CSU Chancellor Timothy White empathized with Cal Poly faculty, though he also noted the 2008 recession affected more than just professors. | Tim Wetzel/Mustang News

California State University (CSU) Chancellor Timothy White is currently visiting Cal Poly as part of his tour of all 23 CSU campuses. Mustang News reporters spoke with White this morning about a number of campus issues and the CSU system’s role in Cal Poly’s future.

MN: President Armstrong recently spoke about an enrollment cap for Cal Poly as opposed to other CSUs, because of some of the problems we’ve been having with housing and getting students into classes. What’s your take on that?

TW: I think the campuses — we have 23 in the system — are the places where those sorts of decisions need to be made. My responsibility is to look across the system and where one campus may be able to grow, another may have to get smaller or stay the same. I have to make sure that as a system, we build our capacity to meet California’s needs. So it’s a dynamic process that happens, but in general we’ve been able to build capacity over the years.

I think it’s really important to understand what access means. Back in the day, access meant I could get into Cal Poly or I could get into San Diego (State) or (Sacramento) State or Maritime Academy or wherever the place may be. That’s insufficient today; it’s not just getting in. Once you’re in, can you access the courses you need in the right sequence at the right time? Can you access office hours with your faculty member? Can you access the library 24/7/365? Can you access Health Services, can you access financial aid, can you access a laboratory, or a clinic, or a studio or a field where the learning goes on? So when I think of access, I think it’s insufficient to say “You’re admitted,” and then you can’t get all of those things that make the learning environment a robust and challenging and supportive one. And so that’s where we have to live within our means.

MN: Last year you gave an executive order regrading Title IX (to prevent sexual assault on campus). How have the other campuses reacted to that, and do you think that’s been effective?

TW: I think we were national leaders in taking this whole issue against women act seriously, and actually we’ve created the first Title IX coordinator system in America, and that person is a resource for all 23 campuses, so if (the students) don’t have knowledge or skills or we can share practices or working in one campus with another campus or etc., the whole idea is to create a welcoming and safe environment for all of our students, and when there are assaults happening that we take care of the victim first and foremost and also are behaving properly with respect to the rights of somebody who’s been accused of an assault or a crime …

Across the system, (we’ve) embraced this individually on the campus and certainly collectively as a system. Have we stopped assaults on campus? No. But is there much more awareness of everybody’s responsibility to step in, to be responsible, to prevent these behaviors from happening? You bet. So we are making good progress.

MN: President Armstrong also spoke about potential tuition hikes for out-of-state students. What’s your opinion on that?

TW: I commissioned a group on sustainable finance that has a draft report to tout around the system being accommodated on, and it has a whole host of provocative ideas. The whole reason for establishing that task force was I wanted to put in one place sort of a white paper, if you will, that says this is a whole host of ways in which we could generate new revenue to generate faculty salaries, to keep student costs down, etc.

We need revenue from one means or another in order to pay for the enterprise. So this report that is being discussed by anybody who wishes to discuss it now, is being discussed by the trustees in November, and there’ll be further discussions after that and hopefully we’ll bring back a final draft to sort of put into the record in January.

One of the ideas in there is exactly what you said, for students who are non-residents, should position in a market drive what those students are charged? It’s a very interesting and important conversation for us to have. If it turns out to be a meritorious idea, then we will pursue it. But when you go from a historical policy to a new policy, you want to make sure there aren’t any unintended consequences of it all.

But in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, among a handful of other campuses, probably our position in the marketplace of higher education is to charge differential rates. My one caveat is if we ever raised the price of education for anybody, we’d also want to always make sure we’re taking a close look at financial aid at the same time. We do not want to become an institution that turns it back to students who do not have the economic means to attend. We’re not going to become just for the affluent, and as a state university that’s a big part of our mission. So we would look at the whole enchilada, if you would.

MN: I understand you’re speaking at 2 p.m. at Chumash Auditorium. We spoke with the president of the California Faculty Association’s (CFA) Cal Poly chapter, and they said they plan to have a presence out there today. How do you feel about that?

TW: That’s terrific. I expect people to voice concerns and ask questions — tough questions. I’m actually on everybody’s side here. I come out of the faculty in my career, I’ve been on campuses my entire career until I took this job. I view my role (as) to enable success on the campuses, and that means programs, it means people, it means compensation, it means facilities, you know, the whole nine yards.

Remember, we’re coming out of a major recession. It took many years to get in a financial hole and that hurt all of our employees, but it hurt families across America in every business. We were not selected or chosen to be hurt. And we’ve put in place a multi-year plan on compensation and other benefits that affect faculty and staff, (but) it will take us multiple years to get out of the hole and to get ahead again, and I’ve committed to doing that.

MN: How is Cal Poly treated differently from other CSUs?

TW: The sun shines every day. There’s no fog. You know, one of the great things about the CSUs is there’s 23 campuses. And I come from the point of view that certainly one size does not fit all. I get asked, “Do you treat everybody the same?” or “Do you believe in centralizing things or decentralizing things?” It seems to me that those questions play around the periphery and don’t really get to, at least, my view of life. My view of life is, “How does the system optimize the success of each of the 23 campuses?”

Some things we will do as a system. A business function, let’s say, an audit, or risk management insurance. Other things we leave to the campuses’ discretion. What are your spires of excellence at San Luis Obispo — and you can name the majors, I won’t — that are really national leaders? Where there’s a huge demand for graduates to go onto grad school or med school or law school or right into the workplace. That’s the president and the campus’ responsibility to build those spires of excellence, and if we can’t get the resources through the normal appropriation process, these campuses then have the ability to raise resources in other ways — through philanthropies, through student fees.

MN: After Dean Andy Thulin of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences was given a vote of no confidence last year, President Armstrong chose to keep him on (in his current position). The CFA says that they asked you to do a review of President Armstrong’s leadership, and you elected not to. Why did you do that?

TW: Well first of all, I don’t talk about personnel matters as a matter of good practice (and) common sense but also state and federal law. I will tell you that President Armstrong went through his first rigorous review with the (CSU) Board of Trustees, and to a person on the Trustees and myself, (we had) absolute unanimous consent that he’s doing a fantastic job as president of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and will continue as president. And we have full, full confidence in his abilities to lead this campus to the next level of accomplishment. In respect to the dean, I just don’t comment on those matters.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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