At least five will retire soon. Filling the raft of vacancies will be a challenge in the new fiscal era.
By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times
November 6, 2011, 9:16 p.m.

San Francisco State President Robert Corrigan decided this summer that at 76, he could not outlast a battered state economy that has forced deep cuts in programs and faculty at his and other Cal State campuses.

In August, he announced that he would step down at the end of the academic year to return to research and writing, leaving worries about the budget to his successor.

Corrigan is not alone.

Long-serving presidents of four other Cal State campuses — Northridge, Fullerton, San Bernardino and the California Maritime Academy — also are retiring this year or next. The university’s leaders face the challenge of finding replacements during the state’s fiscal crisis and at a time when Cal State is also under scrutiny for recent hiring and compensation decisions.

Searches are underway to find candidates for Northridge and Fullerton, with the Board of Trustees due to fill those positions by January.

The selection process for the other three positions will begin early next year, with appointments likely by early summer. The retirements follow the 2011 installations of new leaders for San Diego State, San Jose State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and an interim appointment at Cal State East Bay.

Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed, who became head of the now-23 campus system in 1998, said he could not remember a previous time when it had so many vacancies at once, and there may be additional retirements among the presidents within the year, he said.

The new leaders will face challenges that stem mainly from reduced state funding and increased enrollment demand. Cal State, which has nearly 412,000 students, is the nation’s largest system of four-year universities. But this year alone, funding was cut $650 million, with $100 million more in jeopardy at mid-year if state revenues fall below projections.

“These individuals will need to be dramatic change agents,” said William G. Tierney, director of USC’s Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis. “Simply maintaining the status quo is not viable. They are going to need to be able to not only have a vision of how they want to dramatically change campuses but also have the power of persuasion to reach out to multiple constituents.”

The vacancies represent an opportunity for Cal State, he said.

Reed said the selection committees will look for candidates who have experience with diverse student populations, with managing large operational budgets and fundraising abilities, among other skills.

“Fullerton and Northridge have 35,000 students, and there are not that many campuses in the [nation] that have that number,” the chancellor said. “These are humongous operations. You can’t go out and get somebody who’s had 1,200 students in Nevada. We need people with urban, large institutional experience.”

California’s Master Plan for Higher Education has long been the envy of other states. Its colleges are still sought-after, despite the state’s dismal economy, said Corrigan, who attended a recent meeting in Boston of university presidents and chancellors.

“There’s hardly a state that’s not dealing with the kinds of issues we are, although they may be more pronounced in California,” the San Francisco State leader said. “We have what had been a strong economic base, a large state with a large population and very smart people. I don’t think it will be a situation that prevents us from getting good candidates. What I do worry about both for administration and faculty is the tug of private enterprise.”

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