Valley Voices

Joseph I. Castro: Fresno State is stronger than ever and aiming higher

Fresno State graduating students sit in their seats in the Save Mart Center as the university’s 104th commencement gets underway May 16, 2015. Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro says that he is looking to further elevate the quality of instruction by hiring more tenure-track faculty.
Fresno State graduating students sit in their seats in the Save Mart Center as the university’s 104th commencement gets underway May 16, 2015. Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro says that he is looking to further elevate the quality of instruction by hiring more tenure-track faculty. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com/file

Professor Mark Somma’s insights about Fresno State in his Jan. 27 Valley Voices essay demonstrate his passion and love for Fresno State. I share those feelings but not his conclusion about the quality of education on campus. Fresno State is stronger than ever, and our positive trajectory is unprecedented.

I agree Fresno State needs more tenure-track faculty. Our new campus five-year strategic plan highlights this as a priority area for investment so we can increase the percentage of tenure-track faculty from 58 percent to 70 percent as soon as possible. We are hiring up to 70 tenure-track faculty by this fall, and this group will include nine newly budgeted tenure-track faculty positions in key subject areas, like STEAM (science, technology, engineering, agriculture, math), at a total estimated cost of $750,000.

Our ability to hire additional tenure-track faculty is directly connected to the future investment of new state funds. The California State University system, including Fresno State, lost approximately one-third of its state funding during the Great Recession. This abrupt disinvestment of state funds required Fresno State and other public universities to make difficult choices, including the reduction of tenure-track faculty.

With the recession behind us, Fresno State has experienced skyrocketing demand for admission, with record student enrollment since fall 2013. These enrollment levels came with additional state funds that we have used to hire new faculty and staff and enhance campus infrastructure. For these reasons, we are much stronger today than we were just a few years ago.

As new state funds have been allocated to Fresno State over the last two years, we’ve made deliberate and strategic choices about how best to utilize them. Our employees had gone six years without any general salary increases, so with strong support from faculty and staff, we decided to invest most of the new funds – $9 million – to increase salaries for existing faculty and staff by addressing significant inequities in our salary structure. Benefits costs will continue to increase, requiring us to allocate at least $1 million in new funding in 2016-17 just to cover benefits costs of our existing employees.

We also remain deeply committed to professional development and are providing many new opportunities for our faculty. For example, in 2015-16, the provost and vice president for Academic Affairs is providing $800,000 in funding to support faculty research, scholarship and creativity. An additional $500,000 is supporting faculty who are redesigning courses taught with mobile technologies.

Faculty hiring has changed significantly since 1973. Tenure-track faculty hired today, unlike then, are required to have a terminal degree in their field and face a rigorous process for promotion and tenure – something that didn’t come into play at Fresno State until 1977.

While the number of temporary faculty is higher than we’d like, the quality is stellar: over 91 percent of temporary faculty hold advanced degrees, with about 21 percent holding doctorates. Temporary faculty add tremendous value to Fresno State because they bring field experience, provide flexibility in the curriculum, and allow tenured and tenure-track faculty to conduct research.

We’ve had many success stories of temporary faculty who have joined the ranks of the tenured faculty and made important contributions. In fact, Dr. Lynnette Zelezny, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs – the highest ranking academic administrator at Fresno State – started her career as a temporary lecturer.

We also have made substantial progress in hiring faculty to better reflect the gender and ethnic diversity of our Valley and will continue to focus on this. Since 2001, the proportion of women in the faculty has risen from 34 percent to almost 44 percent. A greater ethnic diversity is also evident. In 2001, 26 percent of tenured or tenure-track faculty identified their ethnicity as other than white. That number has increased to about 37 percent.

Fresno State is a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution, so it is gratifying to see that our Hispanic faculty numbers have improved in the last five years from 9.7 percent to 12.4 percent. And as an Asian Pacific Islander-Serving Institution, it’s important to see that number has risen – from 12.5 to 13.1 percent. We have more work to do in this area.

We will continue to hire more tenure-track faculty while also investing strategically in other critical areas to ensure student success. I welcome Professor Somma to boldly join me and other colleagues in making Fresno State an even better place for the talented and diverse students we serve!

Joseph I. Castro, Ph.D., M.P.P., is president of California State University, Fresno. He welcomes Twitter followers at @JosephICastro and anonymous feedback about Fresno State at www.fresnostate.edu/president/feedback.

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