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Chancellor-select Joseph I. Castro reveals visions for CSU

Chancellor-select Joseph I. Castro discussed his visions and plans for overseeing the California State University system in a livestream interview Friday, promising to address faculty diversity, stable funding and student opportunities.  

Named Wednesday morning, Castro will be the first Mexican American and California native to hold the chancellor position. Slated to begin his duties Jan. 4, 2021, Castro will be the eighth individual to head the 23-campus system and has served as the eighth president of California State University, Fresno since 2013. 

A first-generation college student and proud member of the Latinx community, Castro will be the CSU’s first chancellor of color to oversee the leading four-year university system in the country, representing the majority of students enrolled in CSU campuses. 

With 482,000 total students, Hispanic and Latinx students make up 43% of the CSU’s student body, the largest demographic in the system, as of fall 2019.

“The California State University provides unprecedented and transformational opportunities for students from all backgrounds to earn a high-quality college degree and to better their families, their communities and the industries in which they become leaders. There is no other institution that makes this great of an impact on the entire state – the CSU is key to a growing and thriving California,” Castro said in a statement. “I am truly grateful for and excited about this unique and wonderful opportunity, and I look forward to working with the talented faculty, staff and presidents of the 23 campuses as well the Board of Trustees and executives and staff at the Chancellor’s Office to further increase achievement for our 482,000 students.”

Born in the San Joaquin Valley, Castro is the son of a single mother, the grandson of immigrants from Mexico and has three kids of his own with his wife, Mary. He studied at University of California, Berkeley and received a doctorate in higher education policy and leadership from Stanford University. 

Long Beach State President Jane Close Conoley said she felt “delighted” with the Board of Trustees’ decision to appoint Castro.

Conoley said she and Castro have worked together in the past at University of California, Santa Barbara, and she even consulted him when she was a candidate for CSULB president.

“I’m overjoyed about our new chancellor-select,” Conoley said in an email. “He is a thoughtful and generous leader who is totally student-focused. He also understands the role of being president in the CSU System. This is very important.”

Castro has worked for the CSU system for 23 years and has held faculty and administrative positions at five University of California campuses, including UCSB, UC Berkeley, University of California, Davis, University of California, Merced and University of California, San Francisco, where he served as vice chancellor of Student Academic Affairs. 

Although current Chancellor Timothy P. White announced last October that he planned to retire by June 30, 2020, the coronavirus-imposed transition to remote learning in March caused him to postpone his retirement. 

 As chancellor-select, Castro said his goals include securing a more stable funding base and implementing more technological advances to “serve more talented students” in accelerated opportunities. 

Castro is also strategizing how to rid the CSU of the “Pell gap,” an issue he said results from undergraduate students who receive Pell grants as financial aid taking longer than four years to graduate. Moving toward a four-year graduation path, Castro said, would help these students save money on tuition and start their careers sooner. 

In addition, Castro said he intends to implement the system-wide Graduation Initiative 2025 to increase graduation rates for CSU students, which focuses on prioritizing academic preparation, enrollment management, student engagement and well-being, financial support, data-informed decision making and administrative barriers.

Amid an academic year of remote instruction, Castro said he feels Fresno State, along with the other CSU campuses, “successfully made the switch” to virtual learning and remains optimistic that things will only improve looking ahead. 

“I’m encouraged by the innovation that’s occurring right now,” Castro said in the livestream. “We’re going through a societal reset that is going to be positive when we get there. I think we’re going to be stronger after COVID than we were before.”

When considering returning to in-person instruction, Castro said he is “prioritizing the health and safety of students, faculty and staff” across all 23 campuses instead of looking to return to normal. 

 As he will be one of the few sitting chancellors of color in California, Castro said he feels “excited” to join the growing number. White is a native of Argentina and has served the CSU since 2012. 

There are just two other Mexican American chancellors in the state, including UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz, a fellow first-generation college student who was appointed in July, and Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who has served as California Community Colleges chancellor since 2016. 

Other chancellors of color include University of California, Davis Chancellor Gary S. May, the only Black chancellor in the UC system, University of California, San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, a native of India and UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry T. Yang, a native of China. 

There are also a few chancellors who are first-generation college graduates, like Castro, including University of Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia K. Larive, University of California, Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox and University of California, Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman.

Castro said he plans to increase faculty diversity across the 23-campus system as he feels it is crucial to have faculty who are able to accurately reflect a diverse student body. He also said the CSU “must stay focused on our DACA students.”

“It is extraordinarily important, in my opinion, that our faculty become more diverse in a way that reflects where our faculty really understand our students’ lived experiences because they walked similar paths,” Castro said.

Concerns over Castro’s appointment have been raised by the California Faculty Association, however, including a focus on his pay.

Expected to earn $625,000 annually, Castro will be receiving a $148,000 salary increase from the current chancellor’s pay. Housing and car allowances are expected to remain the same.

This pay increase comes at a time when the CSU as a whole is facing a $299 million deficit due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and is described by the CFA as “irresponsible” and “cruel.” 

In an official statement from the association, CFA calls on Castro to “be a strong and committed advocate who will doggedly fight for the People’s University and the increasingly diverse students it serves.” 

Other calls to action included using the CSU’s $1.5 billion reserve to prevent gaps in learning and layoffs and to address racism and white supremacy in higher education head-on.

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