With Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez set to retire in the spring, our community should ask if the university intends to seek a president who will stay the course or a president who will chart a new one.
Chancellor Tim White may have signaled which direction he is heading. Speaking at an open forum on campus, he cited the legacy left by Gonzalez as a reason to expect good candidates to be attracted.
The choice of a successor necessarily reflects on the Gonzalez legacy, and Sacramento State is naturally concerned with how its history is presented. For the purpose of moving forward, however, Sacramento State should start with an honest look at how things are going now and whether course corrections should be minor or more significant.
California State University, Sacramento, recently released the results of a Campus Climate Survey conducted in the fall of 2013. While the national “job satisfaction” average has not fallen below 80 percent in the past seven years, the positive job satisfaction figures at Sacramento State were just 74 percent for executives, 61 percent for staff and 52 percent for faculty.
The survey showed that morale was taking a hit because of salary concerns, but complaint resolution stood out as the other most significant source of workplace stress. Less than half (47 percent) of the employees surveyed felt that their employer “effectively resolves staff issues.”
In 2012, human resources was “at a tipping point” in dealing with a grievance caseload that a retained consultant described as “two to three times that of any other CSU campus surveyed.”
As reported by Jon Ortiz in The Bee (“Study: State worker mentality makes Sacramento State a management challenge,” July 24, 2012), CSUS executives blamed the problem on faculty and staff. Management’s belief was that workers were predisposed to complaining because of their “close proximity to the bureaucratic attitudes of state offices.”
During the past five years, Sacramento State has defended itself in a series of costly lawsuits involving hostile workplace and retaliation claims. A high-profile sexual harassment complaint against Sacramento State is currently proceeding in superior court.
The grievance caseload and employee lawsuits seem to represent a failure to “effectively resolve staff issues.” Numerous employees commented on the survey about serious problems that had festered over time.
More than a third of the employees indicated they do not feel “valued as part of the Sac State community” and do not feel it is an “employee-friendly” place. The HR consultant said that “a high level of ‘management fatigue’ in dealing with this environment has historically been present.” It is part of the campus culture.
The trustees advertised for a president to head an institution with a “solid foundation.” Instead, they should disclose that the foundation has cracks, needs inspection and requires repair.
The perception of too many employees is that voicing concerns is futile, and that fairness and accountability are lacking. Management’s perception is that workers complain too much, which suggests they might be prone to ignoring them. Current CSU policy does not require presidents to hear any appeals from the factory floor.
A new president should be committed to transparency and be willing to air the linens. The campus climate report was not released until a year after the survey was completed, and only then after a series of public record requests. Immediate release a year later was not possible because (the university said) the results had never been compiled for anyone to review.
CSU seeks a candidate who will “value and work within the Sacramento State culture.” Instead, it should perhaps be someone who will change it for the better.
Universities are closed systems built on traditions dating back to medieval monasteries. Presidential searches routinely include notice that outside candidates are encouraged, and just as routinely end with the elevation and anointment of one of the faithful.
The call was put out from Sacramento State for someone to “implement the vision” and honor the legacy of the past. If past is to be other than prologue, it is time to admit that the institution is in a bit of a tempest and needs a firm hand to guide it.
A generic, robe-wearing university president is probably not the solution. Now would be the time to choose a president who is trusted as a local leader, invested in the community and whose vision and experience comes from outside the ivory towers.
Paul G. Mattiuzzi, a forensic psychologist, is the publisher of an online journal, the CSU