Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro has been selected as the eighth chancellor of the California State University system, the CSU announced Wednesday morning.
Castro has led Fresno State since 2013. He will be the first California native and first Mexican American to lead the 23-campus university system with enrollments of nearly half a million students.
Outgoing Chancellor Timothy P. White, who has held the job since 2012, is retiring.
Castro, who will become chancellor on Jan. 4, will get an annual salary of $625,000.
In a Zoom news conference Wednesday afternoon, Castro talked about some of his priorities he plans to set for the CSU system as chancellor, which include meeting the goals set in Graduation Initiative 2025, his accomplishments as Fresno State’s eighth president, and making sure the CSU emerges from the pandemic stronger than ever and with more tools available for students.
Castro said the accomplishments included Fresno State’s graduation rates increasing from 48% to nearly 60% at a time when the student body was becoming more diverse.
What He’ll Miss Most
Castro, who is typically straightforward and unemotional when speaking in public, appeared to tear up a bit when he was asked what he would miss most about Fresno State.
“I haven’t thought about that yet. There’ve been so many,” he said. “Mary and I have spent most of today together, we just took a walk and we were talking about different memories.
“Probably graduation. … probably every graduation,” Castro said, his voice faltering.
Although distance learning was forced on the university by the COVID-19 pandemic, Castro said he sees how technology that was put into place rapidly could continue to be useful to support students once the pandemic ends.
He said he also plans, with the assistance of the Board of Trustees, to lobby for increased funding for the CSU from the state Legislature.
“I know it’s going to be challenging in the short term. But the CSU is such a great investment,” he said. “The return on investment is immense, and it will help all of California if we can continue to invest more in our talented students.”
‘Bulldog Born And Bulldog Bred’
Castro, in an open letter released Wednesday morning, said he was thrilled to be taking on the new job but also somewhat sad that he and his wife will be leaving the Fresno community. The CSU is headquartered in Long Beach.
“Mary and I will be forever grateful for the support and inspiration you have so generously provided to us. We will always cherish being part of the Fresno State family and will take our Bulldog pride with us as we serve the state,” Castro wrote. “As the saying goes, we are Bulldog born and Bulldog bred!”
He announced that he will share his vision for the CSU in a webinar scheduled for 11 a.m. to noon Friday. “Conversation with the Chancellor-select” will be hosted by Monica Lozano, president and CEO of the College Futures Foundation.
‘Passionate And Effective Advocate’
The Hanford native was praised as a “passionate and effective advocate” for students, Fresno State, and the CSU system by Lillian Kimbell, chair of the CSU Board of Trustees.
He was selected from a “deep” pool of candidates in a search that began before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, Kimbell told reporters during the news conference.
The pandemic caused the trustees to adjust their priorities somewhat, she said.
“When we came to our decision, it was really evident to all of us that President Castro embodied what the CSU, what California needs now in in this COVID environment,” she said. “We need somebody with a steady hand. We need somebody who’s a good listener, somebody who’s unflappable, as more than one person called him. And with deep experience, with a campus, with a lot of first gen students, students of color. So it was a totality of who he is and the situation we’re living in today.”
The fact that Castro is Mexican American was not a deciding factor in his selection, but it didn’t hurt, especially at a time when the issues of racial injustice and the need for equity are so prominent in the nation, and when the CSU student population already is so diverse, Kimbell said.
“It certainly influenced us and particularly me,” she said. “I’m Mexican American as well, and I’m so proud, muy orgullosa, that we’re going to have for the first time a Mexican American chancellor. I’m over the moon about that.
“But I think because of who our students are and who the state is, you know, over 40 percent of our students are Latinx, 60 percent are students of color. … I think it’s very exciting and meaningful that we have a chancellor who looks like Joseph Castro and has his lived experience.”
Kudos Across the Board
Castro’s appointment was lauded by state legislators, Fresno State alumni, and others in social media posts.
— Chicano Alumni Fresno (@ChicanoAlumFS) September 23, 2020
Congratulations & my deepest appreciation to @josephcastro. His story is the the story of our #CentralValley, rising to challenges & inspiring others to pursue lives of purpose & service. He is a leader & a friend, & he now will bring his talents & vision to the entire @calstate. https://t.co/GVVhNj5ZM6
— Dr. Joaquin Arambula (@drarambulaAD31) September 23, 2020
Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statement noting that Castro has firsthand knowledge of the importance of higher education in providing opportunities and said that he is “thrilled” at Castro’s selection.
“His extraordinary record as a leader in higher education will serve him well as he assumes this role at a pivotal time for students, faculty and staff,” Newsom said. “I know he has the experience, wisdom and respect of many that he will need to build on Chancellor White’s progress on graduation, retention and diversity and inclusion.”
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand said he is proud of Castro’s selection as chancellor not only as a Fresno State alumnus and as a Fresnan, but also as a “proud friend.”
“I’m certain he will bring the same bold leadership and advocacy to the entire California State University system and its students, faculty, administrators and staff that he did to Fresno State,” Brand said.
First in Family to Graduate College
Castro, the grandson of Mexican immigrants and son of a single mother, was the first in his family to graduate from college. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and a Ph.D. in higher education policy and leadership from Stanford University.
Prior to taking on Fresno State’s top job, Castro had worked 23 years in the University of California system, including vice chancellor of student academic affairs and professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
His appointment comes at a time of growing pressure on institutions nationwide for more diverse leadership.
Both Fresno State and the CSU system reflect California’s diverse population: At Fresno State, 53% of students are Hispanic, 19% white, 13% Asian, and 3% are African American; across the CSU, 42% are Hispanic/Latino, 23% are white, 16% are Asian, and 4% are African American.
During Castro’s tenure, Fresno State has been recognized repeatedly for its recruitment and support of students from diverse backgrounds.
Fresno State Will Have Interim President
White is expected to announce an interim Fresno State president soon.
A national search for Castro’s replacement will be conducted next year.