The leader of the California State University system made a stop at Fresno State on Wednesday, taking time to tour his alma mater, field tough questions from faculty about salaries and even spare a minute to pardon a turkey named Pepper.
Candor and humor marked CSU Chancellor Timothy White's visit, which was the 21st stop on a statewide tour of all 23 CSU schools. He made a promise when he took office last December to tour every CSU campus before finishing his first year.
There was never a dull moment on the day-long trip: White ate Fresno State "Bulldog Tracks" ice cream outside the library, watched wine being made and gave kudos to the school's new president Joseph Castro.
He publicly praised ideas floated last week by Castro to start a tablet program and reinstate wrestling.
"It makes sense to think about what's big to the community, big to the schools in the area," he said about bringing back the sport. "It's a way to get students who otherwise may not come to get a college degree onto the campus. It also builds pride about Fresno State."
He acknowledged there are still financial and Title IX issues to iron out, but said he's "proud" of Castro for taking the first step.
White, a Fresno State graduate, drew a crowd of students in the morning when he saved a 36-pound tom turkey from slaughter during an official pardoning ceremony.
He's been known to get lively during his campus visits: juggling with the juggling club at Long Beach State and breakdancing at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
He took the opportunity to keep the tone of his Fresno State visit light-hearted.
"I'm not sure ... on what basis to pardon a turkey, but he's got some pretty good-looking thighs there," he said. "I'm just thinking about (Thanksgiving) a couple weeks from now."
At the end of the day, he visited with Tia the camel at the "Student Hump Day Hangout," a recurring Wednesday get-together at the Smittcamp Alumni House.
In between, he chatted with students about his own time at Fresno State, where he got his bachelor's degree in physical education in 1970.
With one student, he shared memories of witnessing war protests in the late 1960s and seeing Robert F. Kennedy on campus when the former senator from New York visited in 1968.
"He saw him face to face when he was here and said it was surreal, he just remembers that because of how close he was," said Jimmy Fields, 23, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering.
But White took time to address campus concerns as well, including faculty worries about salaries and benefits.
At an afternoon campus forum that attracted more than 100 people, English professor and faculty union chapter president Lisa Weston asked when faculty can expect to see a bigger paycheck. She said faculty are dedicated but are worn out from heavy workloads and low wages.
Faculty got a 1.3% raise this year but none the previous year.
White said tough budget years -- including a 33% state budget cut to CSU schools since 2008 -- has forced everyone to tighten their belts.
But there is a 3% salary increase on the table as part of the CSU trustees' budget proposal to lawmakers this year, he said. That number could fluctuate, he said, depending on whether legislators sign off the trustees' spending plan. That proposal adds an extra $250 million to the CSU system's budget.
"How could I ask our good people to say, 'Look, double down your effort, do more, have bigger classes, fewer people working,' all of these issues and say, 'We'll get around to compensation some other time.' That was a nonstarter to me," he said.
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