CSU begins search for new chancellor with Sac State open forum

Faculty and students voice desire for diversity, understanding


Aline Henda

The California State University Board of Trustees Special Committee to Consider the Selection of the Chancellor speaks in the University Ballroom at Sac State on Tuesday, Nov. 12. The committee will tour a total of six campuses to listen to what students and faculty want in the next CSU chancellor.

The search for the next California State University chancellor started Tuesday with an open forum at Sacramento State as trustees, faculty, students and staff attended the event held at the University Union.

Chancellor Timothy P. White announced last month his intent to retire at the end of the school year. Michael Uhlenkamp, senior director of public affairs at the CSU’s Office of the Chancellor, said the position needs to be filled by someone with the knowledge and ability to attend the needs of the 23 campuses of the CSU.

The event Tuesday was the first of six forums that will be held throughout the CSU system. The forum series is the first system-wide listening tour conducted by the CSU.

Around 90 people attended the forum.

“I did expect to see a lot more students out here,” said Yahaira Victorino, a member of Students for Quality Education. “I expected the board of trustees to come more with an outline of what they have planned for the chancellor already and have us give input on what we think a chancellor should be.”

The purpose of the tour is to get a “good perspective of campus representation,” Uhlenkamp said.

Based on feedback given at the forums, the CSU said it will draw a position description and review the potential candidates with plans to announce the new chancellor by Summer 2020.

The Special Committee to Consider the Selection of the Chancellor, composed of 17 trustees, is chaired by Jean Picker Firstenberg. Committee members include faculty members, student body presidents and university presidents from across the CSU system, as previously reported by The State Hornet.

RELATED: Sac State to hold open forum concerning the next CSU chancellor

“It’s very important that we hear from you,” Firstenberg said to the attendees. “I think of the CSU as a family, committed to the same goal. The goal of almost 480 thousand students every year.”

 President Nelsen opened the forum by welcoming attendees and thanking the work done by White.

“You have a hard task in front of you,” Nelsen said to the audience. “You have to find somebody better than Tim.” 

White’s graduation initiative increased four-year graduation rates for first-time students from 19.3 percent in 2015 to 27.5 percent in 2019. Nelsen, who called White’s departure “bittersweet,” said that the increased graduation rates saved students a collective $58 million in tuition fees. 

“Tim deserves tremendous credit for that,” Nelsen said.

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Attendees listed multiple ideas that they want to see the next chancellor implement, such as more state funding, more resources for Dreamers and Black students and more focus on digital literacy skills. Many spoke about the diversity issues of both Sac State and the CSU as a whole.

“I want to know that my chancellor is aware of the systematic and institutionalized racism, sexism and ableism that has been part of higher education,” said Lee Simpson, director of the general education honors program. “I want to know we have someone pushing from the top down for hiring of faculty of color and more women, especially in STEM, so the students have faculty who look like them in the classroom.”

Neptaly Aguilera, co-chair of the Latino Alumni Association, mentioned changes in demographics, inclusion of communities of color and special education programs as key issues for the next chancellor.

“Inclusion and diversity is so critical,” Aguilera said. “Chancellor White has really been very outgoing and receptive to a lot of this, but not necessarily able to carry out all of (the) changing demographics we see now throughout higher education.”

Ed Mills, vice president of student affairs, said he wants a chancellor that takes the time to talk to alumni and knows how to serve the 40-year-old student who can only take 2 classes as well as the 18 to 22-year-old who is full-time.

Jessie Ryan, a San Francisco State alumni whose husband graduated from Sac State, requested a “courageous leader” who focuses on academic success and makes sure “colleges are student ready” and not just that students are college ready.

Marlyn Jones, faculty from the division of criminal justice, spoke about the need for more counselors.

“When people are vulnerable, that is not the time they are supposed to meet a person for the first time,” Jones said.

Brianna Carpil, a sociology major, said that it was her first time participating in an event of this nature.

“It was interesting to hear all those people,” Carpil said. “It’s nice to be more aware of what’s going on on campus.”

Noah Marty, Associated Students, Inc. vice president of  University Affairs, said he thinks White has done a good job cooperating with students and that he hopes the basic needs of the students, such as food, housing, health and counseling, will be attended to by his successor.

“I really want to make sure the next chancellor is well-informed on the basic needs students face on campus and understands basic needs can change on different campuses and over time,” Marty said.

Christine Miller, interim vice provost for strategic services, summarized the vision of many faculty members for the next chancellor.

“Please bring us a chancellor who understands culture, with respect to race, ethnicity, diversity, inclusion,” Miller said. “The culture of innovation and entrepreneurship… That is critical for the success of the CSU. Bring us someone who understands the culture of the CSU.”

Additional reporting by Jordan Silva-Benham and Vince Castellana.