Editorial: Chancellor White a loss for UCR, but greater gain for California

Courtesy of UCR Today
Courtesy of UCR Today

Come December, Chancellor Timothy White will leave our university to assume his new role as chancellor of the California State University system. His impending departure has come as a shock to students, faculty and staff. The news is certainly bittersweet—Chancellor White has created a legacy on campus and in the experience of students as a voice of caring and guidance, and he will be sorely missed. But his departure should not be mistaken for abandonment. Given the state of the CSU system and higher education in California, Chancellor White will have the opportunity to make a significant impact on the greater good of California.

There is no doubt that since Chancellor White arrived on our campus in 2008 he has had a monumental impact on our university—despite the turbulent time in which he assumed his role. Always an advocate for transparency and communication, the Chancellor’s Town Hall Meetings informed the campus of the UC’s dire straits and how the administration coped. And while budget cuts and tuition hikes have been devastating the past couple of years, Chancellor White has done his best to not only aid students through the crisis, but also drastically improve our university despite its fiscal adversity.

Arguably one of his greatest accomplishments, Chancellor White helped take the dream of the UCR School of Medicine and turn it into a reality, with its preliminary accreditation awarded just last week. In another recent development, he pushed forward with the UCR School of Public Policy, which aims to accept graduate students in its master’s program within the next year or so.

A staunch supporter of UCR’s budding athletics program, White worked closely with Athletics Director Brian Wickstrom in renovating the track and supporting our university’s athletics programs. Also, with White as chancellor, UCR was ranked ninth in the nation for contributing to the public good and first in the nation in student service participation by Washington Monthly in 2012, eighth in the nation for diversity and 25th on the “Great Values, Great Prices” list by U.S. News & World Report in 2011-2012. Clearly, UCR has flourished in the time that Chancellor White has been here, and all the fruits of his labor have yet to ripen, but there is no doubt his hard work will continue to unfold on campus for the foreseeable future.

But more than the numbers and statistics, it is the personal touch that he brought to his work that made him an exceptional Chancellor. The level of sincerity with which Chancellor White approached his work and in turn, the students of UCR, was unprecedented and greatly appreciated. His sincerity was present in all facets of his work, to name a few—his thoughtful Friday Letters that established a connection between the often distant top-floor of Hinderaker Hall and his thousands of students, his tempered response to protesting students on campus last January, how he went so far as to walk out to meet with the students, listen to them and address their concerns, and even pass out bottles of water to thirsty protesters. Many have even been approached by the chancellor during finals week. He was famous on campus for handing out cookies during finals week when students were stressed and tired, just to wish them luck and tell them to continue working hard. And who can forget our chancellor assuming the alter-ego “Pete” on CBS reality show “Undercover Boss,” representing our campus on national television, really putting UCR in the public’s eye. These small gestures were what made Chancellor White more than just a chancellor. To many, he was more of a representation of UCR than Scotty the Bear or Norm the Navel ever were.

Thanks to his experience helming a UC campus through rough times, Chancellor White is equipped to handle the demanding needs of the CSU system. But he will undoubtedly have a lot of work to do. In September, Cal State trustees approved a 5 percent tuition increase for next year if voters reject Governor Jerry Brown’s tax initiative in November. If Proposition 30 fails, $250 million will be cut from funding, in addition to $750 million in reductions made during the 2011-2012 fiscal year. The CSU is also freezing spring 2013 enrollment at most of its campuses and fall 2013 applicants could potentially be put on a waiting list pending the outcome of the governor’s ballot measure. What is a great loss for UCR is a greater gain for the CSU and California as a whole. With the stakes as high as they are for public higher education in this state, it is comforting to know such an adept leader as Chancellor White will be heading the country’s largest university system at a time when its funding, and its future, are uncertain.

Nevertheless, the UCR community is likely to be filled with concern and questions regarding the university’s leadership. First and foremost, who will replace the chancellor? Will the replacement be as genuinely invested in the student body, academics, athletics and betterment of UCR as Chancellor White was? What changes will come to UCR due to the change in leadership? These are just a few of the thoughts floating around campus at this time, and the unease felt is understandable, but these are questions that will be answered in time.

We can only hope that the replacement for Chancellor White will be as attentive to the campus’ needs as Chancellor White was. UCR’s new chancellor will have big shoes to fill, but as long as President Yudof and the Board of Regents select a person who can embody the same values that students, faculty and staff have come to love, we’ll be in good hands.

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