(Photo by Maggie Kaiserman)
Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong will create two new top-level positions after spring quarter, both of which will work closely with the president in executing his goals during the coming years.
College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Dean David Wehner will serve as interim vice president for strategic initiatives — a position created in response to shifting administration and increasing opportunities for public-private partnerships at the university, Armstrong said. Creating the position will cost approximately $40,000 annually in salary increases, according to presidential spokesperson Chip Visci.
“Sometimes people are ready for a change,” Armstrong said of Wehner’s appointment. “And … we need this assistance at the senior level.”
Additionally, Armstrong’s chief of staff, Betsy Kinsley, announced at Tuesday’s Academic Senate Executive Committee meeting that the president will name philosophy professor and former Academic Senate chair Rachel Fernflores the first presidential faculty fellow. Fernflores will still be a faculty member and will not receive a pay increase.
The university president has “broad latitude” to make temporary appointments, Visci said, but Armstrong does not intend to hire any permanent administrators without an application process.
The new positions, neither of which were open for applications before Armstrong and Provost Kathleen Enz Finken made the appointments, come just one week after Vice President of Administration and Finance Larry Kelley announced he would retire at the end of this academic year.
Cal Poly will increase Wehner’s annual pay from $180,360 to $201,000. Current animal science department head Andrew Thulin, who will take Wehner’s place as dean, will see a pay increase from $165,000 to $185,004.
“Dean Wehner is a very seasoned leader,” Armstrong said. “He served as dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences for over 11 years. This will provide him an opportunity to do something broader than the college, which I know is a very healthy change and he’s excited to do it.”
Vice president of strategic initiatives
With six key administration changes since Armstrong took office and only one continuing dean who was at Cal Poly before 2010, the president said Cal Poly is at risk of not being able to capitalize on opportunities to improve. A donation campaign expected to bring millions of dollars to Cal Poly is already underway, and Armstrong expects Wehner to manage plans that will advance the university and reach out to donors.
Wehner will serve as a vice president for no more than one-and-a-half years, Armstrong said, and the president will then decide if he wants to make the position a permanent one.
“I can’t really quote problems this will solve,” Armstrong said. “But I believe it’s a proactive move to help us capture opportunities in the future and frankly to help us speed up (current opportunities).”
Part of Wehner’s job, Armstrong said, will be to help the successors of both Vice President of Administration and Finance Larry Kelley and Orfalea College of Business Dean Dave Christy — both in their last quarter at Cal Poly — adjust to the university.
Armstrong said he is not concerned about increased expenses in Wehner’s top-level move because of its temporary nature.
“You have to spend money in order to move forward,” he said. “And the good news is our budget is looking better.”
As he prepares to transition from dean to vice president, Wehner said his experience in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences will help him in the new position. In the past year, Wehner organized a partnership with the California Strawberry Commission to create a research center on campus and oversaw a $5 million donation from Luprino Food to Cal Poly Dairy Science.
Cal Poly hired Wehner nearly 19 years ago as the head of environmental horticulture. He moved to dean eight years later.
“You always need someone to help with these opportunities,” Wehner said. “It’s probably best if it’s someone that comes up the ranks at Cal Poly; then they have a pretty good idea of what some of the strengths are.”
There are already projects ready to be managed, Wehner said, such as a proposal for an agricultural technology center that will keep him working with the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences during his time as vice president.
Faculty fellow: assistant to the president
Fernflores will begin her fellowship in mid-June and, according to her job description, report to Armstrong and his chief of staff, Betsy Kinsley. The president and other administrators will ask Fernflores to complete projects for the university during her two-year appointment, including representing the president in on-campus committees.
The fellowship will remain a faculty position and does not have management authority, Visci said. Armstrong said he sees the new role as a continuation of work Fernflores has been doing for years.
“Rachel was already doing this role in an informal way,” Armstrong said. “Rachel chaired the sexual-assault task force, she chaired the semester-quarter review, she has been informally in this role already. Because it so successful, we decided to continue it with her. After she completes it, then someone else will have the opportunity.”
Visci said similar fellowships are common at other public universities in California.
Fernflores will work closest with Kinsley and Enz Finken, Armstrong said, but he plans to ask her to lead initiatives from the president’s office because of her experience working with faculty. The president also said the fellowship will help with professional growth for Fernflores and others Armstrong selects for it in the future.
“Something like this is what good universities do,” Armstrong said. “They provide opportunities for faculty members to get experience between the department or the college, and I hope we’re able to do it with more people in the future.”
Fernflores has not taught a class this academic year because she is receiving release time for her work on university committees. These include the high-profile Semester Review Task Force, which completed its work earlier this year. Cal Poly will pay for the philosophy department to hire a replacement faculty member, Armstrong said.
Fernflores said she will continue current administrative work during the fellowship, and will also lead a review of at least 29 different committees to ensure their goals align with Cal Poly’s.
In addition to working with committees, Fernflores said she will “speed up” the process of approving university institutes and centers on campus by devoting more time to supporting faculty who want to see initiatives move forward.
“If things that faculty want done get done, then I can get them through faster than they used to be able to … because I’d do writing for them and that kind of thing,” she said. “That’s good for the university.”
Fernflores’ fellowship will begin June 17, and Wehner will move to vice president July 1.