The Passing of Salvatore G. Rotella, Ph.D.

Aug 17
Salvatore G. Rotella, Ph.D.

Salvatore G. Rotella, Ph.D., the seventh president for Riverside City College and then chancellor of Riverside Community College District, passed away on August 11 in New York, with his family at his bedside. Rotella, 86, served the District for 15 years, retiring in 2005.  

Dr. Rotella was born in Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, a town in Sicily, on July 24, 1934. He spent most of his youth in Asmara in Eritrea, then an Italian colony, and came to the United States with his family in 1951. He said he had great affection for all three of the countries that shaped his life; he knew the American dream wasn't a cliché because he lived it. When he arrived by ship in New York at age 17, he barely spoke English. While working fulltime, Dr. Rotella enrolled at Hunter College, earning a bachelor's degree in 1955. He studied Political Science at the University of Chicago, attaining his master's degree in 1956 and Ph.D. in 1971. He earned a Fulbright grant to the University of Pavia in Italy, earning an Italian doctorate in 1958.
Prior to moving to California to lead RCCD, Rotella had leadership roles in New York and with the Chicago community college system. He brought many of his ideas from New York and Chicago. He was a proponent of shared governance and developed the dean/division structure at RCCD which remains today. Thinking along the lines of a university model, Rotella also restructured the administration into four service areas – academic affairs, student services, research and planning, and administration and finance. 

“A scholar and a visionary are the terms most often used in describing Dr. Salvatore Rotella," Mary Figueroa, president of the RCCD Board of Trustees, said. “He was a leader unlike any other to have come along in Riverside's history. His ultimate contribution was his desire and focus to ensure that any student, regardless of where they came from, what their socio-economic background was, or the color of their skin, received a quality education. The growth of this District in the last 30 years can be attributed to him and his vision, and the region has excelled for having had his presence." 

His vision also led, despite little help from the state, the District to expand the campuses in Moreno Valley and Norco. However, it was his vision for ensuring young people understand the benefit of a college education that might be his biggest legacy. Because his vision, and work of the District Foundation, the Passport to College initiative was created, guaranteeing that 5th graders in the 1996 class would be able to attend college tuition free. The program was honored by then-President Bill Clinton during a ceremony at the White House. Many of the students who benefitted from the initiative came from working-class, predominantly Latino communities. 

Dr. Rotella was also a fan for the arts which led to the development of the Riverside School for the Arts. In honor of Dr. Rotella, Riverside City College renamed the digital library the Salvatore G. Rotella Digital Library and Learning Resource Center.  

“Dr. Rotella's vision of transforming RCCD and its three colleges with Moreno Valley College having a concentration on allied health and public safety; and Norco College with a concentration on engineering, manufacturing and logistics is still a major driver to the District's strategic plan," Wolde-Ab Isaac, Ph.D., chancellor of RCCD, said. “His endless energy, devotion and commitment to the District even after he retired has been a source of inspiration to many. I had the good fortune and privilege of meeting Dr. Rotella in 1994 while I was the president of the University of Asmara in Eritrea. Over the past 26 years he has been my mentor, my friend, and indeed in every sense of the word my true elder brother. I will miss him dearly." 

He is survived by his wife, Pilar, of 59 years; his sons Sebastian, Carlo, and Salvatore, Jr.; his daughters-in-law Carmen Méndez, Christina Klein, and Maria Kiernan; his grandchildren Valeria, Ling-li, Yuan, and Joseph; and his brother Vittorio, Vittorio's children, Vittorio, Jr., and Alessandra, and their families, Isabella and Alessandro, and Neil, Gabriella and Sofia. ​

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to the following charities — the Scalabrini International Migration Network and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. ​