CSU names 1st Mexican American chancellor
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.