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Ex-Chancellor of Cal State Leaves With a Warning

Education: Barry Munitz delivers a stark pronouncement to those who protest system's financial arrangements.

January 12, 1998|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Barry Munitz, the nimble administrator who usually played peacemaker during his half a dozen years as California State University's chancellor, left his post last week with an uncharacteristically blunt warning to the faculty:

Quit complaining about Cal State's search for deep-pocketed business partners or risk turning the university into "a second-rate institution."

The outgoing chancellor has grown impatient with faculty sniping at the proposed partnership with four high-tech giants to wire Cal State's 22 campuses with high-speed telephone and computer networks.

GTE, Hughes Communications, Fujitsu and Microsoft promise to put up $300 million for the sophisticated network in exchange for exclusive rights to provide assorted high-tech services.

While Munitz and other administrators consider this a creative way to finance campus technology in an era of declining public funding, student and faculty protesters have criticized the arrangement as a threat to competition and even academic freedom.

"You've got a bunch of faculty union people who are up in arms over what they don't want, with absolutely no courageous or imaginative solutions of their own," Munitz said in an interview at his new workplace, the hilltop offices of the J. Paul Getty Trust, whose presidency he assumed Tuesday.

"No academic institution is going to be competitive if it is not on the cutting edge of technology. We know that the state is not going to pay for it. And so what are the choices? We ask the students to pay an astronomical amount or we find imaginative partnerships where we are laying off the costs on private partners."

Details of the terms of the proposed 10-year partnership have been slow to come out and Cal State professors, for the most part, have been asking for more information--and more time.

The faculty clamor continued Tuesday before legislators in a special hearing in Sacramento on the unprecedented public-private partnership that will control communications technology provided to Cal State's 325,000 students and 36,000 faculty members.

"Currently, the level of understanding, the degree of public discussion and the confidence in the project is insufficient to generate public approval of it," testified Rolland K. Hauser, California Faculty Assn. secretary.

The association--the CSU faculty's union--has threatened legal action, as have the academic senates at Cal State Fresno and Cal State Sacramento. All of them want the agreement blocked until Cal State releases a detailed business plan and allows professors months to study it.

Cal State's Board of Trustees is scheduled to consider the proposal at its meeting later this month.

Munitz, who officially left his CSU post last Monday, has agreed to come back for the meeting. But he predicted that final approval of the agreement will not come until later so his successor, Charles B. Reed, can have a voice in the matter.

Reed, now head of the Florida State University system, will not assume his new role until March.

Munitz agreed that the faculty needs more time to review the deal and become more comfortable with it. Many of the original negotiations with corporate partners were conducted behind closed doors to hash out the best possible terms, he said.

Still, Munitz said it would be a great disservice to the university if faculty naysayers drag it out long enough to sour the deal.

"Either they will take the lead in shaping what it is, or the obstructionist group will prevail. So what they will be left with is a second-rate institution and the faculty carrying picket signs wondering why they are not earning more money."

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