CSU names 1st Mex­i­can Amer­i­can chan­cel­lor

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BAY AREA - By Nanette Asimov and Vanessa Arre­dondo

The Cal­i­for­nia State University trustees named Joseph Cas­tro, the pres­i­dent of Cal State Fresno since 2013, as chan­cel­lor Wed­nes­day. He be­comes the first Mex­i­can Amer­i­can to lead the na­tion’s largest university sys­tem.

The 53­year­old scholar of higher ed­u­ca­tion lead­er­ship and public pol­icy will be the eighth chan­cel­lor to head the $10.5 bil­lion university with nearly half a mil­lion students spread over 23 cam­puses. Be­fore join­ing CSU, Cas­tro was a pro­fes­sor of fam­ily medicine at UCSF, and vice chan­cel­lor of stu­dent aca­demic af­fairs. He grew up in the San Joaquin Val­ley.

In brief re­marks to the trustees’ vir­tual meet­ing this week, Cas­tro said he was hon­ored to be the first Cal­i­for­nia na­tive and first Mex­i­can Amer­i­can to serve as chan­cel­lor.

“Like the ma­jor­ity of students that we serve at CSU, I was the first in my fam­ily to at­tend and grad­u­ate from a university, and that’s a gift that I’ve been pay­ing back ever since,” he said. “I in­tend to con­tinue pay­ing that gift back over time as chan­cel­lor of the CSU.”

Raised by a sin­gle mother with help from her farm­worker par­ents, Cas­tro grad­u­ated from UC Berke­ley with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence in 1988, and earned his mas­ter’s in public pol­icy there two years later. He earned his Ph.D. in higher ed­u­ca­tion and lead­er­ship from Stan­ford University in 1998.

“Dr. Cas­tro is a beloved fig­ure in Fresno and the Cen­tral Val­ley,” said Krys­tal Raynes, a stu­dent at CSU Bak­ers­field and one of two students on the Board of Trustees. Both served on the chan­cel­lor’s search com­mit­tee.

“His story is the story of many students and the alumni of the CSU,” she told the trustees. She re­called that in Fresno, Cas­tro once hosted the Cal State Stu­dent As­so­ci­a­tion, which named him Pres­i­dent of the Year in 2018 for help­ing very low­in­come students get enough to eat.

Cas­tro told The Chronicle he’d been moved to get in­volved af­ter a grad­u­ate stu­dent showed him a sur­vey in which large num­bers of students re­ported hav­ing trou­ble mak­ing ends meet.

“Soon we were serv­ing 5,000 students a month at the food cup­board,” he said. “All pri­vately funded.”

Gov. Gavin New­som said he was thrilled at the ap­point­ment. Michael Drake, the University of Cal­i­for­nia’s new pres­i­dent, said he’s known Cas­tro for a quar­ter cen­tury and is de­lighted.

Michelle Siqueiros, pres­i­dent of the Campaign for Col­lege Op­por­tu­nity stu­dent ad­vo­cacy group, called the se­lec­tion his­toric and said the trustees “could not have cho­sen a more per­fect chan­cel­lor.”

Cas­tro will take over CSU, head­quar­tered in Long Beach, on Jan. 4 and suc­ceed Ti­mothy White, who was chan­cel­lor at UC River­side be­fore his ap­point­ment in 2012. White an­nounced in Oc­to­ber that he would step down in May, but post­poned his re­tire­ment un­til 2021 to lead the university through the tu­mul­tuous early days of the coronaviru­s pan­demic.

The trustees will pay Cas­tro a base salary of $625,000, a 31% in­crease over White’s $477,771 base pay. Like White, Cas­tro will also re­ceive a monthly stipend of $7,917 for hous­ing and $1,000 for car costs. The state pays ad­di­tional pen­sion and health ben­e­fits, $112,246 for each ex­ec­u­tive.

“Dr. Cas­tro is a pas­sion­ate and ef­fec­tive ad­vo­cate for his students, his cam­pus and the CSU,” said Lil­lian Kim­bell, chair of the trustees. She called him “the right leader for the Cal­i­for­nia State University in our cur­rent cir­cum­stance and for our fu­ture.”

The pan­demic has been hard on CSU, whose state bud­get al­lo­ca­tion fell by $300 mil­lion. The university got $262 mil­lion from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, with a net loss of $38 mil­lion. Half of the fed­eral funds were re­quired to go to students as fi­nan­cial aid.

“It’s cash they can use,” Cas­tro said, not­ing that many students are now liv­ing with their par­ents, many of whom have lost their jobs in the pan­demic. He said it’s par­tic­u­larly tough for students who lack a quiet place to study at home. In­di­cat­ing that he can re­late to the ex­pe­ri­ences of CSU’s largely low­ to mid­dle­in­come stu­dent body, he said it would have been nearly im­pos­si­ble for him to fin­ish col­lege from his child­hood home in Han­ford (Kings County).

Today, many students also lack such ba­sics as the broad­band in­ter­net needed to ac­cess on­line cour­ses.

Tu­ition is $5,742, with vary­ing lev­els of cam­pus fees that bring most an­nual costs to roughly $7,000.

Kim­bell, who joined the in­ter­view with The Chronicle, said the trustees “will try to do ev­ery­thing in our power to avert a tu­ition in­crease. But you never know.”

Ear­lier this year, White said CSU ex­pects three years of “fis­cal duress,” even if an­other stim­u­lus pack­age is ap­proved in Oc­to­ber.

Al­though no fac­ulty have been laid off, union lead­ers said 250 staff mem­bers have lost or are los­ing jobs on six cam­puses, in­clud­ing San Fran­cisco State. Fresno was not one of those cam­puses, but Cas­tro said he has laid off man­agers dur­ing the pan­demic.

An­other long­stand­ing chal­lenge for CSU has been how to im­prove its dis­mal four­year grad­u­a­tion rate of 28%. Even the six­year rate stands at just 62%.

A fo­cus of White’s ten­ure has been his Grad­u­a­tion 2025 ini­tia­tive, to get 40% of students a de­gree in four years, and 70% in six. Students who linger clog the pipe­line, and in 2017, CSU turned away 31,000 qual­i­fied students — 1 in 10 ap­pli­cants. But the sys­tem has made progress since 2018, when it re­placed no­credit re­me­dial cour­ses with credit cour­ses so that lag­ging students could catch up and learn col­lege­level ma­te­rial at the same time.

Cas­tro said he will con­tinue with a strong fo­cus on grad­u­a­tion rates, and has pushed sim­i­lar goals at Cal State Fresno.

White said Cas­tro has been an as­set to CSU.

“I en­joyed and ben­e­fited by work­ing with Cas­tro as pres­i­dent, and will watch with re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion as he shep­herds this mag­nif­i­cent university to higher heights,” White said.

The university’s fac­ulty as­so­ci­a­tion, rep­re­sent­ing 29,000 pro­fes­sors, in­struc­tors and li­brar­i­ans, is­sued a brief wel­come state­ment and a 10­point wish list for the new chan­cel­lor.

The fac­ulty asked that Cas­tro con­sider students’ and em­ploy­ees’ con­cerns as he brings them back to cam­puses. About 7% of classes have been in per­son dur­ing the pan­demic, a plan that White has ex­tended through the spring se­mes­ter.

Cas­tro should also in­crease eth­nic di­ver­sity among fac­ulty, their state­ment said, and above all, “be the loud­est, most out­spo­ken leader and ad­vo­cate for anti­racism ef­forts at all lev­els of the CSU.”

CSU serves 481,000 students and em­ploys 53,000 staff and fac­ulty. The university re­ports that 38% of em­ploy­ees and 60% of students are peo­ple of color.

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