President Robert A. Corrigan sat down with Xpress editor Sara Donchey to speak about his retirement, aspirations for his replacement and 24 years of service as the president of the University.
Sara Donchey: What role does the outgoing president play in the presidential selection process?
Robert A. Corrigan: “When a search like this happens it would be like the corpse at an Irish wake – you just lie still and keep your mouth shut.”
What are your biggest concerns for the new president?
“Part of my decision to leave as I am leaving is that you need somebody who could be in place for the long haul, because it’s going to take a while for the budget to come back. It could be as much as five or six or seven years, in terms of the state of California. It goes without saying that anybody who’s looking for a major presidency now has to know how to handle (the) budget.”
“Working with the legislature, working with Washington could be helpful. In many ways, one of the most important characteristics would be somebody who could work well with this community. That’s one of the things we’ve tried to do over the last couple of decades is to get really good support from the community and we’ve succeeded I think quite well in that.”
Are there any current projects or projects that you have been working on over the last few years that you are concerned about stepping away from?
“I’m not worried so much as (it is) an issue of continuity. There are two things that are most important. We’ve gone from being an institution primarily, but not exclusively, concerned about undergraduate education. We now have, it’s fair to say, the best faculty within the California State University. And it’s also a very diverse faculty.”
“…Also, the commitment to social justice and equity. It’s become the brand, the hallmark, of San Francisco State. It finds itself expressed in a variety of different ways. Most importantly what it does, we hope, is lead to educating students who will see a lifelong commitment to service, to social justice and equity, who will be productive members of the larger society, and that’s very, very important for us. I wouldn’t want to see us back off in that.”
“I think one of the hallmarks of this administration has been building a (positive) image of the institution.
“I visited with 32 CEOs of major companies in San Francisco my first year here, and on our letterhead it said that San Francisco State was ‘the city’s university.’ So I tested that to see whether people like the president of Bank of America, Wells Fargo or the chamber president thought that we were the ‘city’s university’… And, no. But they do now.”
What was your biggest regret?
“It really is the budget, how different and how much better this place could be with the kind of money that it really should have. Our faculty is underpaid. Our staff, for living in a place like San Francisco, is not paid what it should be.”
“The Master Plan concept that public higher education should be accessible, high quality and affordable, and we’re now in a situation that we turn down students for admission, where we raise the price that it costs for them to come here, and where we have to compromise from time to time on the coursework that’s available. It’s all linked to budget in one way or another. (Although) it’s not the full responsibility of the president of the campus.”
“We have a say when it comes to buildings, you know our ability to get funding for the library or for the performing arts center facility, you know presidents can have some say; but as far as how much money we get to run the place or what kind of salary money we can give to the faculty or the staff, that’s all bargained by the system.”
“That would be my biggest disappointment. It would’ve been nice to be able to walk out of here accomplishing all the things we would’ve liked to do.”
What are your biggest hopes and aspirations for your successor?
“That that person will follow along on some of the things that have characterized my term here like continue to build relationships with the community, continue to increase the quality of the faculty, provide more in the way of educational resources for the students in terms of state budget and private fundraising and in terms of federal funding. That somebody would be very visible in the community and be seen as somebody who really didn’t reflect the values of public higher education.”
What do you think the biggest challenge will be for the incoming president?
“Budget, budget, budget.”
Provost Sue Rosser mentioned being a good fundraiser is something that she feels will be important for the incoming president. What role do you think fundraising will play for the new president?
“I think this is part of a national trend that presidents that are being hired on in this generation are increasingly they are looking for people that will want to spend much more time private fundraising. And that’s led to a shift in a sense in terms of workload so that the provost, for example, who much more now or will be doing much more of the work that previously was done by the president.”
“I have been a pretty hands-on president here in terms of working with the faculty on the academic side. I think what Rosser alludes to is correct, that whoever succeeds me will probably spend a larger portion of their time involved in fundraising.”
“But you know there’s always the downside of that, is that you neglects the legislature. This is what’s going on now, we’re in a state right now in which it’s assumed that the state itself does not have to support public higher education the way that it used to because we could raise private money, that we could raise the amount of money that we tax you, to come here.”
“The only people that have had their taxes raised in California are students.”
Are you planning in staying involved in the fight for California public higher education in the state legislature?
“That’s a very good question. It’s also a sensitive one.”
“By and large, no outgoing president should get in the way of the new president. The day I walk out the door, I no longer am the spokesperson for the University. If there are ways in which I can help in Washington to get people to better appreciate higher education then, surely. I intend to remain active in San Francisco, certainly on different boards and groups and that sort of thing. (But) the person that goes into Nancy Pelosi’s office, for example, has to be the president of the university.”
Read the full story of the search for the new SF State president here.