Big Moment Of Change For Higher Ed In California

The largest community college system in the nation, 112 colleges serving 2.6 million students, is searching for a new system chancellor. Jack Scott announced his retirement in March.

The largest state university system in the nation, 23 universities serving 427,000 students, also is searching for a new system chancellor. Charles B. Reed announced his retirement on May 24.

Both men leave California higher education at a time when public dollars are tight. So is competition from private for-profit colleges and online "virtual" universities. Student demographics are changing and the need for training after high school is greater than ever. What it means to be a public college or university needs to be revived for a new generation. New leaders will come at a key turning point and can put their stamp on California higher education.

The community college board of governors already has begun a search. A 10-member search committee was drawn largely from the board, including a professor, senior systems administrator and student. The president of the academic senate, a representative of classified employees and a chancellor of a community college district also are on the committee. The first meeting, held Friday, was open to the public. A search consultant has been retained.

The CSU board of trustees is in the process of selecting a search committee and also will hire a search firm. CSU's 1997 search process was marred by a board decision to conduct the search in secret, a process "completely confidential up until we announce who the new chancellor will be," said the board chairwoman.

The CSU board still is setting parameters for conducting its search; there's time for the public to weigh in before the board's July 17 meeting. The search committee should be broadly representative.

In both searches, while initial screening and interviews must be confidential, finalists should be publicly announced. Finalists also should have a schedule of public visits, so the board and public can see how they interact with faculty, staff, students, alumni, state political leaders and civic and business leaders.

These leaders will have to be equally adept at dealing with lawmakers and academics, have credibility as scholars and teachers, and a record of higher education leadership (or equivalent professional experience). They also will have to be adept at fundraising and building support with the governor, state legislators and the public.

The CCC chancellor's current salary is $198,500. Keeping that figure under $200,000 has sent an important message of commitment to public service.

The CSU chancellor received $254,004 in 1998; in 2011 it increased to $421,500, plus $30,000 from the CSU Foundation. That's excessive. This is a time for CSU to call a halt to ever-escalating pay packages.

By holding open visits with finalists and offering frugal salary packages, California's key institutions of higher education can build public trust – instead of undermining it with secrecy and excess.


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