Jeffrey Armstrong will commence his position as Cal Poly’s new president Feb. 1 after officially being chosen on Dec. 15.
Armstrong, the former dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and animal science professor at Michigan State University (MSU), was chosen over Thomas Skalak, the vice president for research and biomedical engineering professor at the University of Virginia, and Robert Palazzo, the provost and chief academic officer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.
In a press release, California State University (CSU) trustee and chair of the presidential search committee Roberta Achtenberg said Armstrong’s “outstanding academic credentials, leadership abilities and strong grounding in agriculture and science will be tremendous assets to the university and community as it moves forward.”
Robert Koob, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said although people other than himself chose Armstrong, he thought Armstrong was still qualified for the job. Koob said the lengthy interview process allowed the CSU trustees to choose Armstrong as the most qualified candidate of the three potentials.
“It’s a big obstacle course to get through,” Koob said. “There’s a lot of different barriers to cross through, and he successfully crossed all of those hurdles and was selected by the Board of Trustees.”
Jenna Pile, a graphic design junior, said Armstrong’s experience in agriculture will make him a good leader because agriculture is such a big part of campus.
“(The choice) seems fitting for the school that we go to,” Pile said.
Koob said he thought Armstrong’s agricultural experience will be a great asset as well.
“We’ve got one of the largest (agriculture) colleges in the nation, so you couple a very large educational opportunity with a very large industry,” Koob said. “It’s great to have someone who knows things about that.”
Sarah Prince, a political science senior, said she hoped Armstrong will focus on more than just agricultural endeavors, however.
“I would hope that he would be fair to all majors,” Prince said. “He should be.”
In response to such feelings, Koob said experience with agriculture actually “touches on all other kinds of disciplines” and will hopefully supplement even non-agricultural majors.
“There’s agricultural engineering, there’s (agricultural) science, there’s education and there’s business, so a person of agriculture actually, in fact, has had the opportunity to understand how agriculture influences other disciplines and vice versa,” Koob said. “From that, an intelligent person can infer the importance of business, science, communication and things like that. I think it’s a good preparation for a college presidency.”
With Armstrong taking the presidency, he must tackle the challenges that Cal Poly may face in the future.
Pile said the budget is “still kind of screwed” so Armstrong should focus on that. She also said she hopes Armstrong will create more unity on campus because “all the different departments are so broad.”
Koob said a challenge facing any new president is deciding how a college should progress in the future, especially with the many different outcomes.
“Cal Poly is a very successful organization that has enormous potential, that success and potential gives us lots of choices,” Koob said. “In many cases, it’s harder to pick when you have many choices than if you only have one or two. A new president is going to be challenged with picking from all of those possibilities, those things they think are most important.”
Though Armstrong will not take office until February, Koob said he has taken initiative to try to learn about the university and its future.
“He’s been interviewing people that are associated with the campus both on and off of Cal Poly, trying to learn more about Cal Poly,” Koob said. “He’s obviously a good listener and is interested in what we have to say, so I think we’ll just say we’re off to a good start, and we’ll see how we develop.”