For Jeffrey Armstrong today will begin just like any other day — he’ll get up, go for a run, shower, eat breakfast and spend time with his wife, Sharon. After that, things for Armstrong will change. Today is his first official day as Cal Poly’s president.
On Dec. 15, 2010 Cal Poly released a statement confirming Armstrong had been chosen as the new president of the university. Armstrong has since been embraced by the Cal Poly community and looks forward to “balancing his administrative duties with student interaction,” he said.
“I’ve really enjoyed spending time here … getting a feel for the campus and the students,” Armstrong said in a meeting with the Mustang Daily staff Jan. 21. “Last week I had a piece of pizza with an engineering student, and I already have a meeting scheduled at Woodstock’s.”
Matthew Roberts, interim chief of staff to the president, said free time to wander around campus will be limited in the coming weeks because Armstrong’s days will be filled with activities and engagements.
“Whenever there’s a change of president there’s a transition period, and everyone is curious about (him or her),” Roberts said. “Right now, everyone— internally and externally of the university — wants President Armstrong’s time.”
Roberts mapped out a tentative schedule of events for Armstrong’s first day: a breakfast meeting with student leaders and college council presidents, a press conference, a tour of the administration building, a meet and greet with the staff of each department and an afternoon meeting with the Academic Senate.
Sarah Storelli, Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) president, will attend many of Armstrong’s first-day activities. Storelli is excited to work with Armstrong and said he has really embraced the campus culture.
“So far, President Armstrong has been wonderful … he’s accessible, student-oriented and seems genuinely happy to be at Cal Poly,” Storelli said. “The schedule he’s put together for the first day is tremendous foreshadowing of what’s to come — he’s made a real effort to intimately connect with all different facets of leadership on campus.”
Armstrong also said his number one focus is “gauging every decision on how it will impact student learning.”
Armstrong does not feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities he will take on. Rather, Armstrong plans on using the “talented individuals” the university possesses to help him accomplish tasks and get work done.
“Cal Poly boasts some of the highest quality individuals who are the best in (their) business,” Armstrong said. “I am not afraid to delegate work to someone who knows better or more than I do.”
Armstrong also plans on utilizing student talent, and is “blown away” by the amount of student involvement on campus.
“Cal Poly lives and breathes ‘learn by doing’ campuswide,” Armstrong said. “I am so impressed that students run the Rec Center, UGS (University Graphic Systems) and are responsible for a substantial budget (through ASI) … it’s really neat to be a part of that.”
Interim president Robert Glidden agrees with Armstrong.
“Being an outsider, it was apparent early what a unique place Cal Poly is,” Glidden said.
Glidden has been with Cal Poly for six months, and he too was impressed by the quality of students, faculty and staff, both academically and socially.
“The easiest part of the transition (for Armstrong) will be the people — there are really genuinely nice people here at Cal Poly, and I have not seen the cynicism and negativity apparent at other universities here,” Glidden said. “Everyone’s happy — it’s the happiest place in the U.S. didn’t you hear?”
Armstrong seconds Glidden’s feelings. He said there has been an organized and concentrated effort to facilitate a smooth transition, but he also said it’s been a learning process because there hasn’t been a new president in 30 years.
Part of that learning process will involve dealing with Cal Poly’s most pressing issues, and at the forefront is the California State University (CSU) budget.
Business administration senior Pareesa Ashabi said the budget is something that cannot be ignored by the new president. Ashabi said students cannot afford to have tuition consistently raised especially when some students pay their own way through school.
“Whether it’s a money management issue that the president can directly control is (somewhat) irrelevant,” Ashabi said. “Students need to feel like the new president is on their side … fighting to keep costs down and working to find a solution.”
Glidden also said the budget would be one of the toughest issues Armstrong will deal with during his presidency. Glidden said it will not be an easy battle because students don’t always understand that the blame doesn’t rest with the president just because he’s in charge.
“Most of (the budget problems) are out of (Armstrong’s) control,” Glidden said.
Leaning on the advice and expertise of past leaders enabled Armstrong to feel more comfortable and prepared for his upcoming role, and will help him deal with tough situations.
“I feel really lucky,” Armstrong said. “I have not one, but three people to draw advice from: (former president) Warren Baker, Provost Koob and Dr. Glidden. Each person has served as president for a university before — they’ve sort of seen it all.”
Armstrong said he plans to “keep things simple,” be transparent and unafraid of admitting he does not know the answer because “that’s the only way to earn people’s trust.”
“Everyone has (fairly) consistently given me the same advice: don’t make things overly complicated, and appreciate and enjoy the transition process.”