Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Q&A: President Castro talks about his time as president and the future ahead

Castro discusses upcoming university goals and new projects at 2019 Fall Assembly on Aug. 19 at the Satellite Student Union. (Larry Valenzuela/The Collegian)

Nearing the end of the fall semester, the Collegian spoke with Fresno State President Dr. Joseph I. Castro about his tenure at Fresno State and his plans heading into next year.

Castro will become one of the most important figures in California higher education on Jan. 4 when he officially becomes chancellor of the California State University system. Serving as the president of Fresno State since 2013, he was the first from California and the first from the Central Valley, having grown up in Hanford.

This interview has been condensed for clarity. 

Looking back and looking ahead

The Collegian: What would you highlight as achievements or things you were really proud of during your tenure?

Joseph Castro: I’m proud of many things…I’m most proud of the changes I’ve seen in terms of our culture around student success…Our mission was changed at the beginning of my presidency to read to boldly educate and empower students for success. That was very important, and I feel like our campus is really living that every day…That’s why our graduation rates have risen, that’s why our enrollment has risen, that’s why we’re getting a lot of national attention…Ultimately, the most important contribution that we’ve made together during my time here.

The Collegian: As for your successor, what will you tell them? Is there something, in particular, you want them to keep an eye on moving forward?

Joseph Castro: Certainly. I’ve been helping to prepare for the transition here and Dr. [Saúl] Jiménez-Sandoval will be the interim president…He and I have been meeting on a regular basis…He became a dean shortly after I became president, so he and I’ve worked very closely together, and we’ll continue to do that while he’s the interim president…With the Board of Trustees, launch the search right after I arrive in Long Beach, and I anticipate that the virtual open forum for the campus will take place in February…The search committee for the President will listen to all the input around what the community wants in the next president…And hopefully, by May, we’ll have our permanent president appointed.

Fraternities and sororities

The Collegian: One of the main issues that many people still feel about our campus is fraternities and sororities and how those situations are handled at those places. There have been some sexual assaults on fraternities in the past seven years, and there have been deaths. Do you think that the university should have more power in dealing with Greek organizations? 

Joseph Castro: The university adamantly opposes sexual violence. And whenever there’s been evidence of that, we’ve investigated, and then we have taken actions that are appropriate in terms of what has occurred and that’s in all different settings including in fraternities and sororities. And what I’ve tried to do during my presidency is absolutely focused on being fair and decisive on matters like that. 

But even more to create a culture where that’s unacceptable. Leaders do not conduct themselves in that way. And in a university setting, it’s important to inspire behavior that’s accordingly…It’s appropriate for leadership. And that’s in fraternities and sororities and all across the university in every setting outside. 

We’ve been working with the fraternities and sororities to create a stronger culture that supports our students’ success and…addresses alcohol abuse, drug abuse, sexual violence. Our goal is to get that to an absolute zero, near zero. And I know that the leadership here will continue to do that.

Campus buildings

The Collegian: Many students have noted that there are many buildings on campus they feel are neglected, like the Industrial Technology Building and the Speech Arts Building, for example. Do you think during your time as president, more should have been done in terms of revitalizing classrooms, buildings, and other educational facilities around campus?

Joseph Castro: We have been very aggressive in improving the physical and technological infrastructure here at Fresno State…Each and every year, during my fall and spring assemblies, you could actually go back and see the progress that we’ve made from the very beginning. That’s been a strong focus for me as president. There was definitely a lot to do. 

We’ve made great strides to rebuild the electrical infrastructure and to be on the verge of rebuilding our entire heating and cooling infrastructure. Those two projects alone, which probably will total $175 million when it’s all said and done, it will be 50-year projects. Those were huge infrastructure projects. 

The other projects that we’ve done to renovate classrooms and enhance technology: the new student union, the Jordan Ag Research Center, the physical therapy and intercollegiate athletics building. All those things came through during my presidency.

At the same time, there’s so much more work to do…We’re a campus that has been on this site about 70 years now. And some of the initial infrastructures still must be renovated…The next leadership group is going to place a high priority on that. And now that we’re getting to the point where we’ve taken care of these really large-scale campus infrastructure projects, I think we’ll be able to focus more attention on improving labs and classrooms and so forth. So I am cautiously optimistic that that can be done in the near future.

Fresno State Athletics

The Collegian: Why did Fresno State support 21 sports programs? For the last few years, the university has supported the athletic department’s budget by providing $20 million annually. Do you think the university can continue to give that much support to the athletic department or is it now on them to find ways to run with less financial support from the university?

Joseph Castro: Well, from the very beginning of my presidency, I’ve talked about academics and athletics rising together. And the decisions that we made around wrestling and water polo were very consistent with that approach. Wrestling in particular, but actually, both of those sports are primarily serving students from the San Joaquin Valley wrestling is probably the most diverse sport in the NCAA…That was what was so compelling to me. It wasn’t about community pressure. It was really about how we can better serve these talented students who want to stay home and participate in athletics and get a Fresno State degree.

At the time, I believe that was the right decision. I did not anticipate COVID. I did not anticipate some of those funding issues around athletics. It made it harder for us to sustain that I had hoped that we could inspire more private philanthropy. And we did make some strides there. 

But given what occurred over the last nine months, It was clear to me that we needed to make an adjustment…We made that adjustment in terms of calling for the elimination of three sports. And we did so in a way that was cognizant about Title IX regulations, and…in a way where we’re even more equitable than we were before. And I think that’s really important. And as painful as it is for me to make this decision because I know it affects student-athletes and families and communities have loved these three sports. I think it’s the most sustainable path forward for Fresno State, and because of that, I think it was the right decision to make.

The Collegian: What do you think is the future for the athletic department to be sustainable? Is it more calls for philanthropy or more state funding?

Joseph Castro: I think this decision [cutting sports] that we made gives our athletic department the chance to be financially sustainable enables the university to reduce some of its state-funded commitments to athletics…We’ve been able to make the adjustments on the state-funding cuts, by reducing our operating expenses, especially around travel events. We reduced some of our management infrastructure overhead, so we did eliminate some management positions. And then we’ve made some targeted staff layoffs, but that was really the very end of the process. 

We did everything we could to keep that as close to zero as possible…I’m cautiously optimistic. After spending time with the governor this week and some of his top advisors, the economic situation is such that we hopefully will see some reinvestment in the university and the CSU. So, we’ll see…It all depends on what happens over the next several weeks with the pandemic and how that affects the economy. 

But I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to see some additional state funds into the CSU system. Some might be one-time investments, and some might be more permanent investments. I also met with the Biden administration transition team yesterday [Dec. 10] about federal funding for the CSU. And my hope is there’ll be some increased investments and Pell Grants, supporting dreamers. COVID relief funds might go for emergency grants and other expenses that we’ve incurred during COVID, for cleaning for technology.

The Collegian: What do you say to those who say that these economic problems happened prior to COVID-19 and COVID-19 forced the university’s hands to make these changes.

Joseph Castro: The pandemic exacerbated a situation that was already beginning to get more challenging. I think that that’s true. And some of the reforms that were made at the NCAA level made our financial situation much more challenging.

At the time, we made the decisions. It did appear to me that we could sustain it. And we went into that, you know, decision making with our eyes wide open. I did hope that we could inspire more philanthropy. That’s true. I also had hoped that I could convince students to perhaps invest a little bit more in athletics, as is the case with pretty much the other CSU campuses.

Our campus fees are the lowest and of any CSU campus, by far. And I hope that we could inspire some greater investment in that area as well, and it became clear to me over the last year, year and a half, that that was not going to be viable either, so for all those reasons, I think we needed to make this adjustment. It wasn’t all about COVID, but COVID definitely exacerbated the situation. And we needed to move in this direction.

Faculty and student diversity

The Collegian: With the rejection of Prop. 16, what are you going to do to push for an increase in college faculty diversity as Chancellor in the CSU system? What specific policies would you like to implement?

Joseph Castro: Faculty diversity is one of my top priorities as the next Chancellor. I believe that we’ve made great strides in terms of student diversity. If you look at leadership teams across the CSU, there’s more work to do, but those leadership teams are much more diverse than ever before. And our faculty is more diverse than ever before. 

However, there’s a lot more work to do on the faculty side. I want to lean into that with the other presidents and the provost and the deans and the faculty themselves and identify some new strategies to accelerate our progress. I think as to students. You would probably agree with me that it will be better to have a faculty that reflects the diversity of the students. 

But that’s what I’d like to see more of in CSU is a faculty that truly reflects the diversity of the students that we serve. So thinking about students here at Fresno State or the other CSU students who graduated with their bachelor’s or their masters and want to get a doctorate, can we work together with the UC to support them as they’re getting their doctorates with the idea that some number of them will be inspired to come back to the CSU as faculty members. 

The Collegian: And what specific policies would you want to push for increasing the diversity of the student population across the CSU system?

Joe Castro: I want to work with the presidents of each of the campuses to inspire talented students from all backgrounds to see the CSU as their primary option. We’ve done that here in the valley with Fresno State. And I’d like to support all the 23 campuses to do that in their areas. 

And I’m actually going to try to use the chancellorship as a way of helping because I’d like to get to know all the CSU students as we’ve gotten to know each other…Develop relationships through the campuses with the K through 12 schools and the community colleges so that they know that CSU is an option that is compelling and exciting. 

So I want to try to inspire that through my leadership position…We’re going to bring some new tools and new ideas. I feel confident that over the next five years, we’re going to see increases in diversity all across the system and will reflect the population of California.

First day as president

The Collegian: Do you remember what your first day was like as president?

Joseph Castro: I went back to look at your articles from that period…they captured that very, very well. I remember you guys came to my house, the University House, on that Saturday as we were unpacking and captured that moment.

On my first day here, I remember having lunch with the ASI President Moses Menchaca. We sat in the student union, a bunch of other students around us. And that was one of the highlights of my first day.

Written with a contribution from Anthony De Leon

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