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CSU Chancellor talks innovation, student food insecurity during Stanislaus State visit
White responds to questions about looming faculty strike
Stanislaus State grad student Jennifer Morales shares her concerns about increased student tuition. Morales stated that when she started school in 2008 she paid around $2,000 in tuition and now she pays $3,000. - photo by CANDY PADILLA / The Journal

California State University Chancellor Timothy White shared his vision for the future of Stanislaus State — as well as answered to angry faculty who argued in favor of a five percent pay increase — during his visit to the Turlock campus on Tuesday.

With his sixth visit to Stanislaus State in three years, White continued his statewide tour of the 23-campus CSU system, titled “Innovations in the Learning Environment.” The Chancellor was given the opportunity to tour the campus, attend two innovative learning sessions and concluded the day with the open forum, taking questions from both faculty and students in a packed venue.

“My goal this year when I’ve had the opportunity to visit the campuses…is to get into that magic place,” said White in his beginning statement, speaking of innovation on campus. “That’s the interface between our faculty and students.”

To help White see how Stanislaus State is integrating technology into its students’ educations, a Geographic Information Systems demonstration was provided. White briefly told the open forum about three of the students he listened to during the demonstration, which included a student who flies drones over plots of agriculture to map the progress of crops, a student who is using ethnic geography to study Sikhs in the San Joaquin Valley and a student who has created a spatial database for the university’s sustainable garden.

“It was really quite impressive,” said White.

During the open forum, White emphasized the importance of developing a plan for the future of the CSU system that is tailored to the needs of each school, as well as the region it resides in. He added that in the past, the plans for the CSU system have not been what a strategic plan ought to be.

“A strategic plan sets out a set of values and talks about specific goals,” said White. “Because we are a large system… instead of writing another large, strategic plan, you’ve got to create sort of an omnibus document — an umbrella, if you will — with an irreducible number of characterizations, and then each campus is more detailed and focused to the region.”

A well-executed plan will lead to better quality students, faculty and staff – something that is imperative when asking for funds from the state, according to White.

“When students learn and make progress at a meaningful degree, it definitely leads to the public good of the university,” said White. “The more we can talk about why our graduates matter to California, to the nation, to the world, I think the better off we’re going to be in the few years ahead as a public university making a case for resources from Sacramento.”

The Chancellor’s opening remarks ended with White touching on a topic that was brought up when he met with the university’s student leaders earlier in the day.

“There was one topic that everyone pulled their pencils out and made some notes on,” said White. “That’s the issue of food instability in our students and housing instability in our students.”

According to White, about 24 percent of CSU students have food insecurity and about 10 percent have housing insecurity. White explained that with a CSU student population of over 460,000, that’s far too many students wondering where their next meal is going to come from rather than paying attention in class. While there are many resources in place for students who are in need of financial aid, mental health support or even recreational activities, there are currently no resources for students struggling with food and housing – something White wants to change.

“We are missing one arrow in our quiver of student support,” said White. “If their tummies are empty, how can a student sit in a class that’s academically rigorous and be worried about where they’re going to eat rather than focusing on the lesson?”

Fixing problems like these is at the top of White’s agenda to produce quality students, and in turn, quality campuses.

The conversation then was open to questions from the crowd in the Event Center. The audience was a sea of red, with protestors wearing shirts in support of the California Faculty Association’s ongoing battle for a five percent raise. The CSU system has offered a two percent raise, but if no resolution is created, a faculty authorized system-wide strike has been called for April 13-15 and April 18-19.

Students and faculty alike used the open forum as an opportunity for White to hear their pleas for a change in faculty’s pay, holding signs that read “Chancellor’s lie-o-meter: Off the charts!” and “I want to participate in the economy.” There was also a couple dressed up in dog and pony costumes, holding signs that said “Chancellor’s dog and pony show.”

Protestors fired questions at White, demanding to know why the faculty is not being allowed a pay raise. They accused White of prioritizing funds elsewhere, rather than to administrators.

“There’s one group that sets the priorities for the CSU, and that’s the Board of Trustees,” said White. “None of them (the priorities) are fully-funded. None of them.”

White explained that if the Board were to decide to prioritize funds to the CFA’s request for a five percent raise, then cuts would have to be made elsewhere, such as from funds for learning facilities or enrollment. The current priorities were debated and decided on by the Board of Trustees, and White agreed with their decision.

“That would mean that we would stop investing in students’ success in order to pay something else,” said White of the cuts that would be necessary for the five percent raise. “I’m not going to hurt students when there’s opportunity for success. I know it’s not a popular answer, but it’s a factual answer.”

Other protestors approached the microphones and echoed the sentiments of the previous protestors, and White responded each time with the same answer of why and how he could not give them what they were asking for.

The open forum ended with a student asking the Chancellor, “What are the faculty worth to you?”

“The faculty are priceless,” said White.

Chancellor White will continue his campus tour with a visit to Fresno State University on April 20.