Donald G. Phelps, chancellor of the nine-campus Los Angeles Community College District for five years, announced Tuesday that he will leave to take a university teaching post.
Phelps, 63, asked the Board of Trustees to release him by Jan. 1 from his contract, which runs until September, 1994, so that he can begin teaching at the University of Texas at Austin.
His impending departure comes at a time when community colleges throughout California are facing cuts in state funding and fee hike proposals that many officials contend will deprive the neediest students of access to higher education. His announcement, made during a trustees' meeting at the district's Harbor College, was met with praise for Phelps and regret about his departure.
"Don has brought us through some of the most difficult times any college district ever faced, with wisdom and a strong will," said Wallace Knox, president of the seven-member board that sets policy for the 115,000-student district, the nation's largest two-year college system.
Lindsay Conner, the board's longest-serving member, said: "I feel like I'm losing a dear friend as well as a great chancellor. . . . Don Phelps has been a strong leader for the Los Angeles Community College District and for community colleges all across this state."
Arriving from Seattle in 1988, Phelps was widely credited with bringing stability to a district that had ousted its previous chancellor over a dispute with the teachers union and that faced budget problems and declining enrollment.
An African-American, Phelps earned his college degrees while working and supporting a family, which he often said helped him identify with the district's students, many of whom are minorities who can attend only part time.
Upon leaving his $120,000-a-year Los Angeles post, Phelps said he will teach courses in community college leadership for the Texas university's school of education, where he has been offered a tenured professorship.
"I feel it's a wonderful cap to a long career in higher public education," Phelps said.
Phelps told board members he appreciated their support and the "terrific opportunity to work in the world's most diverse institution of higher learning."