As the newly inaugurated president of Cal State Northridge, Blenda J. Wilson has taken over under difficult circumstances. She has inherited a large university that has been staggered by the most serious budget crisis in its history. Worse yet, it is a school that is still unaccustomed to drastic retrenchment and change.
Faculty members have been panicky and threatening, fearing the possibility of the first-ever reductions in tenured and tenure-track instructors. CSUN students already find it difficult to graduate within four years. Now, they fret over the likelihood of even longer delays in enrolling in the courses they will need to earn degrees. Other students, stretched to the limit financially, are likely to face another increase in student fees beyond the 40% rise that occurred this year.
Each fear is well-founded. More than 1,000 classes have been eliminated in the past year because of cuts in state funding for higher education. Scores of part-time instructors have lost their jobs. In March, CSUN officials were able to offer only a bit of good news, and even that came with a caveat.
Those officials predicted that there would be no layoffs of tenured or tenure-track professors next year, as long as the school does not face more than a 7% reduction in state funds for 1993-1994. And it was predicted that another 450 jobs would be eliminated in the coming year, including 311 lecturers.
Wilson correctly considers this a time when CSUN could pull together, or pull apart. "If we don't address what I perceive to be an unusually intense breakdown in collegiality, community and shared governance, we will condemn ourselves to stagnation and mediocrity," she said.
Toward that end, Wilson was right to establish budget committees made up of various members of the CSUN community, including faculty members. They are charged with finding ways to reduce expenditures, including consolidations or the outright elimination of some departments. That was the proper way to create a sense of involvement in CSUN's future, and faculty union members were wrong to ever suggest that their members resign from those committees.
Wilson was also right when she refused to guarantee that tenured faculty or tenure-track faculty would escape future layoffs, and she was correct when she opted against across-the-board reductions from university departments. What is important here is deciding what is best for Northridge's students. Academic programs that are in high student demand, for example, deserve more of the funding that remains. Those that are not may have to be cut.
The new president has been criticized for hiring new administrators during these tight budgetary times, but Wilson deserves to have her own management team in place. It should not be forgotten that she was hired, in part, because of her success at greatly increasing donations to the University of Michigan at Dearborn, where she served as chancellor for four years. Attempting to boost CSUN's fund-raising efforts will account for much of the new hiring.
It is impossible to tell, at this point, whether Wilson will be ultimately successful in her efforts. What seems to be clear, however, is that she is pointing the university in the right direction. For that, she deserves support from the university community.