Dr. Chui L. Tsang’s calm, visionary leadership came at a time when Santa Monica College needed it most. He began his nine-year tenure as SMC’s Superintendent and President in 2006, shortly before the state’s community college system plunged into the worst economic crisis to hit since the passage of Proposition 13.
Not only did he guide the college through a rocky budget climate – from which SMC emerged with a favorable financial reserve and retaining all employees – he did so while championing innovative programs and establishing new partnerships which would seal Santa Monica College’s reputation and legacy as a pioneer in the state’s higher education framework.
Dr. Tsang revealed his vision of “global citizenship” early on – a first-of-its-kind initiative which instills in students through curriculum, study abroad and extra-curricular activities the opportunities and responsibilities of living in a global, interconnected society. SMC’s faculty and staff participate in overseas professional development, experiencing first-hand the ancient cultures and progressive fabric of countries like Turkey and China. This concept of global citizenship took root in a graduation requirement and provided a powerful context for an already-global campus where over 3,200 out of 33,000 students come from 116 countries.
SMC’s reputation as the Westside’s leading job trainer was further enhanced by Dr. Tsang’s pursuit of greater opportunities for students while anticipating local workforce needs. He pioneered an inter-disciplinary model at SMC to capitalize on thousands of job opportunities for students in the Information, Communication and Technology Industry. It went on to become the foundation for a Los Angeles-based community college, high school and industry consortium called “LA HI-TECH” which was recognized by President Obama as part of his TechHire Initiative. As one of the leaders, SMC will execute Dr. Tsang’s vision of building “pathways” – or faster ways for students to segue from high school to college and into careers – by training students for tech jobs in the next four years.
Dr. Tsang recruited and hired over one hundred full-time professors with distinguished academic credentials to enrich and advance what is widely recognized to be one of the most innovative and rigorous but student-centered lower division curriculum in the country. He also fostered the creation of an inclusive and nurturing environment for all students where the embracing of diversity became an intrinsic part of the SMC fabric.
His passion for creating pathways to higher degrees for SMC students led to the pursuit of partnerships with other academic institutions in the US and abroad – the selection of SMC to be the first community college in California to get guaranteed admission to Arizona State University for its students, is one such example.
Dr. Tsang’s progressive brand of leadership helped establish an open and inclusive management style. He built excellent, mutually-beneficial relationships with the City of Santa Monica, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and other local and regional organizations. The signing of the SMC-SMMUSD collaborative to expand college-level opportunities for local high school students, and the naming of the new light rail Metro station at 17th and Colorado to include “Santa Monica College” in its name are two such examples. Under his leadership, the college also solved its long-standing parking problems through a combination of an aggressive and groundbreaking public transit initiative and building a new satellite parking lot.
Under his direction, SMC began a long-term planning process to ensure financial and institutional stability. Dr. Tsang has also overseen the opening of several multi-million-dollar facilities projects, including the Theatre Arts Building, Humanities & Social Science Building, and the award-winning quad on the main campus. In an overwhelming community endorsement of the College, the voters of Santa Monica and Malibu passed Measure AA in 2008, a $295 million bond measure for SMC – despite a severe recession. A new Information Technology building, and an $89 million renovation of the new design and media campus which will house KCRW and the new Interaction Design Program are among a number of Measure AA-funded projects set in motion under Dr. Tsang’s direction.
The College’s service to the community was enhanced during Dr. Tsang’s tenure through the opening of the Broad Stage at the SMC Performing Arts Center in 2008, which delivers world-class performances in various genres, and has established itself as one of LA’s most iconic venues. Legendary artists like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Joshua Bell, Paul McCartney, and Helen Hunt have graced the Broad Stage, which is now also one of the largest educational outreach providers in the county. Meanwhile, SMC’s public radio station KCRW 89.9 FM continued to deliver culture-defining programming and expanded its web and broadcast footprint, acquiring a Santa Barbara station.
Dr. Tsang’s leadership also saw the blossoming of the College’s already strong student support culture – he oversaw the creation of new programs like the Veterans Success Center and Guardian Scholars for foster youth. SMC maintained its hold as the number one transfer institution to the University of California, also transferring more Latino and African-American students to the UC system than any other community college. Dr. Tsang championed the formation of SMC’s first ever Alumni Association and the Presidents Ambassadors – a select group of students who serve as institutional ambassadors.
A former community college student himself, Dr. Tsang earned a B.A. Degree in Linguistics from UC Berkeley and went on to earn his doctorate in Linguistics from Stanford University. A recognized leader in the field of higher education, he has been invited to speak at venues including the Royal Society of London and has guest lectured at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the USC Rossier School of Education. In a higher education career that spans almost four decades, Dr. Tsang also served as President of San Jose City College and as a dean at the City College of San Francisco. He has taught at Stanford University, De Anza College in Cupertino and San Francisco State University. He also had a distinguished career in leading nonprofits that served immigrants by providing community-based job and language training.
Dr. Tsang was recently recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education and a Leadership in Caring Award from the Santa Monica-based WISE & Healthy Aging in recognition of his leadership of Emeritus, SMC’s free, lifelong learning program for older adults. The Carnegie Corporation of New York also recognized Dr. Tsang as one of America’s “100 great immigrants” in 2014, alongside individuals like Nobel laureate Roger Guillemin, author Deepak Chopra, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and former SMC alum Arnold Schwarzenegger.