Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro opened himself and members of his administration up to questions, concerns and even advice from students during a forum Tuesday.
Topics of conversation revolved around a shrinking interior design department, the possible faculty strike and even the progression of a new student union building.
Ron Kaewsuriya, a third-year interior design student, voiced major concerns over the possibility of his program losing its accreditation. He said that currently the department only has one full-time faculty member which does not fulfil Council For Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) requirements. He also reported difficulty with enrolling in necessary classes due to a lack of seat availability.
Kaewsuriya said the lack of faculty has been an issue for a while, but he does not see anything being done about it.
“If it’s been two years, why can’t they find someone?” Kaewsuriya said. “They say they are looking for the best person to fill the position, but it shouldn’t take this long.”
Castro apologized to Kaewsuriya for the inconveniences and said the university is focused on growing faculty and improving infrastructure.
“I am aware of the challenges, and the most important thing I can say to you is we want the department to thrive,” Castro said.
Castro then handed the microphone to Vice Provost Dr. Dennis Nef for additional comments. Nef said the university is aware of the problem. He said a search is underway for two faculty hires and plans are in the works to upgrade the Conley Art Building.
“Relative to accreditation, both the senior faculty member in the program and the dean, two weeks ago sent a request to the accrediting body, the CIDA, for a semester to a year extension, and we expect that will be granted,” Nef said.
Still Kaewsuriya said he his view of the university has been tainted by his experience.
“After all of this, I don’t think Fresno State is something I could recommend anymore.”
Another student had concerns over faculty, except this time the question was about how the proposed strike would affect students.
Castro directed the student to papers on tables that featured CSU answers to frequently asked questions. He assured the crowd that the California Faculty Association (CFA) and the CSU have agreed that students will not be harmed in terms of graduating or getting the classes they need. He said the CFA has given advance notice as to when a strike would happen – which is planned for April 13 to 19 if an agreement isn’t reached.
“The good part of that is that we can plan together so that we minimize the disruption to students,” Castro said. “Will every faculty member decide to strike that day? I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t think so, but I think some will decide to strike and some will decide not to.”
Associated Students Inc. president Abigail Hudson brought up the possibility that students may have difficulty getting to class during the strike days. She asked what the university would to do to ensure that students attempting to enter campus would be able to and how students might report any problems.
Castro said these possible issues are things he and his cabinet are trying to work out in advance.
He asked Deborah Adishian-Astone, interim vice president of administrative services and associate vice president for auxiliary operations, to help answer.
“Our faculty do have the right to strike and to potentially picket at our building and campus entries, but our job is to make sure that the campus operation continues,” Adishian-Astone said. “We will be working closely to ensure all our entries to campus both ingress and egress, so coming onto campus as well as leaving campus, that our faculty staff and students are not impacted, are not delayed in getting to their classes, ensuring that our shuttle continues to run.”
Castro said other staff unions who have agreements with the CSU are not allowed to participate in the strike during working hours. However, other non-CSU unions, like those that construction workers and UPS employees often belong to, could possibly join or support the strike.
When asked about his administration’s stance on the the strike, Castro said he supports faculty but does not believe there is enough money to meet their demands.
“Absent a new investment from the legislature or the governor, it’s hard for me to see the math to get to the 5 percent,” Castro said. “So what we’re trying to do is find the right balance, and the balance is investing more in our faculty and it’s part of a three-year plan of 3 percent last year, 2 percent this year and 2 percent next year.”
Castro said Fresno State has taken some action to increase faculty income.
“We have actually invested several million dollars above and beyond that for equity programs so our faculty here who were in the situation where their salary might have fallen behind their peers, we raised them up,” Castro said.
Near the end of the forum, Castro mentioned developments on a new student union building.
“I think it will transform the campus if the students embrace it,” Castro said. “The next step is in March, I believe. March is when we’re gonna have some designs and concepts based on the conversations that we heard with students in the fall.”
Castro said the new student union would alleviate some of the issues students brought up at the forum including the need for a 24-hour study space and more late night food options on campus.
“It will be up to the students to decide if you all want to contribute towards it. I don’t think it can happen without the students embracing it,” Castro said. “We will be able to raise some money for it privately, but I think by-and-large it would be a fee that would be approved by the students. I do believe, based on my experience in higher education, that we need something like that to address the changing needs of students.”