Cal State University Picks Fresno State President As New System Chancellor

The California State University trustees meeting on Wednesday. Newly appointed Chancellor Joseph I. Castro is top row, center. (Cal State University screenshot)

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After a nearly year-long search, California State University trustees on Wednesday picked Cal State Fresno President Joseph I. Castro as the new chancellor of the 23-campus system.

"I'm excited and honored to be the first California native and first Mexican American to serve as the chancellor of the California State University," Castro said

He's been president of Fresno State since 2013. Castro earned a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley, and a PhD from Stanford University.

"Like the majority of students we serve at CSU, I was the first in my family to attend and graduate from a university," he said.

Castro is replacing Chancellor Timothy White, who announced his retirement last year. White had been scheduled to step down in July but agreed to stay on longer to help the university system navigate the coronavirus crisis. He takes over the CSU system during one of the most challenging times in higher education in recent memory.

The vast majority of the university's nearly 500,000 students will continue to take classes online for the rest of this academic year. The system's state funding took a $500,000 hit this fiscal year and the pandemic may mean even larger funding cuts next year.

Two Cal State campuses — Chico State and San Diego State — have been forced to curtail operations after COVID-19 outbreaks in residence halls. The chancellor's office has issued pandemic recommendations but mostly gives campus presidents autonomy to set policies. The chancellor's office is not keeping a central tally of COVID-19 cases on the campuses, and employees have voiced concerns that the patchwork of protocols are inconsistent.

CSU Chancellor Tim White during the September 23, 2020 trustees' meeting. (screenshot)

These crises threaten improvements to graduation rates that are part of a support program created by outgoing Chancellor White.

Trustees and faculty on the virtual meeting welcomed Castro. White urged Castro to continue improvements to graduation rates and online learning.

The California Faculty Association, CSU's faculty union, shared a list of priorities.

"CFA urges Chancellor-select Castro to take the CSU mission of being the People's University to heart and center decision making on the student perspective and experience," the union said in an email.

The CFA's issued a long to-do list for Castro. A few excerpts:

  • "Castro should be committed to helping students follow their own paths unfettered by ever-increasing tuition and fees, a lack of classes, overworked faculty without job security, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia on campus, homelessness, food insecurity, and harassment by university police officers."
  • "Protect students' mental health and the rights of undocumented students."
  • "Health and safety must come first. Funding holes should be filled from the CSU's $1.5 billion reserves, not from tuition increases, course reductions, increases to class-sizes, furloughs, or layoffs/job losses that kick workers and their families off their healthcare insurance during a public health emergency."
  • "Respecting academic freedom, Castro should defend the rights of faculty when they face hateful attacks or say something unpopular."
  • "Guarantee the full and real participation of Ethnic Studies faculty in implementation of Assembly Bill 1460. Do not cut out these dynamic voices and their experience in establishing the nation's first college Ethnic Studies graduation requirement."

Castro's grandparents emigrated from Mexico and worked on the railroads and farms in the San Joaquin Valley a century ago.

Zahraa Khuraibet during the Wednesday's CSU trustees meeting. She's a masters' student at CSU Northridge and president of the California State Students Association. (screenshot)

"His story is the story of many students and the alumni at the CSU, and serves as a great example of the transformation power of higher education in an individual's lives, their family's lives, and the lives of their communities," said Zahraa Khuraibet, a masters' student at CSU Northridge and president of the California State Students Association.

Trustees approved $625,000 yearly pay for Castro. That's $148,000 more than the current chancellor. Yearly stipends will remain the same: $95,000 for housing and $12,000 for a car.