Humboldt State is in the process of buying — oops! I mean hiring — a new president. The excitement is tearing through campus like dysentery through a Mexican tourist resort. Anyone interested in applying for the position should be a white male, age 50 or over, with the personality of a used hot dog napkin.Just kidding there, but judging from past appointments applicants should at least be under-achieving, lack good public relations skills, and be willing to rule through intimidation, causing faculty and staff to resemble a sad and fearful hutch of timid rabbits.
In other words, they’re searching for a clone of the retiring president.
I worked at HSU for 30 years as a Plant Operations engineer. During that time I witnessed more than my share of lies, manipulation, and intimidation from management. I watched the campus turn from a friendly small-town college into a cold-hearted machine almost overnight. I observed an administration that labeled itself “student centered” do little for students except raise tuition. I saw the Department of Public Safety charge employees to drive to their jobs, hand out tickets to parents on graduation day, and extend parking fee hours until 10 p.m., causing students to park off-campus and making it easier for rape and assault crimes to happen under the cover of darkness.
I lived among underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated faculty and staff, and turned a blind eye to a substantial amount of monetary waste including a co-generation unit that, according to HSU Chief Energy Officer Silas Biggin, has no record of profit or even breaking even during its 15 years of operation. I’ve been embarrassed by countless events, including a photoshopped image of President Rollin Richmond (who could not be bothered to pose in person) in Humboldt Magazine, standing against a backdrop of students.
At the very apex of my nightmarish visions stands the chancellor’s office itself. The CSU administration has basically always been ambiguous and even shifty when it comes to both accounting and accountability. Over the years I watched them raise tuition, cut enrollment and campaign for a multibillion-dollar tax hike, all while providing high salaries and lavish benefits to their top administrators and presidents.
Remember when educational investment was seen as the “great equalizer” in reversing racial and economic disparities? Those days are long gone. The chancellor and board of trustees have discovered that you can get more revenue from extortion of students than you can from making them happy.
Why bother with the niceties, huh?
This is why we shouldn’t let ourselves get too excited over the departure of Rollin Richmond. The search for his replacement is nothing more than the quest for another colossal square peg in a suit, a businessman who will follow the rules and remain as useless as his predecessor.
The community just got a taste of this when the selection committee came to HSU to hear thoughts on who should become the next president. Many important questions were asked. Lame answers were given.
Among the questions were: “Why will the potential president not be required to visit campus prior to accepting the job?” and “Will a person with no roots to HSU or the community be able to prioritize the needs of the campus?” and “How will someone with no emotional buy in be the best person to lead HSU?”
California State University Chancellor Timothy White quickly explained that it was essential to hold the names of the selected candidates private for the purpose of “saving their credibility in the eyes of their respective institutions and community.” In other words, it’s all a big secret.
The entire selection process (despite the search committee and the three members of the school faculty whose role is advisory only) is just so much smoke and mirrors. It’s only done to appease the community and allow us to think we actually have a say in the process.
CSU’s Board of Trustees will choose Humboldt’s next president. I contacted CSU’s public affairs officer Mike Uhlenkamp, who verified this. Mr. Uhlenkamp also explained that it is Gov. Brown who appoints the 25 board members.
If that’s true, why does he have such a difficult time controlling their actions? Why does he have zero control over CSU affairs, including the recent hot button issue of presidential remuneration? I called the governor’s office to find out. My call was never returned.
It’s highly unlikely the board’s choice for HSU’s next president will be a good one. CSU administrators are not in the business of education; they are into the business of making money. They do not empathize with the needs of students. Nor do they care if college education is available to traditionally underserved groups. The board is searching for a person who will remain quiet and maintain the status quo. Whether HSU students, faculty, or the local community have a say in that selection is of absolutely no concern to them.
Tim Martin resides in McKinleyville and writes this column for the Times-Standard. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.