfer students who then enroll in private colleges.

Richard Holober: We kept our core college degree and job training programs intact throughout five years of education budget cuts from Sacramento. We reduced costly lifelong learning offerings to keep courses open for students desperate for a college education or job training. It’s time to review high demand programs that were cut.

Thomas Mohr: Community colleges meet the educational needs of highly motivated students wishing to transfer to four year colleges, workers seeking new skills and training to advance in the workforce or re-enter the workforce, and residents who simply want to continue their learning. The district will remain broadly based and work creatively, often with other agencies, to provide community courses “on demand.”

George Yang: Lifelong learners should not be seen as a burden to the community colleges. Instead, they bring to the campus experience and wisdom from having been in the real world. We must create systems that will bring lifelong learners together with younger students and enrich the learning environment.

How do you see the district’s curriculum shifting in both the short and long term?

J. Samuel Diaz: Narrowing programs and enrollment can lead to providing educations only for those students planning to transfer to four-year universities and international students studying ESL. I would rather expand language programs to include Russian, Tagalog and Portuguese while connecting our county residents to jobs, just as JobTrain (OICW) does.

Richard Holober: Our career courses constantly change. We keep in close contact with local business to ensure we offer technical skill training for good 21st century jobs. Online instruction is a valuable and growing element of many courses. It augments, but does not substitute for face-to-face classroom interaction.

Thomas Mohr: Community colleges are infusing courses with the context of the real world. Classes incorporate entrepreneurship, business, social issues and community building in order to help students understand the nexus between collaborative problem solving, personal research and critical analysis. Courses are using technology to expand learning, provide flexibility in learning patterns and connect students to experts and peers around the world.

George Yang: As the window of America to the Asia Pacific, San Mateo County could train our young people better to take advantages of the opportunities in trade, hospitality, information as well as media and cultural exchanges. This shift will benefit all students, regardless of whether or not they are foreign born.

What is the biggest issue facing the district?

J. Samuel Diaz: The budget remains a problem. During the fat years, plenty of money can be splurged. So when the lean years eventually arrive, tough decisions get made that pad some programs while allowing others to fall into neglect and tear at the seams, as happened to KCSM-TV and horticulture.

Richard Holober: Key issues include: improving graduation rates by providing innovative instruction and student support services; keeping career training for good jobs current to meet changing workforce preparation needs; and careful budgeting and fiscal discipline to ensure affordable college education is always available for tens of thousands of local residents each year.

Thomas Mohr: The San Mateo County Community College District receives relatively little funding from the state of California. The majority of funding comes from county property taxes. The district may face forces that wish to withdraw “basic aid” status from the district while applying its funds to provide full access to high-quality courses and programs in every category of its mission.

George Yang: The district needs to bring services closer to students who may not live on the hills, may have a job and may need more flexible class schedules.

What experience has best set you up for service on the San Mateo County Community College District Board of Trustees?

J. Samuel Diaz: The voters will decide if they want to sweep into office a critical thinker like myself who presents solutions to existing problems. Whoever wins needs to keep college and technical educations affordable, accredited and relevant to today’s job market. Our county residents deserve no less.

Richard Holober: I’ve served as your elected Community College Trustee for 16 years, including four terms as College Board President, and previously as a Millbrae School Board member. My successful record includes: balanced education budgets, promoting innovative career training, championing our award-winning environmental “green building” practices and my focus on student success.

Thomas Mohr: My experience as community college president provides me cutting edge understanding of how schools, colleges and universities work together to drive student success. My in-depth engagement with San Mateo County’s business, government and non profit leaders allows me to develop new programs and partnerships that will allow our students to get good jobs and learn the skills that San Mateo County employers need from a talented 21st century workforce.

George Yang: Professionally, I have been in different industries from software engineering, to network engineering, to sustainable technology. I am very good at bringing pragmatic solutions from different fields to tackle problems. I have also been actively involved in the community. I served on the San Bruno Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee from 2007 to 2011; I am on the Belle Haven Community Foundation. I work with corporations and educational institutions from around the Pacific for long-term sustainability. My experience, skills and fresh perspective will complement the more experienced members on the board and make the board a stronger and more versatile team.


Richard Holober

Age: 61

Education: University of Rochester

Experience: Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of California, Co-founder of Californians for Privacy Now, Staffer of U.S. Senator Alan Cranston

Family: Recently widowed, two children

Residence: Millbrae

J. Samuel Diaz

Age: 42

Education: Majored in genetics at U.C. Davis and graduated in 1994. Attended Cañada College and College of San Mateo and holds certificates issued by De Anza College and University of New Mexico

Experience: Has worked in biotech, high tech and project management

Family: Single, no children

Residence: Redwood City

Thomas Mohr

Age: 78

Education: Science degree from St. Louis University and a master’s degree from the University of San Francisco

Experience: Former superintendent of San Mateo Union High School District, Former president of Cañada College in Redwood City

Family: Married, three children

Residence: San Mateo

George Yang

Age: 37

Education: Mills High School, B.S. in computer information systems from Golden Gate University in 1996 and M.S. in telecommunications management from Golden Gate University in 1997

Experience: Sustainable Business Adviser at Silicon Valley International Group

Family:Married, two children

Residence: Menlo Park

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