The second round of potential Cal Poly presidents kicked off this week with an open forum with Robert Palazzo, one of three candidates vying to become the university’s president.
Palazzo is the current provost and chief academic officer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. He received a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences and doctorate in biological sciences and biochemistry at Wayne State University.
He was also a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Virginia and later moved to become part of the faculty at the University of Kansas as a professor of molecular biosciences and the chair of the department of physiology and cell biology.
He also worked as a research scientist for the New York State Department of Health-Wadsworth Center and is former president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). In addition, Palazzo is a member of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Public Affairs Advisory Committee and the American Society for Cell Biology Public Policy Committee.
At open forums for students, university staff and community members held Tuesday, Nov. 30, Palazzo said he was interested in Cal Poly because of the vast opportunities it offers to students, and the overall academic success of the student population.
“I find the quality of the students here to be outstanding and that attracted me,” Palazzo said at the student forum. “The excellence of you all here and the intellectual capacity is extreme.” He also said he was surprised when he discovered the average grade point average in 2010 at Cal Poly was 3.9.
If elected president, Palazzo said he hopes to make the university more student and faculty-friendly by developing a relationship with the campus and becoming an approachable figure for students to voice their concerns.
“Students (are) the reason why we’re here” Palazzo said. “They are the antenna of the brains running this university. There has to be a communication flow, and it has to be comfortable to the highest extent.”
Associated Students, Inc. President Sarah Storelli asked Palazzo how he would facilitate and propel the “learn-by-doing” attitude the school values. His response focused on the reality of resource allocation.
“The learn-by-doing philosophy is going to be really challenged by resources,” Palazzo said. “One of the big challenges for the next president will be assuring (students have those) resources necessary and even how to advance it.”
He said in order to maintain this strategies include: adjusting student fees to maintain that resource platform, requiring a certain ratio of faculty to student advising, relying on the annual gift giving of the endowment and the corporate foundation relation.
As a student representative, Storelli said each candidate will showcase what they have to offer to the students and staff of Cal Poly during their respective forums this week.
“I think (Palazzo had) great responses, but we’ll see how the rest of the week turns with the other candidates and go from there,” Storelli said.
Graphic communications junior Ruben Custodio said he is eager to find out who the new permanent president will be, but he wonders how important his major in the College of Liberal Arts is in regards to this school being a polytechnic university.
“Something I’m looking for in the new president is whether they will have an appreciation for not only the engineering department but for the liberal arts,” Custodio said.
At both the student and university and community open forums, Palazzo was presented with the issue of whether or not he saw importance in this particular department.
“All of the ethics and judgment we apply is dramatically influenced by liberal arts,” Palazzo said at the student forum. “I think it is very crucial.”
At the community forum, Palazzo praised the liberal arts department as being a life-long need and “one of the great teachers” for students.
“I believe the liberal arts are not a tool, (and) they are not an added value. They are a necessity,” Palazzo said. “I think the essence of creativity and exploration, whether it be in written form (or) in artistic form, there is inherent value in liberal arts now more than ever.”
Other issues Palazzo addressed were his viewpoints on Greek life, seeking to diversify resources for the students given the economic status and what he would do to become an active member at Cal Poly.