California State University Chancellor Timothy White speaks at a news conference as soon-to-retire Humboldt State University President Lisa Rossbacher listens at HSU on Tuesday. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

A new president will start at Humboldt State University in July 2019, succeeding Lisa Rossbacher following her announcement last week that she will retire, California State University Chancellor Timothy White told reporters on Tuesday.

White will convene with a joint committee of HSU trustees and community members in early February to begin the job search for a president to succeed Rossbacher, who said she will leave at the end of the 2018-19 academic year.

Current students, faculty and university stakeholders will be able to provide input on the search, which the search committee will use to complete a job description for potential candidates, White said. He anticipates between 40 and 60 applicants will try for the position.

“We’ll have the committee whittle it down to six people based on looking at their skills and experiences against the campus’ self-expression of needs,” White told reporters.

When the search comes down to three candidates in May, the school’s board of trustees will make the final call on who to appoint.

In a press session at HSU’s campus, White touched on a few of the controversies that have surrounded the school in recent months. He affirmed his support for the investigation of the still unsolved David Josiah Lawson stabbing of 2017 and called the recent discontinuation of the school’s football program a “painful” but necessary choice.

Rossbacher

Outgoing president Rossbacher will step down after a five-year tenure. She sat next to White at a room in Siemens Hall, where her office is located, as he praised her leadership and fundraising prowess, though he noted her tenure was “not without controversy.”

Spending problems predated Rossbacher, White emphasized, and the president was in fact able to raise enough in donations to balloon the school’s general fund. The amount in funding taken in, broken down to each student, has increased from south of $15,000 to over $22,000 during her tenure.

“That doesn’t come from just sitting around,” White said.

Stakeholders might not agree when a president curtails spending for a certain program, he said, but they don’t carry the same set of responsibilities as that of a president or a chancellor.

“I don’t anticipate that any president on any campus will not have controversy,” he said. “The question is, how do you go into things that are difficult and engage the right people, get all the right information and make a value-based decision for advancing the institution, even though it may upset a certain segment of the institution?”

White’s policy with stakeholders is to keep them informed at every level, he said — a “no surprises” rule.

Lawson case

White spent the majority of his visit to HSU — between Monday and Tuesday — meeting with the Arcata police chief, the city manager and the county district attorney to discuss the 2017 fatal stabbing of black HSU student David Josiah Lawson, which remains unsolved.

Since it’s an open investigation, White refused to talk about what was discussed in the meeting, but he did say local investigators are still pursuing the case.

“Some very talented people are working on the case,” he said. “It’s not a dormant case by any stretch of the imagination.”

He added the known evidence of the case has thus far led to a need to acquire even more evidence — but that’s a source of “comfort,” he said, since evidence alone should drive an investigation, not “preconceived notions.”

As a father of four, White said, Lawson’s death was “horror upon horror” to imagine.

As the Arcata Police Department’s investigation of Lawson’s death enters its 18th month, some have called on school leadership to affirm the safety of students of color and improve measures of diversity and inclusion on campus.

White said he communicates with CSU presidents “often and repeatedly” about “inclusive excellence.” He said he leaves it to the individual campuses to “be tight” on the means of inclusion, but lays out his values of diversity and hopes to hold campuses accountable for them.

Football

The announcement in July that HSU would terminate its 84-year-old football program following the fall season came on the heels of major cuts to save the school’s financial ailments.

In the months since, administrators have “bent over backwards” to find the program’s athletes a new school where they can transfer and continue their football careers, White said.

“It was a difficult but right decision to make,” he said. It was a financial choice, he said, one that will allow the university to continue building its academic programs.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

blog comments powered by Disqus