This is an interview with Cal State Fullerton President Mildred García from Wednesday Sept. 6. The interview was conducted by Daily Titan Editor-in-Chief Zack Johnston, News Editors Jason Rochlin and Brandon Pho and Managing Editor Harrison Faigen. Also present was Vice President of University Advancement Gregory Saks and Chief Communications Officer Jeff Cook. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Q: What was your first thought when you learned about this decision to rescind DACA?
García: Disappointment. Real disappointment and hurt. I know people are very anxious. I just heard Attorney General Xavier Becerra speaking on NPR as it was happening, and he shared that we have the most DACA students in the state of California. He mentioned that one out of four are in California and of these 800,000 people across the country, at least 200,000 to 250,000 in California are affected. We think we have between 600 and 900, because not everybody signed up for it, on this campus alone. So worry was my first reaction. Disappointed and painful.
Q: What would you say to any of the DACA students being affected right now?
García: Not to give up hope. To keep on studying, to keep on being the wonderful citizens they are. That we will continue in the struggle to see if we can talk to our own Congress, our representatives. Congressman Ed Royce came out with a very strong statement yesterday, and we’re very proud of that. We’re going to work and work hard to help them reach their dreams.
Q: Any specifics on how you can help them?
García: The only thing we can do right now is to speak to our Congress representatives. That’s what we need to do and if we have the entire state of California, that’s pretty good. If you watch the news lately, on both sides people are upset over what happened yesterday and if you saw the president’s tweet yesterday afternoon, I think he’s having a change of heart.
Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017
Q: What would you say to anyone who thinks this is a good move for the country?
García: It’s all about discourse and having civil conversations and explaining about how these individuals — and we do have stories right here on our campus — go to school. They get a degree. They want to buy homes. They’re hard-working citizens, and this country is built on immigrants. All of us are immigrants. Except for Native Americans and those who lived in Mexico when that part of California was part of Mexico, those are the natives. Many of us are not natives. We’re all children of immigrants. Those immigrants came and built an amazing country, and this country is founded on that. So you have these conversations with people and hope that they see what we see.
Q: How do you feel about some of the reactions that have been going on on-campus in response to this?
García: Most of the reaction has been very supportive of our DACA students. When they released me from jury duty yesterday, I ran over to the Dreamer’s center, and so did people from across campus. Not only did the vice presidents come in, I saw faculty members going in, chairs of departments, staff people going in there and talking to them. Some of them were scared. We have a graduate assistant in that office who volunteers her time as a social worker who was talking to students and calming them down. So I’m very proud of Cal State Fullerton and how we reacted.
Q: Do you feel like there is any extra pressure on you or the university, given that it’s in the national spotlight right now?
García: I always say we are the model comprehensive university of the nation, and it’s showing to the rest of the world that the demographics are changing. The United States is changing, and we’re demonstrating to the world how you do that. How do you get people from all walks of life, regardless of ethnic background, religion, age? How do we all come to live, work and study together and make sure you all have a great education and go off to do great things? So yeah, it’s pressure, but it’s also role modeling the behavior that we should be role modeling for the country.
Q: As soon as March of 2018, all DACA recipients employed by the CSU will be let go. Is there any comprehensive figure as to how many DACA recipients are employed by CSUF?
García: Probably very little. It’s not a lot. We have more students, obviously, but I think that date is predicated on that nothing will happen by that time. It is our sincere hope that something will happen by that date, and that we’ll be able to have these individuals on campus working.
Q: What’s the university’s next move in responding to this?
García: Working with Congress and speaking to people in Washington. We do have organizations that we are part of. One of them is the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. I’m on the executive board of that. They’ve already sent a very powerful letter representing all of the institutions that are doing research. I’m also on the executive board of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and they represent all state colleges and universities. They’re in Washington working on that. We have lobbyists for the CSU who are in Washington, so we have different avenues that we’re working on and hopefully, I’ll be speaking to our congresspeople although our congresspeople in our area know that Royce has come out so strong, we’ll be fine.
Q: How do you personally feel about a figure like Milo Yiannopoulos coming to campus?
García: I am against all kinds of racist behavior against any group and I don’t like what he has said in the past. But we are a public university and we have to follow First Amendment rights. So I’m disappointed and I would say that we again have to have civil discourse and find ways of listening, even though we may not agree with what is being said and then counter-talk about that. We need to have different options, have different opportunities for people to be able to talk about why they don’t agree, or even have a civil debate so people can talk back-and-forth. That’s what our country is based on.
And before you ask me, people have already asked me ‘Don’t let him come.’ I can’t do that. We are a public university. There are First Amendment rights. Unless there is imminent danger, there is no way that any court is going to uphold that I barred this man from coming. Then if I bar him, who makes the decision on other things? It’s a painful thing for me personally, but I have to uphold the laws and the Constitution of the United States.
Q: When did you first become aware that Milo could be coming to campus?
García: It has been a couple of months. In fact, it was over the summer. We’re preparing, but it’s not real for me until that contract is signed.
I just watched one of his videos last night because I had never really heard him. One of my vice presidents sent me a seven-minute video and I went ‘Ugh.’ I saw the one that he said he’s suing Simon and Schuster for $10 or 12 million. That’s what he said.
Q: Would you be attending if he comes to speak?
García: Probably not, though I don’t know. It depends on where I am. I’m not changing my calendar for him. At SLO (San Luis Obispo), the president of SLO was at a meeting at the Chancellor’s office, so his people took care of it. We are making sure everything will be in place.
Q: What are your thoughts on the political divisiveness this issue has created?
García: Again, I think this is a teachable moment for the entire campus to understand that because we’re a public university and because we have to uphold the Constitution, he should come and speak. There are ways of counterbalancing that kind of language and that kind of behavior. We hope there will be teachable moments not only in the classroom but in all of our clubs. In the journalism classrooms, it will probably be a big thing that we’re talking about this and letting people debate as to why they feel he should or shouldn’t come and that people debate on his ideas. That’s how you learn.
Q: What level would his rhetoric have to get to for it to constitute an imminent threat?
García: That’s a really good question. We’ve been talking to our attorneys and they say we have to have proof of imminent threat. What that would mean is a good question and we’re trying to figure that out, but it can’t be wishy-washy. It has to be really something big for me to call university counsels and say ‘Hey, this is what we’re hearing, here’s some evidence.’
They’ll probably call out me, and that’s fine. I’m used to that. But they could call out anybody for all I know. I hear that’s what he’s famous for. He’ll come to a campus and name all these people. It’s freedom of speech.
Q: How much work has been done on preparing for the next University Strategic Plan so far?
García: We now have co-chairs of the new Strategic Plan Steering Committee that’s just starting up. The co-chairs are Dr. Robert Mead and Dr. Kari Knutson Miller. The reason they’re the co-chairs is because they’ve been around, and were around for the first Strategic Plan, so it’s continuity. The campus knows them and respects them. They’re now thinking things through and they’ll come back with a plan on how to engage the campus in a conversation that will begin in the spring. There will be subcommittees and student representatives and staff representatives and faculty members. We’ll do basically what we did the last time with not only a couple of town halls. We’ll have a website where people can respond to whatever comes up and start the process of having it done.
Q: Would you say the current Strategic Plan has lived up to the expectations you came in with when the idea was first brought to the table?
García: It was extremely successful. We’re proud to say. If you go through every single one of the goals, we’ve accomplished them and, in many cases, surpassed what we said we would do in five years. Graduation rates are up. Retention rates are up. Opportunity gap is either erased for transfer students or it’s zero. We’ve raised $22 million. When we raised $7 million when we first got here, we said it would be $15 million. Our grants and contracts are up. One out of every three tenure-track faculty were hired over the last four years, so yeah. We’ve been on the move, and it’s because the entire campus has focused on the Strategic Plan. And we’re also getting ready for our accreditation visit where we have to show that we can do it.
Q: Is the next Strategic Plan going to follow, in essence, the same goals? Or are there different goals that are planned.
García: We’ll see what the campus is ready for. We certainly will have to pay attention to graduation rates. I mean, the governor and the legislature are really strong on that, and our saying that they will do part of our budget will be based on outcomes, and so we have to pay attention. We’re going to have to continue raising dollars because we don’t get enough money from the state. We have to continue to diversify our faculty and staff. That’s important as well. We have to make sure the curriculum is cutting edge, whatever that means. There will be tweaks, but I think we know more or less where we’re going. How the faculty, staff and students feel, we’ll see.
Q: Does the level of success you mentioned in meeting those goals from the last Strategic Plan make you a little bit more ambitious when you’re setting this one up?
García: Oh, of course. Ask Vice President Saks. It’s almost like, here’s a goal and you have to have stretch goals to go above. I call them stretch goals. You always set up goals and when you see you’re getting there you say, ‘Oh, maybe I could do a bit more.’ For me, as I look at institutions like us, what’s the high point? What’s the low point? Where do we fit? May that be raising dollars? May that be faculty diversity and recruitment of good faculty regardless of background? When you look at staff, when you look at curriculum, are we on cutting edge? What’s going on in the world? Are we doing, for example, cyber security? Are we graduating people in engineering and STEM? Those things I look at.
Q: Beyond the strategic plan, are there any big things coming up in the near future for the 60th anniversary?
García: We’re at the discovery stage of our comprehensive campaign. We have never had a comprehensive campaign at the university. That really shows that our university has grown up. And so we’ve never had one and are at the discovery stage. Now that we’ve had two back-to-back, 20-million-dollars-a-year fundraising, that’s a biggie. We’re in the middle of a facilities master plan and looking at our facilities and our 60-year-old buildings. How do we do that? So we’re looking at that and the Strategic Plan and then the WASC visit. I think that’s enough. With the visit from WASC, that’s big.
Q: So there’s the Strategic Plan, and then the CSU system has put forth the graduation initiative plan. Are there any specific things that CSUF is doing to comply with the graduation initiative?
García: I would say we started that before the chancellor put that in place. We’re actually continuing to work on our graduation rates. That’s our goal. I always say, no student comes to college to fail. Everybody comes in here with dreams and aspirations. What can we do to help everybody graduate that wants to graduate and help them get to wherever they want to go? May that be graduate school or out to work. What’s the best way that we can do it? Our faculty and staff are nationally known for the student success teams, for example. That’s a pretty innovative idea. Most of the time, they either want to do it centrally or they want to do it within their college with no student affairs or academic affairs people involved. But those student success teams are pretty innovative in that they’re in the college with the associate dean of the college, the assistant dean of students, an advisor, a recruitment specialist, a retention specialist and a career specialist all in one college. That’s pretty innovative. We continue to think about ways we can help to ensure students are graduating.
Q: In your Convocation Address, you touched on emphasizing CSU’s expectations for four-year track graduations. How does that affect your priority of people who take more time to graduate?
García: Just as important. Our goal for 2025 is 44 percent. If we can get at least four out of 10 to graduate in four years, we’re done, basically. The other students are just as important. You all know that some students can’t finish in four years for many, many reasons. But there are students that can and who want to. How do we help them? That’s how we’re managing it. You’re still a success story if you graduate in six years or graduate in eight years. You have your degree. They’re just as important as the ones that will come in and want to graduate in four. Sometimes students change their major. Sometimes they decide they need to take a semester off. There’s all of these things. Students are working three jobs. There’s a family issue. We have to pay attention to that as well. When I went to school, students were 17 to 21. That’s not the case anymore. There were students that their parents had enough money, and you went full time and you didn’t have to worry about working. It’s not true with our students, so we have to be sensitive to that as well. We can’t ask for the impossible.
Q: What we see students talking about the most is the parking shortage.
García: So here’s our issue with parking. Parking has to be paid for by the students. If I build another parking structure, students have to pay for it. That’s the heartbreak here. That is another cost on the students. That is the struggle. Trust me, we’ve been talking about parking more than you know, and that’s why we’re trying to find different ways. That’s why we have the lot, we’re trying to do all the things we do. But it is very difficult for me to say, ‘OK, we’re going to build another parking structure and students are going to have to pay “X” more.’ And I keep on saying, ‘Can we find another reasonable alternative? Can it be lower?’ And so that’s what we’re looking at, because it’s hard on students. I understand that. I worked three to four jobs when I was in college. I get it and I didn’t even have kids. Some of our students have kids.
Q: Are things like the shuttle service and the assisted parking services going to be available all semester?
García: I don’t actually know the answer to that.
Saks: The shuttle parking, I believe, will be available all semester but I think in October, the assisted parking stops.
Q: It phases out by necessity?
García: By demand.
Saks: You guys know this firsthand, I mean everybody knows that once you get deeper into the semester it’s not as insane as far as parking. It kind of settles a little bit. But it is a challenge, safe to say.
Q: Any other specific things the university is looking at for parking?
García: I’ve been talking to our faculty and deans about looking at schedules where students can get courses five or six days per week. So if you expand the schedule, it will affect the parking shortage. If you come here on Friday, I’m sure you’ve noticed parking’s not a problem. If you come here on Saturday, I think you will notice parking’s not a problem. And I’m not saying faculty and staff have to work all six days. Staff have to work five, but faculty could rotate. There’s nothing wrong with having a Monday off instead of a Friday. And I walk around the Titan Student Union and I ask students ‘Would you take a weekend class?’ and they say ‘If it’s the only time I can take it and you tell me ahead of time, then I’ll work my work schedule around taking my classes at that time.’ So I think the myth about students not willing to come to weekend classes, I don’t agree with. I think that if people could get their schedule and still be able to work, I think they would do it. I know an institution back east that schedules some courses Monday through Friday and by noon the students are out. So their coming five days a week but you’re out by noon so you can work from 12 o’clock on. So I’m not telling faculty how to do it. That’s not my job, but I want them to start thinking about that because we’re not the only institution in the country that’s starting to look at these options.
Q: So we’re talking about tweaking the class schedules so they’re not all stacked at the same times?
García: Right, or not all stacked in three days or four days but scheduling it out, and then you’ll have less people on individual days and then there will be more parking.
Q: Is this something the university is just thinking about, or can we expect to see it actually implemented?
García: The deans and the provost are talking about that as we speak. But presidents only direct. You can’t get involved in curriculum stuff.
Q: The other issue we wanted to talk about was the issue involving professor Canin. I think it’s fair to say you’ve been rather silent about this issue, is there a specific reason for that?
García: It’s a legal issue, No. 1. It’s a personnel issue, No. 2. It went before an arbitrator. The arbitrator made a decision, and we followed the arbitrator’s decision.
Q: What would you say to some of the conservative students that are maybe feeling like their freedom of speech is being threatened?
García: I would say that if they read the arbitrator’s decision, they will see that the institution took a strong line and a strong position on protecting freedom of speech. We took the position. The arbitrator made a decision and I have to follow the arbitrator’s decision. Now all I’m asking everybody is that as employees of the university, we all have to role model the behavior we want our students to have.