By Beau Yarbrough
Los Angeles Daily News Staff Writer
RIVERSIDE -- Tim White is undeterred by the challenges he'll face when he takes over as chancellor of the California State University later this month.
”I'm extremely bullish on California,” he said, in his office at UC Riverside, looking out over the campus. “I'm an immigrant kid, went to public school and community college.”
White was born in Argentina and his family lived in Canada before emigrating to California when he was a child and graduated CSU schools twice, earning a bachelor's degree from Cal State Fresno and a master's from Cal State Hayward.
”Here's my opportunity to give back,” White said.
Outgoing Chancellor Charles Reed became a lightning rod for criticism and dissatisfaction as the CSU went through repeated belt-tightening. White wants to change the tone and get all combatants fighting on the same side.
”I'm not interested in fighting with people. Never have been. But I'm interested in fighting for people.” His peers are optimistic about his prospects leading the CSU system.
”I think he'll be an outstanding chancellor,” former Cal State San Bernardino president Al Karnig said. “I'm tremendously optimistic about Tim.”
Karnig's successor is similarly hopeful.
”Tim White wrote me a very warm, welcoming letter in June, when my appointment was first announced,” CSUSB President Tomas Morales said. “I think we're very, very fortunate to have Chancellor White as our next chancellor in the California State University system.”
Part of Karnig's optimism stems from White's experience at UC Riverside, although he allows the scope is growing dramatically, from a student body of 20,000 to 440,000.
”It's a big job, a much bigger job than being the president of one campus.”
One of White's goals is to leverage the economies of scale of all 23 CSU schools, and possibly the 10 Universities of California, and allow them to buy goods and services more economically.
Even as the head of UCR, a position he's held since July 2008, he's reached out to other California public schools, instead of trying to go at it alone.
”I know Tim; I've worked with Tim on a couple of things,” Cal Poly Pomona President Michael Ortiz said. “Tim has had the vision to engage the UC at Riverside with the CSU.”
Ortiz also praised White's focus on environmental issues at UC Riverside and his work to further diversify the school, which is regularly hailed as one of the most diverse in the nation.
The school, White said, is a place where all groups of students, whether they're divided by gender, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic background, do equally well, which he said the CSU needs to do as well.
”We've got to become the national exemplar when it comes to getting rid of those gaps” in achievement. “We've found a way to close that gap here.”
White will look to attract more international students to the system, both for how they enrich campus life, he said, and because they bring in additional revenue to their campuses.
”I was actually fortunate enough to be on the chancellor selection committee,” said Cal State Student Association President David Allison, also a student at CSUSB.
”He's been a student, a faculty member, every part of the CSU. I think he's going to do a great job - he understands every part of the CSU.”
One of his first goals as CSU chancellor will be to visit all 23 of the system's campuses in 2013, seeing what's going right and what's going wrong.
”I'll start seeing the general patterns. I'm sure there'll be differences at the larger, more established campuses and the small, more developing campuses.”
Even before taking over the top job, White made the news last week. Gov. Jerry Brown blasted the UC regents at their meeting in Oakland after they approved a $50,000 raise for the new chancellor of UC Berkeley over his predecessor. (The additional revenue came from privately donated funds, and not taxpayer dollars.) In November, White asked CSU trustees to reduce his salary by 10 percent -- from $421,500 to $380,000. (Nicholas Dirks' salary as the top administrator at UC Berkeley will be $486,800 annually.)
Marcia Marx, the California Faculty Association president at Cal State San Bernardino, was no fan of Charles Reed, but is optimistic about his successor.
”All signs point in that direction -- being a different kind of leader. He certainly is familiar with being in a large-scale educational system,” she said. “We're hoping to see a lot of improvement. We already saw a great indicator with his readiness to accept a 10 percent pay cut. I think that was a real good faith effort. We've been arguing that the administration has not had the same problems in terms of salary that faculty has.”
”Tim White hit one out of the park by making the request to the board of trustees to take a salary cut,” said Cal Poly professor James E. Swartz, a member of CSU's Academic Senate. “He has made the metaphorical shot heard around the world.”
Although White asked for a lower salary in recognition of the tough times faced on CSU campuses, he defended the high salaries California's top educators bring home.
”I've been a president now at three campuses,” he said. “It's 24/7/365. If you have a partner or a spouse, it's unpaid and they're (also) involved.”
As a result, “you have to have people who are smart, ambitious, clairvoyant, high-energy, willing to work nights, weekends.”
And while it's easy to focus on salary costs, White said a good administrator can save a university far more, as well as generate additional revenue.
”The amount of return on investment on a president is huge,” he said. “If you don't have a good, solid president with all of these qualities, you run the risk of being a bad steward. So it's a matter of being penny-wise and pound-foolish.”
The state's public colleges are also competing with universities around the nation, where mid-six-figure salaries for university presidents are the rule, rather than the exception.
White would like to “change the conversation to completion rates, enrollment rates, things that really matter.”
When he leaves the CSU years from now, the new chancellor would like his legacy to be the system “will have a swagger to it, of pride, achievement, of contributing to every state in the union, and that our doors will be wide open to everyone.”