Q&A: Chancellor-select discusses COVID-19 enrollment, student fees, UPD and more


CSU, Fresno

CSU chancellor select, Dr. Joseph I. Castro, who will take office Jan. 4

Dr. Joseph I. Castro, CSU chancellor-select, participated in a press conference for student media on Wednesday to answer questions for student-journalists across the 23-campus system. 

Castro is currently sitting as President of California State University, Fresno and will assume the position as the eighth chancellor of the CSU system starting Jan. 4, succeeding current Chancellor, Timothy P. White.

*Questions were introduced by the Orion staff and other student-journalists in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting. 

Q: As the CSU approaches another virtual semester, do you have any plans to address students’ concerns of being charged fees for on-campus services that they don’t have access to?

A: Here at Fresno State, we’ve tried to make sure that the fees that we do charge are appropriate. With respect to parking — if you’re not here on campus, of course you don’t pay for parking. If you’re not in housing you don’t pay for that or dining. However, there are fees like our fitness center and our student union, which it’s true that students are not using those facilities. But I would say that those are like the houses that some of our families own, and they will be used in the coming years so it’s really important that we continue to fund those and support those. I realize that is a bit of a sacrifice, but I do think that it’s worthwhile. 

Q: Are you willing to explore different options than having students pay (for fees)? For example, dipping into the CSU reserves to cover these costs?

A: Reserves are really like a savings account at home. Once you spend $1 of your savings account, unless you replenish it, it’s gone forever. If you use it for expenses that are recurring — that’s a really bad formula for problems. It’s very important that as we consider using reserves —and I know that many campuses are — that we’re careful not to use them too quickly or for things that are really recurring in nature. 

Q: What will be your top priorities as chancellor?

A: My very top priority is to continue making progress and then to achieve the goals that are in Graduation Initiative 2025. That puts all of you as students at the forefront of our thinking as you have been under Chancellor White’s leadership. The second priority will be continuing and strengthening relationships with our elected officials in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. … My third priority is to consider ways of using technology differently and more strategically to advance our mission. How that happens will be driven primarily by you as students and by faculties, and we’ll try to use technology to enhance teaching, learning, research and service.    

Q: How do you plan to help campuses that are struggling with enrollment and substantial budget deficits?

A: We need to be as aggressive as we can, and inspire talented students who are eligible to come to the University to apply and and to enroll. I think even during a pandemic it is very important that students stay in school and get your degree and graduate and you’ll be better off after COVID. The way that I would like to help as chancellor, is to inspire more students to go to the CSU … 

Q: Students have voiced demands to defund University Police Departments on CSU campuses and to instead invest in our student programs … What role does UPD serve currently when most students are not on campus?

A: 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. I plan to review where we’re at across the system with the presidents and to do everything I can to increase resources … you have my word that I’m going to work to address those needs across the system and in support of the presidents. And I also believe we need to preserve the public safety of each of our campuses.

Q: How do you plan on increasing the Black student population at CSU’s that show low representation?

A: 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 and what more can we do to increase the number of, in this case, African American students who attend the CSU? … We prepare teachers for K-12 and we are implicated in that with the community colleges, with private universities and of course, the UC. I think 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 a part of this emerging group of leaders in California and throughout the country.

Q: What would be your first step to diversify faculty?

A: The first step is for me to have a conversation with the presidents and for us again, to reflect on what we have done, what’s worked well, and what more we can do. One idea that I have to discuss with the University of California President, Michael Jake, is how the UC and CSU can work in this way. The UC educates a large number of Ph.D. students and graduates them and they’re becoming more and more diverse. I would like for us to be in a position where we inspire those graduates to join our faculty.”

Q: Is there any possibility of CSU campuses being able to decide whether to hold on-campus instruction depending on COVID-19 cases in the county? 

A: The presidents and Chancellor White discussed this yesterday and his vice-chancellors and we talked about the process by which each campus, and in this case each campus president, would prepare our plan for the spring. That would be reviewed by the chancellor’s office in the way that it was done for the fall. There will be some campuses that have the conditions in which they can add more in-person courses.

Q: How soon could students expect to be notified if classes will be online in the fall?

A: I can’t give you a date right now but as soon as I start in January, I’ll be talking with the presidents about the planning for both the summer and the fall of 2021. 

Another press briefing with the chancellor-select is anticipated in January.

Chloe Curtis and Kimberly Morales can be reached at [email protected] or @ChloeCurtis__ and @kimberlymnews on Twitter.