Chancellor-select Joseph I. Castro said he has no plans at this time to implement a system-wide reduction in tuition costs or fees in a press conference Wednesday.
“I don’t yet have a full awareness of all the different kinds of campus fees across the system so I will need to take some time to do that,” Castro said. “But I can tell you that philosophically, here at Fresno State, I’ve tried to make sure that the fees that we do charge are appropriate.”
Students have raised concerns about the stationary level of students fees despite reduced access to on-campus amenities like the University Student Union and the Student Recreation and Wellness Center.
Alyssa Neal, a fourth-year psychology major, started a change.org petition in May calling for the university to reduce tuition.
“Considering how many of the resources paid for by tuition will be unavailable to students, I stand by my initial belief that CSULB should lower the cost of tuition,” Neal said. “I do not think that the university is being considerate of the many hardworking students like myself enrolled in the university. While these times are unprecedented and we could not have prepared for such a wild year, the school can more than afford to give us a break financially, especially considering we will be paying for things we cannot use.”
Roughly 77% of the university’s budget goes toward maintaining faculty and staff, with the remaining 23% going toward campus energy cost, maintenance, insurance and renovations, according to President Jane Close Conoley.
Castro said that some fees, like parking and housing, will not be paid for by those not benefiting from the services. However, other fees such as those used to pay for facilities, will continue to be funded by students.
“I would say that those are like the houses that some of our families own, and they will be used in the coming years and it’s really important that we continue to fund those and support those,” Castro said. “I realize that is a bit of a sacrifice, but I do think that it’s worthwhile for you and other CSU students.”
Use of the CSU’s $1.7 billion reserve to mitigate the income that comes from student fees is off the table, Castro said.
“Reserves are really like a savings account at home, and once you spend $1 of your savings account, unless you replenish it is gone forever,” Castro said. “And if you use it for expenses that are recurring, that’s a really bad formula. It’s very important that we consider using reserves and I know that many campuses were careful not to use them too quickly or for things that are really recurring in nature.”
Castro also addressed the presence of police on CSU campuses and whether or not they would be removed, saying they would not be removed but he is willing to reexamine their funding.
“We need to have public safety officers in order to protect our facilities, and the people who are here, and I know some campuses are not occupied by large numbers of people, but that can also be a time when others who might want to do bad things could take advantage of that opportunity, so to speak,” Castro said. “So I do believe that we need to fund our public safety officers. And I also believe that we need to fund our basic needs initiatives.”
When asked about whether or not officers should be armed, or armed to the extent that they are on some campuses with weapons such as AR-15 rifles, Castro said he was “unaware” of this but promised to look into it.
Signed into law months ago, Assembly Bill 1460 that requires all 23 CSU campuses to mandate the completion of one three-unit ethnic studies course has Castro’s full support.
“I’m committed to successful implementation of that bill that’s now law. And I know that Chancellor [Timothy P.] White and his team have been working with the presidents and provosts too, and the faculty to begin that implementation process, and I’ll look forward to continuing that and completing that as the new chancellor next year,” Castro said.
Castro’s predecessor, Chancellor White, came under fire during the deliberations of AB1460 when he and the Board of Trustees introduced the “Ethnic Studies and Social Justice” that would have allowed students to take a course that didn’t necessarily focus on different ethnic groups and was expanded into other areas of study.
Many felt, including Students for Quality Education Long Beach, that the introduction of the “Ethnic Studies and Social Justice” watered down the purpose of requiring ethnic studies and gave students an “out.”
Castro also addressed concerns of diversity throughout the CSU system. In his introduction video, he vowed to increase diversity among faculty and staff throughout the system.
“I think the first step is for me to have a conversation with the presidents and for us to again reflect on what we have done, what’s worked well and what more we can do,” Castro said. “I would like us to be in a position where we inspire those graduates to join our faculty. So rather than having a talented graduate of the UC go to Texas or Oklahoma, no offense, I’d rather have them stay here in California. So that’s one of the thoughts that I have and I plan to pursue that with him and also discuss that and other strategies with the presidents and faculty leaders and student leaders as well.”
Castro also said he plans to address diversity in the student body. At Long Beach State, less than 4% of the student body is Black, something Castro said he’s addressing at his home university of California University State, Fresno.
“I think that we need to look at the strategies that we have utilized in the past and presently and continuously ask, ‘Are these the right strategies going forward?’” Castro said. “I think that all of us need to look at that and take steps to address this, so that over time we can increase the representation of African American students, and also work harder to retain them and help them graduate so that they can be part of this emerging group of leaders in California and throughout the country.”
Although Chancellor White announced that the spring 2021 semester will be delivered predominantly remotely, Castro said he and the presidents of each university are exploring options that are more tailored per campus.
“Our plan is to actually have more in-person courses in the spring than in the fall,” Castro said. “There may be some campuses that can’t do that because of the local health conditions, and I think that’s really the primary focus is to be sure that in the course of educating all of you and the other very talented CSU students, and also thinking about the health and welfare of our faculty and staff and, and all of your families that that needs to be the first priority. And then the second priority is how do we continue to increase the population of students, faculty and staff on the campuses.”
Castro will assume his duties as chancellor in January of 2021. For now, he will continue to serve the rest of his term as president of Fresno State.
Another press conference with the chancellor-select is planned for January.