‘It’s time to hang ‘em up’: President Nelsen’s descent into retirement

Student’s expectations for the future of Sac State


Ayaana Williams

President Robert Nelsen (right) and his wife Jody (left) sitting at Hornet Stadium during Sac State homecoming football game against Northern Arizona University on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. Nelsen, who announced his retirement in a video featuring him and his wife, said that nobody should serve in his position for longer than eight years.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen announced his retirement and students expressed mixed emotions about the situation. 

His official retirement date will not be effective until July of next year, according to his announcement. 

The timing of the notice  was  thought out to prepare the search committee before the CSU Board of Trustees meeting from Nov. 14-16, this year. The board will be in charge of appointing a new president by the end of spring semester.

Nelsen said that someone in his position shouldn’t serve longer than eight years and that after his retirement he is potentially planning to move to Texas for immigration and poverty work. 

“I believe that there comes a time when it is time to have new blood, new ideas,” Nelsen said. “When you’re a president and in a position too long, you become myopic and don’t see everything.” 

According to Nelsen, a forum is expected to be available on Feb. 3, 2023 for members of the Sac State community to weigh in on the CSU Selection Committee’s decision for a new university president.

One student who heard about the announcement was fourth-year psychology major Lexi Soto. 

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Fourth-year psychology major Lexi Soto at the square between Mendocino and Placer Hall on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. Soto said she hopes for the next president of Sac State to be a person of color, so other people of color could better relate to them. (Jacob Peterson)

Soto said Nelsen was involved with events on campus, having school pride and speaking with students. She added that when it comes to Nelsen’s replacement she would like to see a person of color in the position.

“Being a person of color, it’s a lot easier to relate to other people of color,” Soto said. “I’m indifferent to whether it’s a man or a woman, I feel like as long as they have our best interests as students, to really give us all the opportunities possible.” 

There are different expectations for the future president from both students and Nelsen himself with an overall goal of wanting to expand diversity and equity on campus. 

“I hope [the future president] will continue to make sure students have enough classes, raise money for scholarships, and the anti-racism inclusive campus plan is fully put into place,” Nelsen said. 

The anti-racism inclusive plan was initiated on campus during his presidency in the 2020-21 school year. 

“It took someone to say we have a lot more to do so that our students feel like they belong here,” Nelsen said. 

The plan’s goal is seven different appointed sections implementing change on campus from affirming action to racial bias.

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Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen discusses his reason for the retirement announcement on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, along with hopes of the future for the Sac State campus. He said he wants the new president to continue working on current goals, including the anti-racism inclusive campus plan. (Screenshot via Zoom by Alyssa Branum)

For his last semester at Sac State, some of Nelsen’s final hurrahs on campus will be the Green and Gold gala for school funding in April of 2023 and his participation in the commencement ceremony, where he hopes to watch over 9,000 students graduate. Along with the recent 75th anniversary of the university, Nelsen aims to leave on a high note. 

Despite Nelsen’s large role, not every student is familiar with the president. First-year psychology major Kathleen O’Brien did not immediately recognize his name. 

“I’d like [the next president] to have more of an active role in their community, considering the fact that I didn’t even know who they were,” O’Brien said.

She added that she would also want the next president to continue the university’s push for diversity.

Not all students shared a positive outlook on Nelsen’s tenure as Sac State president either. Third-year political science major Ava Focht said she wasn’t too sad to see the announcement of Nelsen’s retirement.

“I was a freshman during COVID-19,” Focht said. “This is kind of my first year on campus so I haven’t seen too much of him.”

Focht said most of her experience seeing Nelsen has been at football games and through the campus-wide emails. She noted some disappointment about recent press releases from Oct. 27, 2022, addressing the sexual assaults on and around campus.

“He recently released a statement that was like ‘don’t worry campus is safe,’ and that was all he said,” Focht said. “I never really read the weekly emails, because they start to get repetitive, and then he said that and I was like ‘that’s all you got?’”

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Third-year political science major Ava Focht in front of Humboldt Hall on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. Focht said her first two years at Sac State were through remote learning, so she hasn’t seen much of Nelsen until the last year. (Jacob Peterson)

Mikaela Kristianous, a first-year studio art major, said that she likes how Nelsen commented on the instances of hate speech that occurred this semester and hopes for that work to continue.

“I hope that there’s a similar kind of compassion and care when it comes to marginalized identities or students at the school,” Kristianous said. 

Another student with expectations for the next president of the university was Jessica Uribe, a first-year criminal justice major.

“I really don’t mind who takes over as long as the values that President Nelsen showed will still be represented. Whether it be a female, a person of color, a male or white,” Uribe said.