Bruce Leslie has garnered his fair share of criticism during his 11-year tenure as chancellor of Alamo Colleges District. He faced no-confidence votes, warning sanctions by the colleges’ accreditation body, and critique over lack of autonomy at the campus level

Last week, the Alamo Colleges board of trustees announced it had chosen a candidate to replace Leslie when he retires at the end of September: Palo Alto College President Ruben “Mike” Flores. The board’s pick comes with decades of local experience and the support of students and faculty at his Southside campus location.

Tony Villanueva, president of Palo Alto American Association of University Professors and a frequent critic of Leslie, said he sees the board’s pick as positive and a step toward a better relationship with the community college system.

During Leslie’s tenure, Villanueva expressed concern over reports from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that showed a decrease in enrollment from 2010-2015, despite an increasing number of degree conferrals.

While Villanueva was dissatisfied with the chancellor selection process early on — major details of the search were kept private including which and how many candidates were interviewed — he said he now feels positive about the outcome.

Villanueva said faculty and staff are happy at Palo Alto, and that isn’t a coincidence.

“We think we have the best college to work at,” he said, emphasizing that Flores has made it a point to get to know the community on the Southside.

He said board members selecting a chancellor from within the system is a sign that they are willing to move past previous insurrection within the colleges.

Tony Villanueva, Palo Alto College Psychology Assistant Professor
Tony Villanueva is president of Palo Alto American Association of University Professors. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Flores first began working at Palo Alto College in 1999 and has previously served as vice president of academic success, vice president of college services, and vice president of student success. He became Palo Alto’s president in 2012.

“This is a big kind of sign that says, ‘Let’s move forward,’” Villanueva said.

Long-time Palo Alto arts faculty member Mark Hogenson also said he is excited about the possibility of working with Flores in a higher office.

“He has always been one of those people you can approach,” Hogenson told the Rivard Report. “I just admire him for his sincerity and his honesty. I never felt like I had to guard my comments with him.”

Flores understands the importance of a liberal arts education, Hogenson said, which is often dismissed in a community college setting. Hogenson, who teaches in the art department, said community colleges are being pushed more toward technical education, but Flores “still understands that the arts are an important aspect.”

Hogenson, who also criticized some of Leslie’s initiatives, said that in the past he has received directives from top-level leaders that did not fit individual campuses. In his work with Flores, he has known the chancellor-elect to consider the specific needs of the individual campuses within the Alamo Colleges.

For example, when Leslie pushed a mandate to use self-help and management theorist Stephen Covey’s leadership curriculum on all campuses, Hogenson said Flores realized faculty were not happy with the decision and chose to address professors’ questions before implementing the mandate.

“We had that ability to discuss it with our president,” Hogenson said. “He said, ‘Let’s just put it on hold and see where this goes.’”

The entryway to Palo Alto College.
Palo Alto College is located at 1400 W. Villaret Blvd. on San Antonio’s Southside. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In a warning sanction to three of Alamo Colleges – St. Philip’s College, Northwest Vista College, and San Antonio College – the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Alamo College’s accreditation body, cited insufficient autonomy in hiring and curriculum for individual colleges.

The sanctions specifically cited the implementation of Covey’s curriculum as an example of college administration overriding college faculty.

“We are confident that [Flores] will take that kind of intelligence into the chancellor’s office, which will benefit all of the colleges [and] all of the students,” Hogenson said.

Hogenson and Villanueva are both long-time Palo Alto faculty members, but even staff and students who have only interacted with Flores in a minor capacity are enthusiastic about working with him in a new role.

College adviser Jocelyn Martinez said she has never worked directly with Flores but thinks he will do “awesome” as chancellor.

“He always makes it a point to say hi and stop by and make everyone feel comfortable,” Martinez said of her limited interactions with the Palo Alto president.

Palo Alto College Student Government President Kayla Rodriguez said Flores’ choice is “meaningful” and exciting to those in her organization.

Rodriguez and fellow members of student government hold a monthly meeting with Flores to give feedback on what students need and want. She called it an “opportunity to exchange data.”

“He definitely takes the time to hear the students,” Rodriguez said.

State law mandates a 21-day waiting period from when a candidate for chancellor is announced to when the board can take a vote of affirmation. The earliest that vote can happen is March 2. In the meantime, Board President Yvonne Katz said Flores would be scheduling sessions to meet with the community and get to know members outside of the Palo Alto area. No sessions have been scheduled so far, according to district spokesman Mario Muniz.

Flores did not respond to requests for interviews. Trustees directed requests for comment about Flores’ selection through Katz, who said he “met the profile” of the desired candidate.

“He is a local candidate, a local president,” Katz said. “He knows the community and knows the colleges.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.