The California State University (CSU) system is under new leadership this year, for the first time in 14 years, as former chancellor Charles Reed stepped down and was replaced by chancellor Timothy White.
White, former chancellor of University of California (UC) Riverside, was selected by the CSU Board of Trustees after a nationwide search, chosen in part because of his experience in all levels of the education system, and his understanding of California’s public education institutions, Reed said during a conference call in October, when White’s appointment was announced.
“I’m really pleased and proud that the board has selected somebody that really understands the California State University mission,” Reed said.
White first attended Diablo Valley Community College before transferring to CSU Fresno to finish his undergraduate education. He then earned his master’s from CSU East Bay (formerly Hayward) and a Ph.D from UC Berkeley.
But before that, he was an immigrant to California, in a family in which no one had ever attended college.
White’s family immigrated from Argentina and settled in Pleasant Hill. Before he finished high school, his family talked of him getting a job, but he decided to go to college first.
He attended junior college instead of CSU Fresno or UC Berkeley (he was accepted to both) on the advice of his father, to save money, he said.
“We didn’t have any understanding or history about the various sectors,” White said during October’s conference call.
White originally hoped to teach swimming or water polo in public schools, before returning to school for a master’s degree to coach at a higher level. From there, he studied at UC Berkeley and moved into university administration, before becoming chancellor of UC Riverside.
White did not intend to become CSU Chancellor, he said, but during the Board of Trustees search, he felt it was time to return to the system where he’d received his bachelor’s and master’s, he said.
“I was approached and when I started thinking about it, I felt it was my time to give back,” White said.
By learning in so many different institutions, White has been able to gain an understanding of how to lead, he said during October’s conference call.
“One thing that I’ve learned along the way is the recognition that I have two ears and one mouth,” White said.
White intends to listen to the concerns of faculty, staff and students and understand their perspectives in his position as CSU Chancellor, he said.
White’s experience, while apparently unusual, is similar to the story of many CSU students, he said during the conference call.
“It’s not where you start,” White said. “It’s where you finish.”
White’s understanding of California’s higher education at all levels makes him able to easily understand the experience of students in the CSU, UC Riverside media director Kris Lovekin said.
“He identifies with that starting where you can, start near home,” Lovekin said.
While chancellor at UC Riverside, White also made an effort to make contact with students as often as possible, Lovekin said. His leadership style involves actively seeking out student voices and input, Lovekin said.
That style may be difficult to translate from a single campus to an entire university system, Lovekin said.
White has said before that he wants to make student contact a priority, but worries it will be harder as CSU Chancellor, Lovekin said.
“He’s wondering how easy will it be for him to step out of his office,” Lovekin said.
Nonetheless, White is committed to listening to students, staff and faculty concerns, Lovekin said. Already, White requested, and received, a 10 percent pay reduction as a gesture of goodwill to CSU faculty who have protested funding cuts and frozen pay.
White’s energy and interest in the student experience helped him to make a strong impact, and will aid him in leading the CSU, Lovekin said.
“This campus will not forget Tim White,” Lovekin said. “We are sorry to say goodbye.”
And the CSU says hello.