While he’s only been on the job since December, when he became the seventh chancellor of the largest four-year public university system in the country, California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White is already making meaningful connections with faculty, staff, and students mid-way through a tour of the 23 CSU campuses, and he seems to be having plenty of fun while doing it.
During his April 23 visit to CSU Dominguez Hills he met with a number of campus groups and committees, including the ASI Board of Directors, Academic Senate Executive Committee, faculty and staff union representatives, the President’s Cabinet, and local business executives and community members.
At the Student Research Day Symposium he delivered a short welcome speech and then listened to some of the student presentations. He told senior graphic design major Dalia Cornejo after she delivered her stress relief “Destroy the Box” presentation, “I think you’re brilliant. I strongly suggest you trademark your idea. Well done.”
As he walked to other activities, White stopped to thank custodial and grounds keeping staff who were busily working.
“When you walk in these buildings, they’re spotless. You don’t see an ounce of trash, or scuffs on the walls or on the floor,” he said. “I know I walked through places where people thought in advance where I would walk, but I also took some right angles and walked in places where people weren’t expecting me to, and it was equally beautiful.”
He also visited an anthropology class, as well as interacted with students at various points of his tour of the campus.
“I sat down with some students this morning for an hour and we had one of the more powerful conversations about what it means to be a student in general, what the world looks like to them when they finish their degree here at Cal State Dominguez Hills, how they feel they are being supported here—and challenged—what the campus culture feels like to them, and I think the frankness of the conversation was very impressive,” he said.
But White did a little more than sit with students. In fact, after a surprise flash-mob performance in the Loker Student Union, he got down on the floor with senior dance major Michael Amaton who gave instruction on how to perform a breakdancing spin on his back.
“It was excellent, [Chancellor White] was willing to learn a new dance style. I just wanted him to have a good time and enjoy the moment,” Amaton said.
Setting it to the theme song of ’90s television show “In Living Color,” Marie Bahner, a senior majoring in liberal studies with a concentration in dance, choreographed the flash mob, which started as an assignment for an choreography (DAN 430) class taught by assistant professor and coordinator of the dance program Doris Ressl. The performance sprung into action as Amaton and Bahner approached White for a handshake.
“Wow, did that just really happen? I’ve always wanted to do a flash mob,” Bahner said. “The Chancellor, he’s great. They had told me that he was pretty cool and that he might even dance. And he did! So, yeah, he’s pretty cool. ”
After picking himself up off the floor, White joked with the student dancers about his age and dance abilities, “When you guys are 63, I’ll give you a call.”
He seemed to revel in the social fabric of university life as well as understand and appreciate its value as an educational institution to society as well as the country’s economy.
During a press conference attended by representatives from local media including the Daily Breeze, Los Angeles Times and radio station KPCC, White said in response to a question about the CSU’s impact on California, “First of all, we matter. A degree from any one of the campuses of the California State University opens doors for the individual and their families and their communities in ways that are really quite stunning. Secondly, there’s both a private good; that an individual student and family will do better if they have a college degree versus just a high school degree. But of equal and perhaps more enduring importance to the public, there’s a public good of an educated workforce.”
He noted that CSU Dominguez Hills was nationally recognized recently for the engagement of its students, faculty, and staff in community service learning, being named as a finalist for the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll Presidential Award.
In the afternoon, White spoke to the campus community and fielded questions during a Mini Town Hall and Chat with the Chancellor held in the Loker Student Union Ballroom, providing an opportunity for faculty, staff, and students to share their thoughts and perspectives on CSU Dominguez Hills.
Arousing a solid round of applause, assistant professor of history Christopher Monty, on behalf of fellow history department faculty members, gave a vote of confidence to University Interim President Willie J. Hagan and asked that he be appointed as the permanent president in an expedited search process. While White could not commit to such, he did say he would take their comments back to the CSU Board of Trustees, and praised Hagan for acting as if he were the permanent president.
White is the former chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, and past president of the University of Idaho. He has served as dean, provost and executive vice president at Oregon State University, and previously held positions as professor and chair of the Department of Human Biodynamics at UC Berkeley, and professor and chair of the Department of Movement Science and research scientist in the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Michigan.
He is a product of California Master Plan for higher education—and the first CSU alumnus to serve as the system’s chancellor—having received his associate’s degree from Diablo Valley Community College, his bachelor’s degree at Fresno State, his master’s at CSU East Bay, and his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. Born in Argentina, White immigrated with his family to Canada and then the United States when he was young. He is the first in his family to graduate from college. He is married with four sons.