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CSU chancellor tours Cal Poly, faces tough questions from faculty, students

CSU Chancellor Timothy White, left, speaks with mechanical engineering junior Zoe Tuggle about working on a metal lathe during his visit to the Aero Hangar at Cal Poly as part of his visit to the campus where he met with students, faculty, staff, administration and alumni throughout the day. The visit was an opportunity for the chancellor to share his vision for the CSU moving forward and hear campus-specific input from the Cal Poly community.
CSU Chancellor Timothy White, left, speaks with mechanical engineering junior Zoe Tuggle about working on a metal lathe during his visit to the Aero Hangar at Cal Poly as part of his visit to the campus where he met with students, faculty, staff, administration and alumni throughout the day. The visit was an opportunity for the chancellor to share his vision for the CSU moving forward and hear campus-specific input from the Cal Poly community. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

CSU Chancellor Timothy White applauded Cal Poly’s success Tuesday, but faced tough questions from both faculty and students on compensation, budget shortfalls that affect programs and pay, and the local university’s lack of diversity.

His visit — part of a statewide tour of all of the California State University campuses — coincides with tense faculty relations with the CSU administration. The faculty is preparing on Wednesday to release the results of a vote on whether to strike over a pay disagreement.

During meetings with faculty, administrators, students and The Tribune, White said:

• Out-of-state students won’t displace California students, noting that they will remain in the 5 to 10 percent range of students CSU-wide and help cover university-related costs with significantly higher tuition fees.

• Cal Poly’s student enrollment growth will only occur if there’s infrastructure to support it, including classroom buildings, student housing and money to cover teacher and student-aid costs.

• No housing incentive program is in place for faculty, and housing costs are a concern in desirable CSU housing markets like San Luis Obispo (public-private partnerships with investors will help cover housing needs).

• Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong “is one of the best CSU presidents,” and despite criticisms from faculty that they aren’t involved in enough decisions affecting them, White believes Armstrong is doing a good job and is listening to faculty and student concerns.

The California Faculty Association, which represents 1,500 individuals at Cal Poly, wants a 5 percent pay raise this academic year, while the CSU is offering a 2 percent pay raise.

Graham Archer, Cal Poly’s union president, asked White why the CSU Chancellor’s Office itself received $92 million from the state last year, more than several CSU universities received and just shy of the $105 million that Cal Poly got.

“I just don’t understand how all that money is getting spent,” Archer said during a session Tuesday afternoon with faculty and students. “We’ve gathered about $30 million goes to CSU-related administrative pay, but where does the rest go?”

White responded that his office used the money in part to establish a sexual assault prevention policy and for legal costs that he estimated saved the CSU $100 million in potential litigation damages. “The CSU has certain duties that the individual campuses shouldn’t have to take on,” White said. “Those duties, in my opinion, shouldn’t be decentralized.”

During the forum with faculty and students, a professor told White that a technology company that was seeking to hire him was shocked when he told them how much he was making at Cal Poly, saying it would be “appalling” to offer so little. He advised White not to be the leader who allowed the system to “fall apart.”

“I wish I could cure our financial ills overnight,” White replied, “... but the reality is that we’re $200 million below where we were at the beginning of the recession.”

He urged those who have an interest in Cal Poly to lobby government and business officials to give the CSU system more money.

However, Cal Poly’s union criticized White’s response by saying that the CSU has misspent money by hiring too many administrators and focusing too much of its spending outside of the classroom.

The union cited an increase of 43 percent in administrative salaries between 2010 and 2014, a 41 percent increase in student tuition and a 3 percent increase in faculty salaries. It also said the number of students increased 10 percent during that time while higher paid professor positions decreased 6 percent and the number of lower-paid lecturers increased 32 percent.

However, Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong countered that more than 40 percent of the increased administrative positions came from privately raised funds and that many of those positions help raise money for the university and pay for needed operational expenses. He also said an equity program he set up from a discretionary fund will pay faculty an additional $3.5 million over three years. And he said many of the administrative jobs pay less than faculty positions.

During the afternoon session, student demonstrators with tape over their mouths protested the lack of a queer studies program at Cal Poly and said the lack of financial support of gender and ethnic studies isn’t promoting diversity, a core CSU and Cal Poly initiative.

As far as funding that program, White said his job as chancellor is to bring in “as much money as possible for the CSU system” and it’s for the individual campuses to decide what to do with it. But he also said he was taking into consideration the protesters’ concerns.

Computer science student Max Moede said he’s fearful Cal Poly faculty will leave because of the university’s failure to pay them enough.

“I feel if my teachers are unhappy and they feel like they’re not getting compensated well enough and leave, that reflects on Cal Poly and its name,” Moede said. “Cal Poly is great because of its people, and we want the chancellor to know that.”

White applauded Cal Poly’s academic success, praising an interstellar space project underway and research that will be undertaken at the newly donated Bartleson Ranch in Arroyo Grande, a 450-acre site that will be used by ag students.

“I deeply value the faculty, staff and students here at Cal Poly and throughout the CSU system,” White said.

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