Fresno State President Dr. Joseph I. Castro’s appointment to chancellor of the California State University (CSU) system comes at a crucial time for higher education in California.
In his introductory news conference, Castro addressed issues related to the pandemic, graduation initiatives, diversity and other items that he and the CSU system will be facing when he takes office on Jan. 4, 2021.
When asked what his main priorities for the CSU system coming into the job, Castro said the most important thing for him to do is to continue the positive trajectory that current CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White in regards to the 2025 Graduation Initiative.
“The most important thing is to continue the very positive trajectory that we’ve been on under Chancellor White’s leadership and continued focus on our graduation initiative 2025,” Castro said. “My highest priority to make sure that we meet those goals that we’ve set, they’re very ambitious goals for the system.”
The goals Castro referred to are those set by the 2025 Gradation Initiative which include a plan to increase graduation rates, eliminate equity gaps in degree completion and meet California’s workforce needs.
Castro will take his position as chancellor in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and although Fresno State has only had fewer than 10 cases in the past month, other universities in the CSU system, particularly San Diego State and Chico State, have had large COVID-19 outbreaks.
Castro said White has led very effectively during this time, and campuses will learn from the fall to make their plans for the spring.
“I want to make sure that we utilize the very best practices … that frequent hand washing, social distancing, masking as appropriate, testing when we can and temperature checking,” Castro said.
Castro also believes in a continued push for diversity by helping minority and first-generation students, a belief that he carries over from his role as Fresno State president.
“We need to make sure that we’re serving our talented and diverse students, effectively,” he said. “You [CSU] have many first generation college students. And it’s vitally important that we serve them here and throughout the state as effectively as possible, so that that would be the highest priority.”
During his time at Fresno State, diversity among students rose exponentially each year he was in office, with most prevalent being Hispanic enrollment. In spring 2020, it was reported that Fresno State’s student body was made up of 53.3% (12,155) Hispanic students.
In terms of undocumented students and DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, recipients, Castro was a major proponent of this initiative given his background as the grandson of immigrants himself.
“I have the same values on January 4, that I have today. So, I’m going to continue to take positions that I think are important for the CSU,” Castro said. “The dreamer issue resonates with me, because my grandfather was a dreamer. And I believe that we need to provide support to dreamers and all other students as well. So, you can count on me to take positions.”
In the next coming weeks, the search for a new Fresno State president will begin to take place, and Castro said that his replacement should be the most qualified but having a connection to the Central Valley would help.
“The most important thing is their expertise,” Castro said. “But I always felt like those who had some connection to the San Joaquin Valley really felt the commitment. We’re more committed in general.”
“This is a unique part of California in the country, and it deserves to have a leader who’s strongly committed to this region so if it’s somebody from here, that’d be great,” Castro said.
Chair of the CSU Board of Trustees Lillian Kimbell said that she will be appointing a search team to find Castro’s replacement. The CSU will also hold a listening session on campus, which may be held virtually due to the pandemic, in which the campus community would share its thoughts on the next presidential selection.”
“We hold a listening session on campus and invite the entire community…to come and tell us what they’re looking for in their next president,” Kimbell said. “So, that really informs our decision…When we do that, get the word out.”
“What I’ve learned over time is that there are certain kinds of leaders at certain times,” Castro said. “And I think that we should take a fresh look and decide what kind of leader we want going forward at Fresno State.”
With Castro having three months left as Fresno State president, he was asked to reflect on his time at the university and speak about his accomplishments in office.
“We’ve [Fresno State] been able to increase graduation rates from about 48%…to close to 60%,” Castro said. “And we’ve done that while the student body has become much more diverse over that period of time. So, I’m particularly proud of the fact that we’ve been able to do that.”
Castro also mentioned the work with the Student Cupboard, started in 2014, the clothing closet and the DISCOVERe program at the Henry Madden Library.
As far as what he’ll miss the most, Castro said, “I haven’t thought about that yet. There have been so many. Mary and I spent most of today together. We just took a walk and we were talking about different memories.”