Glidden brings experience to Cal Poly

When Robert Glidden took over as interim president of Cal Poly this week, he took charge of a campus of about 19,000 students and a national reputation.

He vows to move the campus along in a productive manner as the California State University system searches for a permanent president.

Glidden succeeds Warren Baker, who retired July 31 after 31 years at the helm of the university.

Glidden, 73, served as president of Ohio University from 1994 to 2004, overseeing six campuses and an enrollment of 29,000 students in southeast Ohio. Glidden was provost and vice president for academic affairs from 1991 to 1994 at Florida State University. He has also held academic appointments in music at Indiana University, the University of Oklahoma and Bowling Green State University. 

The Tribune interviewed Glidden on Thursday, and what follows are questions and answers from that session:

Q: How were you approached about becoming Cal Poly’s interim president?

A: I knew (CSU Chancellor Charles Reed) from my days in Florida, when I was provost at Florida State University (and Reed served as chancellor for the Florida Board of Regents). We’d also run into each other at national education conferences. He’d previously mentioned that the California State University system could have an interim position that might come up someday and asked if I would be interested. I told him it would depend on where and under what circumstances, because I’m happily retired. When he called and asked if I’d step in here at Cal Poly, I already knew it was an institution that was very well run. I asked if the position could be filled internally, but with the recent death (of Cal Poly administrator Sandra Ogren) and with an interim provost (Bob Koob), this seemed the best option. I said I’d be willing to do it.

Q: How long do you expect to stay before a permanent president is chosen?

A: I was told that the search committee is already in place, and they’ve been through the process once already, so I’d expect the search will move expeditiously. I’ve been told they’ll likely have a new president identified by December. We’ll see what happens. I’ve suggested some people for the job who I think may be good.

Q: What do you have in mind for your role during the time you’re the interim president? A: I’ve spent some time and will spend more time learning more about what’s going on here, including funding issues. But my role is to work with others here to make decisions that we’re confident the new president would embrace that are obviously good for the university. My role is not to change how things are being done, but to move them along.

Q: What are your strengths?

A: I have quite a bit of experience with advancement since I ended my presidency in 2004 at Ohio University after a four-year fundraising campaign. That’s an area I’ll be doing some work here in. Cal Poly is fairly new to its advancement outreach compared with many private and some public universities. And state funding nationwide is becoming a less reliable source of revenue for universities, but I think California has the resources to be in better shape than many states, including ones that have seen serious industry collapses.

I also think I have the ability to get people to work together through problems. And in an institution of this size, (I wouldn’t) be surprised if separate units within the university don’t always agree, but a university benefits most when people think about it as a whole. I’m also very interested in the learn-by-doing mission of Cal Poly, which many campuses have embraced around the country, but Cal Poly has done it from day one. It’s easy to imagine how engineering and agriculture adopt this mission; I’m curious to learn how it’s done in liberal arts programs.

Q: What role will you have in the search for the new president? Who will make a good president?

A: I won’t inject myself in the process but will assist in any way I can. I think the new president will be someone who listens, has good critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and strong interpersonal skills, perhaps most importantly of all. And on top of this, it’s someone who will be firm and decisive. But I’m not in favor of the imperial president, and those do exist in some universities.