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Here's How You Can Influence Who Will Be The Next CSU Chancellor

A man with a suit jacket holds a paper and talks at a microphone at a meeting of those sitting in a board room.
A speaker addresses a hearing convened to gather input regarding the search for a new chancellor of the California State University system.
(Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
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The next chancellor of the California State University system is likely to get paid more than the yearly salaries of the president of the United States and the governor of California combined.

What’s this highly paid public official expected to do? The job is to be the chief executive for the largest public university system in the nation, comprised of 23 campuses, almost 500,000 students, and about 56,000 employees. It awards nearly 130,000 degrees each year.

With so much power over a public institution, you’d think the chancellor is an elected position. It’s not.

But the California State University community and the public are not completely locked out of the decision-making process.

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Why is the chancellor important?

The chancellor’s policies, tone, speeches, reforms, advocacy, and holding or not holding employees to account plays a big role in helping or hindering a person’s ability to enter the university, graduate with a degree, and start a path toward a stable, productive life.

What is the chancellor selection process?

There are two committees doing the chancellor selection legwork. They’re explained here. Basically, the Assessment Committee does the preliminary review and evaluation of candidates and forwards that to the Implementation Committee, which does a final evaluation. The committee members are a mixed bag of CSU trustees, employees, students, and campus administrators, among others.

The Implementation Committee will review resumes and make a short list of candidates in late spring. Finalists are expected to sit down with the board of trustees behind closed doors at its July meeting. And then, after great anticipation, the trustees will announce who they’ve picked.

When I think of a chancellor, I think of someone that is going to hold themselves accountable. Someone that will listen to the collective needs and the collective vulnerable needs of each student and understand the needs of each campus.
— Lydia Kelly, president, Cal State Fullerton Associated Students Inc.

CSU has chosen to keep the main part of the process secret. The university system won’t reveal the names of candidates or finalists.

“Many of the best candidates will not consider engaging in a search that is done in a non-confidential way,” said CSU Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester.

Many universities are similarly secretive in their executive searches, although other systems don’t have a problem finding candidates who will engage as finalists with students, university employees, and the public in open Q&As.

The CSU has hired SP&A Executive Search to manage the logistics of the process.

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Here’s how to get your voice heard

Recordings of open forums from this month are posted on the chancellor search website. (Here's Feb. 7 in Long Beach, Feb. 8 in Bakersfield, and Feb. 9 in San Francisco.)

It’s not too late to give CSU a piece of your mind about what kind of person should be the next chancellor. Take this CSU survey to tell the university what you’d like the next chancellor to put at the top of their to-do list.

And you can also email those views to

But first, you may want to know what would make for a good chancellor.

What should the next chancellor be good at?

It’s hard to say what would make an ideal candidate, but here are some things to consider.

Charisma. The chancellor needs to inspire the university’s largest constituency, students. Maybe it’s being representative of the student body, which has a plurality of Latinos. Maybe it’s not being stuffy and taking yourself too seriously. Maybe it’s being willing to take your suit jacket off and do a backspin with students watching, like Chancellor Tim White did in 2013.

Good judgment. “When I think of a chancellor,” said Lydia Kelly, president of Associated Students Inc. at Cal State Fullerton, “I think of someone that is going to hold themselves accountable. Someone that will listen to the collective needs and the collective vulnerable needs of each student and understand the needs of each campus.”

Fundraising. The chancellor will be going to Sacramento to lobby lawmakers for help, both financial and legislative. That ability to speak to and twist the arms of legislators is what got former University of California President Janet Napolitano hired to that post. She was a former governor of Arizona and secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Equity-mindedness. Amid continued police killings of Black and brown people, many students and faculty believe the next chancellor should be an anti-racist. That means promoting policies that dismantle systemic racism, in education, in law enforcement, and in other realms. It’s a tall order but CSU employees and students believe the university has the potential to be a leader on this front.

Shared governance. This is a big deal for faculty. It’s basically the concept that a university’s chief executive consults with faculty to carry out significant changes. Even though it sounds like a no-brainer, some university leaders don’t do this.

Charles Toombs, president of the California Faculty Association, would like to see a chancellor “who recognizes that faculty should be paid well, that they should have a workload that is doable, that the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students should be honored,” and who uses the position to dismantle racism, he said.

A horizontal bar graph in orange, yellow, two tones of green, and blue shows that the majority of California State University instructors are white.
A majority of California State University instructors are white.
(Screenshot from California State University online data portal.)

Problem solving. Those LAist spoke to said an insider candidate would know the California higher education systems and to an extent the school district landscapes enough to identify needed fixes to the student application and enrollment processes. An outsider candidate would bring executive skills from another university system or from government or the private sector.

Issues the chancellor will have to tackle

Student housing and food insecurity. A CSU system survey found that two out five students in the Cal State system faced difficulty of different degrees paying for food. The same survey found that one out of ten students had been homeless in a one-year period. Food and housing insecurity keeps students from focusing on their classes and slows and sometimes stops their progress toward a degree.

Social mobility. California’s college age population is heavily Latino and working class, and CSU’s population more so. CSU employees feel the top mission of the new chancellor should be to fund programs and hire people to help first-generation college students and working families who are sending their kids to college. CSU also plays a pivotal role in receiving transfer students from community colleges, and that process has often been under scrutiny.

Employee pay. The two largest employee unions, the one representing CSU faculty and the one representing 15,000 clerical, custodial, and other staff say the previous two chancellors have not addressed low pay. The clerical workers union, CSUEU, wants the next chancellor to restore automatic increases called salary steps. Union president Catherine Hutchinson says many of its members are leaving CSU employment for higher paying jobs and that hurts students who lose veteran support staff.

A more diverse faculty. There’s a big difference now between the racial and ethnic makeup of CSU’s students and that of the system’s employees. About 80% of enrollees are students of color. Latinos make up almost half the student body. But CSU’s instructors are only about 13% Latino. White instructors, from full professors to lecturers, make up 57% of the total. “It is a system that is predicated on and operates from a white supremacist cultural perspective,” said California Faculty Association President Charles Toombs.

data arranged in columns shows that 48% of California State University students are Latino
Student demographic information for California State University students in the fall, 2022.
(Screenshot from California State University data portal.)

Enrollment. The university system's enrollment has fallen over the past two years, by more than 27,000 students. Most of those losses are in northern Cal State campuses, but slowing population growth and interstate rivals are ongoing issues. Funding is on the line for universities that lose too many students.

And more. Add to these issues calls by employees to strengthen sexual harassment prevention and cyclical economic boom and busts that have led to budget cuts in the past and you begin to understand why the position is well paid (overpaid, activists say).

Why, then, do the 23 campuses need individual presidents?

It’s similar, to a degree, to the difference between the president of the United States and the 50 governors. The 25-member CSU Board of Trustees creates policies for the entire system, deciding whether to get rid of remedial classes, for instance. And the board holds the chancellor and his staff accountable for carrying out those policies.

The campus presidents oversee budgets for their campuses and employee relations and student improvement. The campus presidents are chosen by the board of trustees but report to the chancellor, while the chancellor reports to the board.

By way of comparison, this document lays out Cal State L.A.’s vision for a new campus president. It’s a helpful document to see, from the administration’s point of view, what it's looking for in a new president.

What are the last three chancellors known for?

The last three selected chancellors all brought different experience to the job and led the university during very different times.

Joseph Castro (2021-2022) was the first Mexican American chosen as chancellor but resigned after only a year as a result of allegations that he’d mishandled a sexual assault investigation when he was president of Cal State Fresno.

Tim White (2012-2020) had been educated and worked at all three California public higher education systems. He centered his immigrant background and made it a point to visit campuses to talk to employees and students. To raise lagging graduation rates, White created the Graduation Initiative 2025 to help better support students to earn their degrees.

Charles Reed (1998-2012) moved the university system to increase applications from Black and Latino students. But under his tenure, during an economic recession, Reed endorsed increases that nearly doubled tuition. CSU faculty who were around back then remember Reed refusing to increase their pay.

What questions do you have about higher education?
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez focuses on the stories of students trying to overcome academic and other challenges to stay in college — with the goal of creating a path to a better life.

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