Fresno State is in the market for a new president. On Monday morning the people responsible for the search gathered in the Satellite Student Union for an open meeting.
“Our task is both profoundly simple and profoundly difficult and that is to find the best person. Not the best person possible, but the best person,” said Timothy P. White, chancellor of the California State University (CSU) system.
The open meeting allowed students, staff, faculty and community members to make suggestions regarding the qualities and character of the university’s next president. Indeed, comment and critique varied, yet several issues were persistently brought up.
One topic consistently brought up by those speaking before the committee was its current policy in which the candidates will not be met by the faculty, staff or students.
Music professor Benjamin Boone spoke on behalf of the faculty from the College of Arts and Humanities. He said the academic senate passed a resolution meant to counter the committee’s policy.
The resolution was a collective request from university representatives to the presidential search committee. With it they asked that faculty members be allowed to meet potential candidates.
“This request is fully in line with the board of trustees policy for the selection of presidents, which states, ‘There is a deep commitment throughout the process to the principles of consultation of campus and community representatives,’” Boone said.
He added that this is the historic norm at public universities across the nation, and concluded by reiterating that this kind of consultation will not occur at Fresno State.
Geology graduate student Rebecca Asami concurred with the frustration over the lack of student and faculty interaction with candidates for the position.
“I think it would be really great to see a meet-the-candidate session with the students, and to see how the candidates interact with students,” she said.
Lisa Weston, a professor of English, aired considerations regarding the candidates. Not unlike Boone and members of the academic senate, Weston spoke of the need for administrative understanding and appreciation for not only the teaching done by faculty, but also the research.
“I would want a new president to have a profound understanding of what academic work is: the sacrifices and joys of it, the lovely things we can do,” she said.
Speaking to the press after the meeting, CSU board of trustees member, Pete Mehas said the closed consultation practices of the committee reflect its concern for the careers of potential candidates who could lose their jobs if their current employers found out they were considering a career change.
Mehas insisted the closed selection process will increase the selection pool.
Numerous people speaking to the committee mentioned the need for a president with some understanding of Valley life and culture. Regarding culture, the speakers focused on the multi-ethnic population of Fresno.
Several Latino community leaders spoke on behalf of their constituency’s educational needs.
Venacio Gaona, a retired Fresno City College foreign language professor, said the university needs a leader focused on academics and statewide education needs of Latinos.
“There has to be a dialogue with the large community of Latinos in Fresno County,” he said.
Retired Fresno State track and field coach Bob Fraley spoke in regards to the cultural understanding the president should possess. Like other community leaders he said the candidate should understand the migratory history of the San Joaquin, as it is the definitive character of this region.
Fraley referred to this as a “transition culture” in which language and cultural difference provide both challenges and opportunities.
Channeling the immigration history of the Valley, he spoke of European migrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, followed by the southern-American migrants of the Great Depression, the Chicano and Latino immigrant groups and the recent immigration of Asian people groups.
He suggested that such knowledge and cultural understanding would set the right candidate apart.
“People do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” Fraley said.
Debbie Ward, parent of two Fresno State students, reiterated the importance of an administrator with ties to the San Joaquin Valley.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a candidate who is in the Valley now, but someone who has either come from the Valley or has worked in the Valley,” Ward said. “You know, California is a microcosm and the San Joaquin Valley is an even smaller microcosm of California. Somebody that can appreciate everything that is a part of that is very important.”