Campus, News

A conversation with Conoley

Each semester, The Daily 49er tries to fit into President Jane Close Conoley’s busy schedule to catch up with her. Reporters sat with Conoley March 13 at a large round table in her office, which was lined with cluttered bookshelves and campus memorabilia. Conoley spoke candidly about mascots, Beach 2030 and her Nike sneakers.  

How is the hunt for a new mascot going?

We got a bunch of submissions … [we’re] doing outreach to alumni and they got a bunch of Prospector Pete’s. I was told they also got snowflakes.

There’s an ideological position that’s going to keep some of this controversy going because they don’t like any apparent concession to some minority position. I don’t even know if they’re alumni, they’re just die hard 49ers and they hate to let that go. We’ll keep that unofficial tagline because many students and alums grew up with [the 49ers] here in Long Beach … I would love to have a symbol that really showed who we are: very forward looking, highly diverse, committed to action.

Have you received any backlash from alumni about changing the mascot?   

When it was first announced we were probably getting a letter a day. I just got one from an emeritus professor this week again, about changing [Pete]. It comes with that, ‘What’s wrong with today’s students? Why are they so sensitive?’ That’s what’s behind it. So it makes me wonder, did you really like the mascot? Or did you buy this narrative that students today are so politically correct and they’re trying to fix something that isn’t broken? The students that picked the 49ers didn’t have the history to understand the multiple perspectives on the gold rush prospectors.

Those who know more should do different.

What does LBSU plan to do with Gov. Newsom’s increased funding?

The current package would allow us to increase our enrollment by 2 percent. There is a big one-time grant for $257 million for deferred maintenance. I’m not sure what our share would be of that. There’s a huge backlog of deferred maintenance. Ideally we would get about 8 percent. If we got that 8 percent, we would start working on whatever our highest priority upgrade would be. The current highest priority in terms of maintenance in [Peterson Hall-1]. We got PH-2 done, PH-1 is the same kind of disaster building. Even if we got our 8 percent amount, it probably wouldn’t be enough to redo that. There’s a whole list. We’re trying to do some air conditioning in some of the [Fine Arts] buildings. It turns out that it’s super expensive — probably more expensive than the building is actually worth, but we got to make them livable.

We’re really happy about the budget because it fully covers the increase in mandatory costs, which comes with the stipulation [that there’s] no tuition increase. I’m very grateful to the governor. I think he saw that in our case we have 106,000 applicants for next fall, and we’re only funded for under 30,000 full-time equivalent students. So we’re turning away thousands of qualified students — they did everything they were told to do and yet there’s no space for them. Some universities brag about how many students they turn away, but I don’t feel good about that at all.

Are you planning on adding night and weekend classes?

You can see that part of our parking problem is that we cram everyone into four days instead of five or six days. So, I think the fact that students are calling for it should be an inspiration. I think there are a lot of faculty that have families that can find some flexibility to get all their classes done on a Saturday and then be home in time when their kids are home from school. We’ve been slowly increasing the Friday classes. There’s classes that are three-hour classes. I think it’ll be accelerated due to Beach 2030 — something that has come out of that is we have to really start thinking about other audiences, and so if you’re talking about working adults they’ll want to come in on weekends and spend a Saturday.

Tell us about your Nikes.

The shoes were actually a gift from an alum. I forgot the year he graduated, but he started working for Nike when it was a tiny company. The story is I found a pair of gold and black sneakers online. I was up in Portland, Oregon for an alumni event, and I ran into him and I realize I’m wearing sneakers that aren’t Nike. I said, ‘Oh sorry, these aren’t Nikes but they’re gold and black so I had to have them.’ The next thing I know the sneakers arrived in the mail. I tell everyone to put being a university professor in your career path because stuff like this happens. People send you shoes. I like them, it takes [away] any hassle about what I’m going to wear to the game.

Do you have a favorite sport to watch on campus?

It varies. It’s great to watch men’s volleyball right now because you can kind of sit back, relax and know they’ll win. I get to sit courtside, so I have to pay attention to the balls that are coming fast and furious. For a break, I like baseball because you can sit back and just chill out almost to a fault sometimes.

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