As far as first impressions go, new SF State President Les Wong has left us feeling, well, a little giddy. While no one is carving “SFSU + LW” on any trees yet, we can’t help but feel that the blind date went well.
The first point in his favor is definitely the fact that he’s a hometown boy—Wong was raised across the bay in Oakland and graduated from Bishop O’Dowd High School. It’s an exciting prospect to think that, in theory, the president and some students could have come from the same high school.
While at O’Dowd, Wong met his high school sweetheart, Phyllis, who he is still married to, so we know he’s not afraid of commitment.
Then we learned that in 2009, while he was president of Northern Michigan University, he rejected a $10,000 raise. Be still our beating hearts! It’s like Wong knows how many times we’ve complained about astronomic presidential salaries in these hard economic times.
Though he did take a 4 percent raise in 2011, Wong remained the second-lowest paid public university president in Michigan.
He scored a few bonus points for his candidness in our interview. Absent were the canned PR lines that we’ve grown accustomed to hearing from executive types. He sounded excited, and maybe even a little nervous, as is to be expected from somebody taking on a position of such great responsibility.
All accounts of Wong from NMU paint him as an active advocate for students, doing his best to find funds for the college in times of financial hardship. He is known to spend lots of time in the capitol rallying legislators for funds and even helped secure the University’s largest private donation—a cool $5 million.
Looking back, the stance that SF State administrators took during Wong’s hiring process seems ironically out of touch with the new president’s supposed values. The rhetoric on the University’s side was to attract the best candidates, making campus visits and meeting with students something that was not required. The Board of Trustees were forced to take candidate privacy into account, after concerns arose during the San Jose State president search in 2011, when a candidate was revealed to be a president at another CSU.
To seek out the best, they allowed candidates to make campus visits incognito, but did not make the visits mandatory, or public.
Wong is described as placing a high value on interacting with students. He even talks about late night visits to residence halls to hold informal meetings to gauge student concerns. Perhaps he can use that attitude to create new channels of communication between students and administrators.
And that is, perhaps, our new president’s strongest selling point—his purported willingness to listen. When we asked him what most excited him about his move to San Francisco, he said, without hesitation, that he is most looking forward to meeting the students.
Although all signs, so far at least, point in a positive direction, we hope that our new president will forgive us if we aren’t ready to go ring shopping just yet.
We, as students, have been spurned by university officials in the past who, for all their passion, have failed to advocate effectively on our behalf. Proof of that can be found in the ever-rising cost of tuition, crowded classrooms and enrollment freezes.
So while we’re not ready to take Wong home to our parents yet, we are encouraged.