After five weeks on the job, Cal State University Chancellor Timothy P. White has seen Gov. Jerry Brown unveil his budget proposal, chaired a Board of Trustees meeting and, for the first time, settled into an office which is not located on a university campus. White met with student media Wednesday to discuss the changes he intends to make in the 23-campus system and what the governor’s budget proposal means for the future of the CSU.
Q: You’ve taken the chancellor position after Proposition 30 passed, which secured funding for the CSU. Brown has also unveiled a budget proposal that gives the CSU a boost in state support, yet it is less than the $371.9 million the CSU requested in additional funding from the state. Because the CSU received less than it asked for, will the system have to make cuts and, if so, where will these cuts be made?
White: Well, some of the things that were in the budget are the types of things that we will defer. For example, one of the big requests was about some of the conditions about some of the campuses and the buildings and the learning environment, [like] the carpet, the paint, new infrastructure for wireless technology and things like that. Without the resources to do that, that won’t happen. It’s deferred maintenance.
Another part of the budget request was to grow the student body by 5 percent because the demand is so high. So we won’t grow enrollment in ways in which we had hoped to do to meet California’s needs and the community’s needs.
But I also think the governor’s point is a valid one for us to think about how can we be more effective with the resources we do have. I think we have to be smart in using technology in where it makes sense, to be more effective and more efficient, but not to use technology as the end-all because that is not what a university education is about. I understand the governor’s point of view, and I actually support it, that the way in which we have funded higher education in the past of simply of going and asking for more and more and more isn’t a sustainable one.
Q: As part of the collective $2.2 billion Brown has allocated to the CSU in the budget proposal, $10 million has been directed to address “bottleneck courses” through the use of technology. What specific plans does the CSU have to implement technology in the use of addressing bottleneck courses?
White: The idea of relieving bottlenecks is both designing the learning environment to be more successful for students who have the aptitude and the willingness to do the work and not with a high failure rate but rather a high passing rate with rigor. And secondly, [it] is to build a bigger pipeline so more students who need to get through [go to] that place, and that may mean more sections or sections available online or online fused with discussion with faculty and [teaching assistants]. It’s really going to be a decision of the faculty who are responsible to make those fine-tuning decisions.
Q: Through the state tuition buyout deal, $125 million will be restored in the coming fiscal year. What will the average student see of this allotted funding?
White: It’s not going to seem like come July 1 when the budget is enacted, all of a sudden there is square away of improvement, and the sun is shining every day, and there is unlimited access to every course you need exactly at the right time, and every adviser is right around the corner. It’s not going to be that. I think the biggest thing each individual student will feel is not writing a bigger check, and that’s very real for them and their families and I’m very grateful about that.
Q: At the Board of Trustees meeting in January, the Board voted to cap baccalaureate unit degrees to 120 units. Members of the Board said this change was made to increase efficiency, but does it hurt the value of a CSU degree?
White: I don’t think so. I think if it would have been destructive to the quality of the degree and the learning experience, then I wouldn’t have supported it. First, when you say there are some undergraduate degrees where there is compelling academic need in order to have more than 120 [units], there is a mechanism in place to provide those exceptions, so it’s not going to shoehorn every single degree into a one-size box.
So the idea here of setting 120 is to simply say that this is the size box that faculty have to work with in order to create a very meaningful learning experience for our students that provides a degree that can hold its own around the country no matter what that student is going to do with that degree – and 120 is it.